Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Frackademia: MIT fracking study, led by Energy nominee Ernest Moniz, failed to disclose authors’ substantial and lucrative oil and gas ties

Influential 2011 MIT study touted the benefits of natural gas, but failed to disclose authors’ significant financial ties to the oil and gas industry * Funders, advisors also had oil and gas ties * MIT study is one in a series of academic studies of fracking marred by conflicts of interest, poor scholarship
Buffalo, NY – An MIT study on fracking led by the nominee for energy secretary was marred by undisclosed conflicts of interest and poor scholarship, according to a new report released today by the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI).

The influential 2011 MIT study, led by energy secretary nominee Ernest Moniz, described natural gas as a "bridge to a low-carbon future," found that the environmental impacts related to fracking were "challenging but manageable," and endorsed natural gas exports. Moniz’s nomination as energy secretary prompted PAI to take a closer look at the MIT study.
PAI found that key authors of the study, including Moniz himself, had significant financial ties to the oil and gas industry that they failed to disclose in the study or in presentations of the study, including congressional testimony given by Moniz. 
Moniz, the study’s chair, failed to disclose that he had joined the board of ICF, a consulting firm with oil and gas ties, prior to the release of the report. ICF’s CEO cited shale gas analysis as a key profit driver shortly before Moniz joined the firm’s board. Moniz’s compensation from ICF since 2011 is valued at over $300,000. The MIT report also failed to disclose that a study co-chair, Anthony Meggs, had joined gas company Talisman Energy prior to the release of the study. Meggs introduced the report’s findings that fracking-related environmental impacts are “manageable.”
Another study group member, John Deutch, has served on the board of liquefied natural gas (LNG) company Cheniere Energy since 2006, and owns $1.4 million in Cheniere stock. The MIT study was notable for its endorsement of LNG exports. Cheniere holds the only permits to export LNG from the lower 48 states.

“The public should have been informed that MIT’s natural gas study was written by representatives of the oil and gas industry,” said Kevin Connor, director of the Public Accountability Initiative. “Is MIT an independent research university or an oil and gas industry mouthpiece?"
Moniz and Deutch also sit on the advisory board of NGP Energy Technology Partners, a significant investor in oilfield service companies. It is unclear if they are compensated.

The PAI study also notes that the MIT study was funded by oil and gas industry sources, including a foundation closely linked to Chesapeake Energy. Funding sources are disclosed in the MIT study, unlike the personal industry ties noted above. The study was also advised by a committee dominated by oil and gas insiders.
The MIT Energy Initiative responded to PAI's questions about the authors' conflicts of interest with a statement that began, “The notion that these findings are developed based on anything other than the unbiased research of MIT researchers is false.” The full statement is included in an appendix to PAI’s report.
The MIT study is one in a series of academic studies that touted the benefits of fracking, but have later been found to be marred by poor scholarship and conflicts of interest stemming from ties to industry. The trend has come to be known as "frackademia." Last year, PAI found that the principal author of a University of Texas fracking study failed to disclose that he was a gas company board member. The same year, the University at Buffalo released a similarly flawed report. UT eventually retracted the study and the head of the energy institute resigned, and UB shuttered the institute that issued its report.
PAI’s report also points to poor scholarship in the MIT study. Its endorsement of a global gas market touts the economic benefits of gas exports without analyzing how this market shift will affect US gas prices. And the report puts forward very little evidence backing its suggestion that environmental impacts are “challenging but manageable” – a “finding” reported by a gas company executive, Anthony Meggs.

PAI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational organization focused on corporate and government accountability.

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