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.
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.