The oil and gas industry is using flawed research to give the impression of a scientific consensus that fracking is safe and beneficial, according to a new report released by the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) and available in the attachment section below.
The report, titled “Frackademia in Depth,” assesses over 130 studies that the industry has put forward to help make the scientific case for fracking, analyzing them for the strength of their industry ties and their relative academic quality (whether they were peer-reviewed).
PAI found that only 14% of the studies had been subject to peer review, while nearly 76% had some degree of connection to the oil and gas industry through funders, authors, and issuers.
PAI also found that the list included reports that had been discredited and retracted by the institutions that published them, including a 2012 report from the University of Texas that an independent panel convened by the school decried as “falling short of contemporary standards of scientific work” after PAI revealed undisclosed conflicts of interest and shoddy scholarship.
The extensive list of studies analyzed in the report was originally compiled by Energy in Depth, a nationwide industry outreach effort, and used to convince legislators in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania to lease mineral rights under a county park for fracking. The list opens a telling window onto the body of fracking research that the oil and gas industry deems fit for public consumption.
“Though the industry says that the science is settled in favor fracking, their own best evidence does not support that claim,” said Robert Galbraith, a research analyst at PAI and co-author of the report.
The report also finds that the industry inflated a generally weak case by including some studies on its list multiple times and by listing “studies” that were actually blog posts, non-binding guidelines, and PowerPoint presentations.
“Policymakers should be wary of the research pushed by the oil and gas industry, which is often closer to public relations than to actual science,” Galbraith added.
PAI’s report profiles some of the industry’s studies as well as the organizations and people involved with funding, preparing, and publishing them. A database accompanying the report offers further detail on each study, including the nature and extent of industry ties and whether it was subject to peer review.
The Public Accountability Initiative is a non-profit, non-partisan research and educational organization focused on corporate and government accountability. In addition to publishing research on critical public accountability issues, PAI maintains LittleSis.org, an involuntary facebook of powerful people and tool for power research that was used to compile data for the report.