Report: Only 14% of Reports Cited by Industry Site Energy in Depth Are Peer-Reviewed

From the Public Accountability Initiative:
The data suggests that even when the industry searches far and wide for studies to make its case, it ultimately must rely heavily on studies that are marred by conflicts of interest and lacking in academic rigor. Some key findings:
  • Most of the studies – 76% – had some degree of industry connection.
  • Of the 137 unique studies on EID’s list that could be located, 56 had strong ties to the oil and gas industry. Another 35 had industry ties that PAI classified as medium, and 13 studies had other industry ties that were present, but relatively weak. Studies classified as strongly tied to industry were funded or authored by industry sources, studies with medium ties were released by organizations with oil and gas funding or by consultants or banks tied to the industry, and studies with weak ties were produced in part by oil and gas contractors or otherwise had more attenuated ties than other studies. A more complete description of how studies were classified appears in the “Methodology” section below. Including the studies that EID listed multiple times yields more than 76% with industry ties – 60 with strong ties, 36 with medium ties, and 15 with weak ties.
  • Only 14% of the studies listed were peer-reviewed.
  • Of the 137 unique studies on EID’s list that could be located, only 19 were peer-reviewed. This suggests that there is a significant shortage of serious scholarly research supporting the case for fracking. Of the studies that were peer-reviewed, ten were tied to the industry – four with strong ties, two with medium ties, and another four with weak ties. One “study” was a comment on a previous study rather than a study in its own right, though it was published in a peer-reviewed journal, and so was counted among the peer-reviewed studies. Another study could not be located to determine whether it had been peer-reviewed. Including studies that were listed multiple times, 17% were peer-reviewed with 13 tied to industry – six with strong ties, two with medium, and five with weak ties.
  • Only one peer-reviewed study explicitly dealt with public health concerns, and it was industry-funded.
  • In the wake of New York State’s fracking decision, which was based largely on its study of health concerns, the importance of public health studies has risen to the fore. Despite the size of EID’s list, there was only one peer-reviewed study that dealt specifically with public health concerns, and it was industry-funded. The other eight peer-reviewed studies that EID classified as “Public Health/Environment” dealt with methane emissions, though other studies on the list addressed water quality issues.
  • The list included retracted and discredited studies, including studies that made false claims of peer review.
  • EID’s list of studies, compiled at some during 2014, includes two studies that resulted in corrective action by the universities that issued them – one was retracted, and the other led to the closing of the research institute that issued it. These studies were found to be marred by poor scholarship, undisclosed conflicts of interest, and false claims of peer review. In November 2012, the State University of New York at Buffalo shuttered its Shale Resources and Society Institute after it was revealed that the major conclusion of SRSI’s one published report was derived from a math error and that the report’s authors had undisclosed oil and gas ties. In December 2012 an independent panel convened by the University of Texas concluded that a report issued by UT’s Energy Institute “fell short of the standards of contemporary science.”
  • Prominent industry associations funded and issued studies.
  • 17 of the studies were either funded or issued by the American Petroleum Institute or the American Gas Association. This includes a set of guidelines and a PowerPoint presentation created by API for an industry workshop that were, nonetheless, presented as studies.
  • Government and industry hired the same consulting firms.
  • ALL Consulting, IHS CERA, and ICF International were contracted by both government agencies and industry associations to produce 15 studies around natural gas included on EID’s list. Three of the studies were performed under government contracts while the rest were either commissioned by industry associations or think tanks connected to industry. The industry contracts with these firms raise conflict of interest concerns and illustrate how diverse partners, beyond academia, are being engaged to produce “frackademic” research.
  • The list inflates a generally weak scientific case by including studies multiple times and listing “studies” that were actually blog posts, non-binding guidelines, and PowerPoint presentations.
  • Listed along with actual studies are a blog post from the oil-and-gas-funded Energy in Depth, a set of guidelines issued by the American Petroleum Institute, and an American Petroleum Association press release. There were also three PowerPoint-style presentations. Seven of the studies on EID’s list were included multiple times, sometimes under different subject headings, as if to strengthen EID’s case. One study, a 2013 examination of methane emissions at gas drilling sites convened by the Environmental Defense Fund, was listed three different times in the list’s “Public Health/Environment” section. The industry-funded study was published in a prestigious journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which published a correction after several authors failed to disclose significant financial conflicts of interest.
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