A little more than a week ago the Orange County Register ran a column by Timothy Considine, the director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming arguing against a ban on hydraulic fracturing in California. Considine claims that fracking in the Monterey Shale could add 557,000 jobs per year and increase the state domestic product by $63 billion. While Considine’s numbers look compelling, they are based on a wild overestimate of the recoverable oil from the Monterey formation. Five days after Considine’s column ran, the Energy Information Administration reduced its estimate of recoverable oil from the Monterey Shale by 96%.
This isn’t the first time that Considine’s bullish fracking proclamations have not borne out under scrutiny. Followers of our series on frackademia will recognize Considine as the primary author of multiple controversial and industry-tied studies claiming that fracking brings big economic advantages that outweigh its environmental effects.
From 2009 through 2011, Considine wrote a series of reports released by Penn State about the economic impact of fracking on the state of Pennsylvania, failing to disclose, until called out by an environmental group, his funding by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an oil and gas industry trade group. In the last version of the report released before it was canceled because no Penn State faculty would agree to sign on as co-author, Considine claimed that by 2012 the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania would create 181,335 jobs and add $14.5 billion to the state domestic product, including 67,739 jobs “directly create[d]” by “Marcellus industry purchases of goods and services, their royalties to landowners, and tax payments.” The other 113,596 jobs were to be indirectly created or induced by Marcellus activity. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry estimates that, through the third quarter of 2013, there were 30,031 people employed in “core” Marcellus industries.
Considine was also the lead author of a report on the environmental effects of fracking, the only study released by the now-defunct Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) at the State University of New York’s Univeristy at Buffalo. There, Considine claimed that “the odds of non-major environmental events and the much smaller odds of major environmental events are being reduced even further by enhanced regulation and improved industry practice.” A PAI review of the data used in the study (available here) found that in the time period studied, the rate of major environmental events actually increased 36%, the total number of environmental events increased by 189%, and the total number of major environmental events increased by 900%. Major public criticism of the study caused the University at Buffalo to close SRSI shortly after the study was released.
Considine kept a low profile with respect to fracking for a few years after the SRSI embarrassment; however, with anti-fracking sentiment mounting in drought-stricken California, it seems he couldn’t resist chiming in with his usual ecstatic economic predictions.
In his May 16 column for the Orange Country Register Considine wrote:
I recently examined the economic and environmental impact of tapping into those reserves and increasing the state’s oil and gas production. Depending on production levels, California could expect to add from 67,000 to 557,000 jobs per year. State and local governments could see between $1.1 and $8.2 billion in additional tax revenue, while the state domestic product could increase anywhere from $8.5 to $63 billion.
He even took time to estimate how much environmental damage fracking in the Monterey Shale would cost, coming to the conclusion that “once both the benefits of increased production and the costs of environmental damage are considered, the net economic benefits of developing California’s oil and gas resources are between $7 and $51 billion per year.”
Even assuming for the sake of argument that Considine’s methodology is sounder in his Orange County Register column than in his Penn State and University at Buffalo reports, the foundation for his predictions here is the staggering amount of recoverable oil in the Monterey Shale: “California has significant offshore petroleum reserves and the state’s Monterey Shale is estimated to contain more than 15 billion barrels of oil, roughly two-thirds of the United States’ shale oil reserves.” If there were actually less recoverable oil than estimated, the benefits California would see from increasing fracking would be significantly less than Considine predicted here.
Enter the Energy Information Administration.
Just five days after Considine’s column ran, the EIA cut its estimate of recoverable oil by 96%. The 15.4 billion barrels of oil Considine based his predictions on is actually more like 600 million barrels. From the Los Angeles Times:
Federal energy authorities have slashed by 96% the estimated amount of recoverable oil buried in California’s vast Monterey Shale deposits, deflating its potential as a national “black gold mine” of petroleum.
Just 600 million barrels of oil can be extracted with existing technology, far below the 13.7 billion barrels once thought recoverable from the jumbled layers of subterranean rock spread across much of Central California, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.
The miscalculation appears to have come from EIA’s reliance on “figures…derived from
technical reports and presentations from oil companies, including Occidental Petroleum, which owns the lion’s share of oil leases in the Monterey Shale, at 1.6 million acres.”
While this gaffe is not Considine’s fault per se, it is yet another illustration of the importance of the effect that having a stake in results can have on the results of studies of controversial topics.