In recent interviews, Dr. Bruce Pitman, the dean of the University at Buffalo’s College of Arts and Sciences responded to PAI’s criticism of a study published this summer by the school’s Shale Resources and Society Institute. To a WBFO reporter, Pitman characterized claims of SRSI’s poor scholarship as “nonsense”, saying, “We haven’t been able to get past the noise on the extremes in order to actually begin to talk about what’s sensible and serious here.”
In the Spectrum, UB’s independent student publication, Pitman said:
“PAI took data from the very report turned it around and said, ‘Oh if you do the calculations this way something else happens.’ So was the report honest and open and did it disclose all the facts and define all its terms? I think it did. People choosing to interpret things differently – absolutely fair enough – but you can’t discredit the report if it’s providing you the data you’re choosing to look at differently.”
Here, Pitman was responding to this quote from a PAI researcher interviewed for the article:
“The biggest thing is that two of the main claims of the UB report were just flat out wrong,” Galbraith said. “When it comes down to it, they made a claim that is totally unsupported by their data. Their data doesn’t say what they say it says.”
The claim at question, found on page iii of the SRSI study, is:
In conclusion, this study demonstrates that the odds of non-major environmental events and the much smaller odds of major environmental events are being reduced even further by enhanced regulation and improved industry practice. (emphasis added)
The numbers and method of finding the odds used in the SRSI report show that in 2008 the odds of “major environmental events” were 5 in 1000 and in 2011 the odds of “major environmental events” were 8 in 1000, i.e. increased, not reduced. The following is a further examination of this simple math problem, with excerpts from the SRSI report to show where the numbers came from and that the calculations were not performed some other way, as Dr. Pitman asserted.
Last week, the University of Texas at Austin announced that “three nationally renowned leaders in science, public service and higher education” would review the industry-friendly report issued in February by its Energy Institute that has been the center of a controversy over the gas industry’s influence on academia and, by extension, public policy. That day, PAI revealed that review panel chairman Norman Augustine has his own industry ties, formerly serving on the board of directors of fracking company and UT benefactor ConocoPhillips and currently receiving payments from the company for $3.1 million of deferred stock awards.
According to last month’s press release announcing the review, the panel was convened “to review the scientific credibility of the report and to examine any related issues that the panel members believe are relevant,” a point Andrew Revkin reiterated in the comments of his New York Times blog post on panel chairman Norman Augustine’s industry ties: “Keep in mind this is not an ethics review, but a review of the findings in the report, as the university stated in July.”
A look at the letter Leslie wrote charging the panelists in their review reveals that they were not asked to evaluate the content of the report, but rather to evaluate the effect of lead author Chip Groat’s financial stake in Plains Exploration and Production:
New York’s Fracking Investments
By Rob Galbraith • Aug 22, 2012 at 11:01 EST
A recent Buffalo News article about New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s shareholder activism through the state’s pension fund mentions his interactions with the natural gas industry. According to the Buffalo News, DiNapoli “has been pressing natural gas companies involved in hydrofracturing to provide him with risks of their drilling practices, the kinds of chemicals used and to take into account community opposition to drilling plans.” DiNapoli told the News he would continue this activism “regardless of what may still come to pass” as Cuomo poises himself to lift the fracking moratorium.
While the State’s considerable investment in fracking companies puts the comptroller in a good position to “pull corporate strings” with these companies, these investments amount to New York State’s use of public pension money to bankroll the risky and unpopular practice. Fracking, which in its high-volume and horizontal form is under a moratorium in New York, presents a significant risk to air and water, and has been questioned as a speculative bubble by insiders and energy analysts. Further, as pointed out in the New York Times, the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. F.E.C., which guaranteed corporations’ right to make electoral expenditures with campaign treasuries (substantially financed by New York’s and other public pension funds), raises the concern that public employees are being forced to fund pro-fracking lobbying via mandatory contributions to the Common Retirement Fund deducted from their paychecks.
The Committee to Frack New York?
By Kevin Connor • Aug 16, 2012 at 16:34 EST
New York State governor Andrew Cuomo has gotten a major assist during his first year and a half in office from an outside lobbying group known as the Committee to Save New York, a coalition of corporate elites that advocates for austerity policies and specializes in taking to the airwaves to heap praise on the governor and his agenda. Despite making a massive lobbying blitz in 2011 and being an extremely powerful political force in New York State, the Committee has refused to disclose its donors and will not be required to disclose its past donors by New York’s ethics commission, raising questions about who, exactly, is backing the group and funding what the New York Times has referred to as Cuomo’s “secret slush fund.” This being the sort of group we love to dig into here at LittleSis/PAI, we have done extensive research and recently published our findings in the report “The Committee to Save 1% NY.”
Cuomo on his Blackberry.
At least one controversial policy fight gave a fundraising boost to Cuomo’s Committee in 2011. According to the New York Times, the casino gambling industry donated millions to the Committee at the same time Cuomo was shaping his stance on casino gambling legalization. The Cuomo administration reportedly urged casino industry lobbyists to route large contributions to the Committee, which subsequently ran ads praising the governor. The Cuomo administration and the Committee had long denied coordinating, but reversed this claim in the wake of the Times bombshell, possibly after a blitz of untraceable Blackberry messages.
Has the fracking controversy provided a similar fundraising opportunity for Cuomo and his Committee? New York State enacted a moratorium on fracking in 2010 and is currently in the process of deciding whether to allow the controversial practice. The Cuomo administration has signaled that it will allow fracking in some areas of the state, and at least one fracker’s son is certain that Governor Cuomo has seen through the “smoke and mirrors” of the anti-fracking movement and is set to come down on the side of industry.
Frackademics: The Ohio Shale Coalition Team
By Rob Galbraith • Jul 31, 2012 at 11:52 EST
With the University of Texas assembling a panel to review a February study from the Energy Institute at UT Austin following PAI’s report “Contaminated Inquiry”, there has been a flurry of media attention to gas industry’s capture of scientists and economists, using the independent brands of and public trust in universities to promote a gas-friendly message, often using misleading information or low-quality scholarship – a phenomenon we have termed “frackademia.” This week, Climate Desk, a collaboration between Mother Jones, Slate, Wired, the Guardian, and other outlets, released an article drawing attention to a report commissioned by the Ohio Shale Coalition and released with the logos of Cleveland State University, the Ohio State University, and Marietta College on its cover. The Climate Desk story featured Dr. Robert Chase, a Marietta geologist who co-authored the study, and his ties to the natural gas industry and government.
Source: Climate Desk
Chase runs a consulting firm to negotiate leases between landowners and gas companies. His firm Chaseland LLC was the subject of an inquiry by the Ohio Ethics Commission after landowners contested a permit granted to Chesapeake Energy by the Ohio Oil and Gas Commission, a five-member body on which Chase serves. Chase’s history consulting on lease negotiations with Chesapeake led him to recuse himself from that case, and the Ethics Commission ruled that Chase must recuse himself from any case involving companies or people he had done business with at his consultancy.
“An Analysis of the Economic Potential for Shale Formations in Ohio”, the Ohio Shale Coalition-commissioned study that Chase worked on paints a rosy picture of hydrofracking, promising “65,680 jobs and $3.3 billion in labor income, or an average income of $50,225 per job” and a nearly $5 billion increase in Ohio’s GDP from 2011 to 2014 thanks to fracking in the Utica Shale, numbers that the authors call “very conservative.” Researchers at the Ohio State University’s Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy have criticized these estimates as overestimating job creation by “about 400%”. Also, in addition to Chase’s conflict of interest in writing a report endorsing fracking while running a consulting firm that takes a share of the bonus payouts for every gas lease it negotiates, the report itself was commissioned by a pro-fracking group and some of its authors and contributors exhibit similar conflicts. These conflicts raise the question of whether the study’s results were determined before it was conducted.
Strategic Perception LLC's Fred Davis, political attack ad man and producer of Truthland
Truthland, a 35-minute compilation of interviews with fracking proponents, is being promoted by the oil and natural gas industry’s PR arm, Energy In Depth, as an answer to the 2010 anti-fracking film Gasland. The advertising campaign for Truthland emphasizes that it documents the concerns of “a Susquehanna County mom, dairy farmer and teacher” who is “the real deal,” as opposed to Josh Fox, the writer and director of Gasland and “a spoiled avant-garde showman from New York City,” in the words of EID’s Northeast Marcellus campaign director, Tom Shepstone.
While the new film’s protagonist, Shelly DePue, is indeed a farmer from rural Pennsylvania, the notion that Truthland is a depiction of her independently-planned road trip around the United States to “find out just what the truth was” became less and less believable the more we examined it. Rather, the film and its “full-scale website and social media campaign” was planned from start to finish by the natural gas industry. Read more…
Businesses in controversial industries often turn to the academy for evidence exculpating them for the harm that they do, with trade groups funding “scholarly” reports claiming that their products and business practices are safe for the public. In much the same way that Big Tobacco funded research claiming that secondhand smoke is not harmful, natural gas associations such as the Marcellus Shale Coalition have been paying for research that exaggerates fracking’s economic benefits and downplays its environmental risks both by funding individual studies and by donating to myriad shale gas research institutions, such as the University at Buffalo’s Shale Resources and Society Institute and the University at Wyoming’s Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy.
LittleSis researchers are currently digging into the histories of current government and industry figures in the fracking debate, searching for overlaps, “revolving door” employment patterns, and conflicts of interest. Expect frequent updates from us about people and organizations of interest, and please consider lending a hand by joining the Fracker Watch research group, where you can also find some of the lists we’ve been working on, such as the New York State Fracking Lobbyists list.
Chesapeake lobbyist Stephanie Timmermeyer.
Today’s post concerns a top lobbyist for the embattled industry giant Chesapeake Energy, Stephanie Timmermeyer, who is the company’s director of regulatory affairs in the Appalachian Basin xand one of nine Chesapeake lobbyists registered in New York State. Chesapeake has spent big to influence policy in New York – according to NYPIRG data referenced in Common Cause’s 2011 report Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets, Chesapeake was the 18th-largest lobbying interest in the state in 2010, with over $1 million in expenditures.
Timmermeyer’s career blurs the line between public service and corporate subservience; she has moved through the revolving door into government and back out again, working as a corporate attorney, then as secretary of West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection, and now as a Chesapeake lobbyist, but never forgetting who she really worked for (hint: not the public). As a regulator, she went soft on industry; as a corporate lobbyist, she leverages her regulatory experience to ease the way for Chesapeake. She is hardly the company’s sole investment in regulatory capture, but her career is a case study in the revolving door and all the skewed incentives that come with it.
In the latest sign that massive natural gas fracker Chesapeake Energy is in deep trouble, the company has retained George Sard, the CEO of Sard Verbinnen. Sard was described as a “spinmeister of the apocalypse” by Portfolio magazine in April 2009, because he has worked as a PR consultant for so many high-profile clients in moments of utter, humiliating public collapse.
Chesapeake is in distinguished company. Sard’s clients have included the Madoff brothers (Ponzi scheme), Eliot Spitzer (prostitution), Martha Stewart (insider trading), former Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld (Ponzi scheme), and AIG (Ponzi scheme). His firm was also on the scene during the Enron collapse – JPMorgan hired him to beat back accusations that the bank was complicit in the Enron fraud (it eventually paid $135 million to settle SEC charges).
ALEC’s Corporate Networks
By Ben • Apr 24, 2012 at 11:41 EST
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a “free-market association of state lawmakers” that also resembles a conservative lobbying group, is facing intense scrutiny for its role in helping corporations influence and even draft legislation that has been enacted by many states, with little transparency or accountability to constituents. As of April 23, the legitimacy of ALEC’s public-charity status is being questioned in major media outlets, prompted by a submission of internal documents to the IRS by the watchdog organization Common Cause.
Laws produced or inspired by ALEC have privatized prisons, freed telecommunications companies from regulatory oversight, slashed some public school funds while diverting others to for-profit charter schools, and prevented public-sector employees from taking part in collective bargaining.
We used LittleSis.org’s “network search” function to generate a roster of 16 individuals who have leadership positions at more than one of the organizations that were funding sponsors of ALEC’s 2011 annual meeting. Network search is a sort of flexible interlocks search that allows advanced users to explore LittleSis data in new ways.