With the University of Texas assembling a panel to review a February study from the Energy Institute at UT Austin following PAI’s report “Contaminated Inquiry”, there has been a flurry of media attention to gas industry’s capture of scientists and economists, using the independent brands of and public trust in universities to promote a gas-friendly message, often using misleading information or low-quality scholarship – a phenomenon we have termed “frackademia.” This week, Climate Desk, a collaboration between Mother Jones, Slate, Wired, the Guardian, and other outlets, released an article drawing attention to a report commissioned by the Ohio Shale Coalition and released with the logos of Cleveland State University, the Ohio State University, and Marietta College on its cover. The Climate Desk story featured Dr. Robert Chase, a Marietta geologist who co-authored the study, and his ties to the natural gas industry and government.
Chase runs a consulting firm to negotiate leases between landowners and gas companies. His firm Chaseland LLC was the subject of an inquiry by the Ohio Ethics Commission after landowners contested a permit granted to Chesapeake Energy by the Ohio Oil and Gas Commission, a five-member body on which Chase serves. Chase’s history consulting on lease negotiations with Chesapeake led him to recuse himself from that case, and the Ethics Commission ruled that Chase must recuse himself from any case involving companies or people he had done business with at his consultancy.
“An Analysis of the Economic Potential for Shale Formations in Ohio”, the Ohio Shale Coalition-commissioned study that Chase worked on paints a rosy picture of hydrofracking, promising “65,680 jobs and $3.3 billion in labor income, or an average income of $50,225 per job” and a nearly $5 billion increase in Ohio’s GDP from 2011 to 2014 thanks to fracking in the Utica Shale, numbers that the authors call “very conservative.” Researchers at the Ohio State University’s Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy have criticized these estimates as overestimating job creation by “about 400%”. Also, in addition to Chase’s conflict of interest in writing a report endorsing fracking while running a consulting firm that takes a share of the bonus payouts for every gas lease it negotiates, the report itself was commissioned by a pro-fracking group and some of its authors and contributors exhibit similar conflicts. These conflicts raise the question of whether the study’s results were determined before it was conducted.
The other authors and contributors
Two of the other researchers and several advisors behind the study also have ties to industry. In addition to Chase, the research team credited for the study comprises:
- Andrew R. Thomas, Executive in Residence at the Center for Energy Policy and Applications at Cleveland State
- Iryna Lendel, Assistant Director of the Center for Economic Development at Cleveland State
- Edward W. Hill, Dean of the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State
- Douglas Southgate, Environmental Economist at Ohio State’s Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics and director of the Subsurface Energy Resource Center
Prior to his residency at Cleveland State, Andrew Thomas spent 20 years working in the energy industry, both for Shell Oil Company and for private law firms. In 1999, he received the American Petroleum Institute – Delta Chapter’s Meritorious Service Award for “local men and women that work towards the rebuilding of of [the petroleum] industry, community and organization.” API funds pro-fracking research, including a 2010 report by Timothy Considine.
Douglas Southgate’s services as a natural resources economist have been most notably retained by the Chevron Corporation, for whom he has consulted, testified as an expert witness, and defended in the media in the corporation’s eleven-year dispute with the nation of Ecuador. Southgate also spoke at the Heartland Institute‘s 2008 International Conference on Climate Change. The Heartland Institute drew criticism this year for their billboard comparing people that believe in climate change to the Unabomber. In its 2012 Fundraising Plan, Heartland describes itself as “one of the most outspoken defenders of fracking” and described the group’s intent to “approach dozens of companies and trade associations that are actively seeking allies in this battle.” Southgate is a signatory to the Manhattan Declaration on Climate Change denying that carbon dioxide emissions contribute to global warming.
The study also acknowledges that the research team “drew on insights and expertise from professionals involved in all aspects of the oil and gas industry,” but declines to identify any industry contributors, citing the “confidential nature of many of these discussions.”
Questions about the study are directed to either Andrew Thomas or to Linda Woggon, the executive director of the Ohio Shale Coalition and executive vice president of government affairs of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. The chamber supports fracking and Woggon works as a lobbyist on the chamber’s behalf. Also thanked “not only for his work throughout the past 8 months in providing direction for the study, but also for his critical role in its inception,” is Jim Samuel of the Capitol Integrity Group, a “strategic advisory to the natural gas industry.”
Samuel is a founding board member of the Nemacolin Energy Institute, a non-profit group “committed to helping public and private sector leaders understand the facts about all energy sources in moving America toward energy independence, and to foster local, regional, and national energy planning decisions based on facts and not misunderstanding.” Associate NEI members include Chesapeake, Chevron, Consol, Range Resources, Seneca Resources, and Williams Companies. NEI was founded by Joe Hardy, founder of the 84 Lumber chain of stores and its subsidiary 84 Energy Supply, a retailer servicing the gas drilling industry and member of the pro-fracking Marcellus Shale Coalition and Ohio Oil & Gas Association.
The Ohio Chamber of Commerce was forthcoming about the study’s funding in its press release:
The study is being funded by a broad range of industries representing a cross section of Ohio’s economy. Participating industries include, but are not limited to, oil and gas, steel, plastic, chemical, waste management, water providers, manufacturing, heavy equipment suppliers, agriculture, consultants, law firms, sportsman and conservation organizations. To date, more than 25 organizations have contributed to the funding effort.
However the researchers’ industry ties and biases, especially Chase’s, should have also been disclosed. The media surrounding the study largely identified the source of the work, though the Ohio Shale Coalition’s partnership with Cleveland State, Ohio State, and Marietta College was also prominent. Cleveland State is the only school to host the report and to include it with the school’s research, although Marietta announced the study and linked to it elsewhere.