Last week, the Salt Lake Tribune ran an op-ed entitled “‘Bean-counting bureaucrats’ at BLM are locking up Utah’s future,” advocating the opening of federally owned lands to oil and gas drilling. The column, essentially the same as an op-ed that ran a week earlier in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, relies on a report by Timothy Considine, a University of Wyoming economics professor whose work we have profiled in depth in our reporting on the “frackademia” phenomenon. That report was funded by the Interstate Policy Alliance, a project of the corporate PR firm Berman and Company which has created myriad front groups to advocate the interests of the tobacco, food, and alcohol industries and to attack unions, animal rights, and environmental regulations. The Salt Lake Tribune and Las Vegas Review-Journal columns were penned by Anastasia Swearingen, who is identified as a research analyst at the Environmental Policy Alliance, a project of another Berman front group, the Center for Organizational Research and Education.
In their foray into the fracking debate, Berman and Company seems to have deployed a vertically integrated astroturf campaign wherein the firm funded research from a notorious pro-fracking academic through one of its fronts and then deployed another front to cite the research in various newspapers in the Rocky Mountain region.
A little more than a week ago the Orange County Register ran a column by Timothy Considine, the director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming arguing against a ban on hydraulic fracturing in California. Considine claims that fracking in the Monterey Shale could add 557,000 jobs per year and increase the state domestic product by $63 billion. While Considine’s numbers look compelling, they are based on a wild overestimate of the recoverable oil from the Monterey formation. Five days after Considine’s column ran, the Energy Information Administration reduced its estimate of recoverable oil from the Monterey Shale by 96%.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times published an interview with Stanford professor of geophysics Mark Zoback in which he argued against a moratorium on fracking in California and lauded the oil and gas regulatory regimes in Pennsylvania and Texas. At the beginning of the article, Zoback is identified as “Stanford geophysicist since 1984, member of the National Academy of Engineering’s Deepwater Horizon investigation committee, personal ‘decarbonizer,’ [and] fracking expert.”
What the LA Times left off of Zoback’s CV is his role as an oil and gas industry insider. In addition to his position at Stanford and role on President Obama’s industry-stacked Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Energy Advisory Board, Zoback is a senior executive advisor to the oilfield services company Baker Hughes, the former chair the oil and gas consulting firm GeoMechanics International (purchased by Baker Hughes in 2008), and a director of the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, a federally funded think tank dedicated to “exploring, producing and transporting-to-market energy or other derivative products from ultra-deepwater and unconventional natural gas and other petroleum resources.”
2013 has been a great year for the Public Accountability Initiative. Our investigations on issues ranging from corrupt greenwashing efforts to on-air war profiteers garnered major media coverage and delivered real impact. We ramped up our blogging activity. We moved into a new office in our home base of Buffalo and added two awesome staff members, one of whom seized control of our twitter account and actually started tweeting. We also made significant improvements to LittleSis, the research wiki that powers all of our nosy investigations, and began working on some exciting upgrades that we plan to roll out in 2014. Edits to the LittleSis database are up 20% from 2012, to 197,229 modifications (two tips of the hat to WileECoyote and seeker, the top LittleSis editors in 2013). Read on below for more highlights from our year.
Here at PAI, we follow the money in our daily work, tracking money flows through tangled networks in order to expose corruption and conflicts of interest. But we also do it in a larger sense: we follow the big money in the economy. Naturally, this has led us to focus our attention on banks, and fracking, and the defense and intelligence apparatus, among other things. With each of our investigations, we aim to challenge power and hold it accountable in a way that creates space for real democracy. By exposing corrupt and cozy deals among cronies, we hope to get the people a better deal.
Read on for more on how we did this in 2013. And if you like what we’re up to, please make a donation to PAI to support our work in 2014. Thank you!
– Kevin Read more…
The Eyes on the Ties blog has been popping with posts lately and addressing the latest in the news cycle. Kicking off this roundup is Kevin’s research into the negotiating table at JPMorgan as it reached a tentative $13 billion settlement with the Department of Justice. Turns out that negotiating table is little more than a revolving door. JPMorgan’s general counsel is the former director of the SEC’s enforcement division. The DOJ’s team includes attorney general Eric Holder, who represented Bank of America and UBS while at Covington & Burling, deputy attorney general James Cole, a lawyer for AIG when he was a partner at Bryan Cave, and associate general attorney Tony West, who represented Washington Mutual when he was at Morrison & Foerster. What a small world.
Harvard University announced this week that Gen. David Petraeus, former director of the CIA and current chair of private equity giant KKR’s global institute, has been appointed as a non-resident senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, a unit of the university’s Kennedy School of Government. According to the school’s press release, Petraeus will be jointly leading a Belfer Center project on “The Coming North America Decades,” which shares the name with the course he is currently teaching at the City University of New York (CUNY) Macaulay Honors College. As DeSmogBlog revealed this summer, Petraeus’s imminent “North American decades” will be partially attributable to the embrace of hydraulic fracturing and the exportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG); among the required readings for his course at Macaulay are two industry-funded studies endorsing natural gas as safe for the environment.
Petraeus’s enthusiasm for natural gas gels nicely with his position at KKR, which was the subject of a Forbes article titled “Guess Who’s Fueling the Fracking Boom?” last year thanks to its massive investments in shale gas companies over the past several years. His voice also is a natural fit at the Belfer Center, which has extensive ties to the oil and gas industry and is home to the BP-funded Geopolitics of Energy Project.
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.
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.