Taking a Look at Fracktivism and the University at Buffalo Study

The University at Buffalo released a study on the impact of shale drilling a little while back.  After initially labeling the study peer-reviewed, the university eventually removed that distinction.  Then they started to distance themselves from the report completely as pressure from fracktivists mounted.

This illustrates an interesting reality.  While the fracking debate is often characterized by the anti-frackers as a David vs. Goliath battle between a grassroots environmental movement and the deep-pocketed oil industry, the reality of how it plays out doesn't really indicate that this is true.  In reality, the media is all too often looking to reveal a sensational tale of environmental devastation, and they aren't having any trouble finding new "scientific studies" to support the idea that fracking is dangerous.  How is it that a grassroots effort is so effective at getting its message out?

Perhaps it's because the fracktivist movement isn't really the simple, humble grassroots effort that it is often represented as.  In fact, when the dust settles and a closer look is taken at all of these attempts to prove that fracking is environmentally unsafe, the fingerprints of the deep-pocketed Park Foundation are there to be seen.

For example, view this recent piece from Energy in Depth which takes a look at the University at Buffalo study and the backlash which followed its release:
According to the UB study, 62 percent of all violations were for “administrative or preventative reasons.” The study also points out that the number of violations constituting the remaining 38 percent is itself a bit misleading, as multiple violations often referred to the same incident. And as the folks at EID-Marcellus have previously observed, the number of violations per well has actually been decreasing in recent years
But what activists claim — and for which the Times provided a lopsided forum — is that the types of violations don’t matter. To them, a misspelled word on a piece of paper is apparently an environmental catastrophe. 
Of course, this isn’t the first time opponents have tried to skew violation data in their favor. But unfortunately for them, the whole truth continues to be a better barometer than the half truth they got the New York Times to promote. 
What else did the Times leave out of its skewed attempt to connect the dots between funding and advocacy in shale development? Why, only the most obvious and blatant example: The Park Foundation. 
  • It was the Park Foundation that helped fund the thoroughly discredited movie Gasland, as well as multiple anti-shale efforts across the country.  
  • It was the Park Foundation that funded the “study” from Duke University that tried to link Marcellus development with methane in private water wells. Both the former and current Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection have raised considerable questions about the validity of the paper.  
  • It was the Park Foundation that funded the infamous Howarth “study” that suggested shale development was worse for the climate than coal. Independent experts, the U.S. Department of Energy, a study funded by the Sierra Club, and even the authors’ colleague at Cornell have all debunked Howarth’s conclusions.  
  • It was the Park Foundation that funded the “study” about how Marcellus development will, someday, eventually, theoretically contaminate water supplies. Predictably, the study’s thesis is completely bogus.  
  • It was the Park Foundation that funded the “study” concluding EPA’s draft report on Pavillion, Wyo., water quality was sound — even though the EPA itself has suspended peer review of that report in order to gather and analyze more data.  
All of these efforts continue to draw media attention, despite each of them being thoroughly debunked by scientists, regulators, and independent experts. Yet all of this was also overlooked in a story purporting to examine how money can drive research. Of course, the Times likely doesn’t want to tell the ugly truth about an organization on which it relies for research, so it’s perhaps only fitting that the story had such a glaring omission.
Here is another excerpt from that article, which mentions something that I recently pointed out here in the blog:  the tired attempts of fracktivists to scream "Bias!" every time a study or report says something positive about natural gas development, only to turn around and cite biased reports funded by activist groups as their argument.
There’s also something else worth pointing out here: Is it possible that opponents doth protest too much? Hearing “bias!” from anti-shale activists is not news, but rather the natural product of a desperate yet well-funded national campaign to deny science, deny evidence, and deny the truth as it tries to stay relevant. Participants cannot rely on scientific findings to support their claims (because there are none), so, when they’re not funneling money to friendly professors to score headlines, they speak in talking points (“bias,” “industry shill,” “hack,” etc.) and hope the public is too stupid to see what’s really going on. 
A few notable examples: 
  • The most recent University of Texas study that found there’s “no evidence” of hydraulic fracturing contaminating water? A local activist immediately suggested it was biased and funded by industry, which, of course, it was not, as a University spokesman quickly noted. (NOTE: The study was actually reviewed by the Environmental Defense Fund.)  
  • What about the Secretary of Energy’s Shale Gas Subcommittee Report, which proposed a series of recommendations to continue safe and responsible shale development? Yep, they said the panel was biased.  
  • State regulators, who have tightly and effectively regulated hydraulic fracturing for decades, are routinely maligned as “biased” for their supposed coziness with the industry.  
  • Activists have even criticized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — the same entity they want to regulate hydraulic fracturing, mind you — for its multiple water tests in Dimock, Pa., each of which concluded the water was safe. The results weren’t what they wanted, so…shenanigans!
Read the rest of that article here.

As we've said here before:

There is no question that fracking is the cause of the moment.  I don't think any amount of facts revealing fracking to be safe when done correctly will convince the fracktivists to change course.  Wrong or right, they are going to be stubborn and continue seeking attention for themselves and their cause, claiming as fact any theory that says fracking is risky.  On the other hand, the oil and gas industry is never going to accept any report, study, or ruling that states fracking contributed to contaminated water - and they have the means and media resources to throw facts and assertions out and muddy the issue regardless of what the other side of the debate produces. 
Sooner or later, the facts are going to make things clear.  So far, final conclusions of tests and studies and reports by government agencies have consistently stated that fracking has not contaminated water and is safe.  Every time, the fracktivists claim the test was mishandled or just allege corruption - but that argument is already starting to wear thin.  Meanwhile, the industry alleges the same bias and corruption when considering the conclusions of any study that declares fracking dangerous, for the very valid reason that these studies are consistently bought and paid for by activist groups.  Of course, studies that are leaned on by the oil and gas industry are paid for by the industry. 
The odds are that whatever side you currently fall on in this debate is the side you'll stay on, regardless of what the facts reveal.  That's typically what happens when money and emotion enter into a debate and overpower all sense of reason or objectivity.  
For our part, we'll just continue to try and report what gets published on the fracking debate.  If you are interested in gathering information and making an educated decision about whether you support or oppose oil and gas drilling, hopefully we can help you to access the information you need to do so.

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