UB's Shale Institute
by Jim Holstun
Once again, in “UB Shale Institute Taps Industry Shills,” Buck Quigley commits journalism. He focuses on the first publication by UB’s Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI), titled “Environmental Impacts During Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts, and Remedies.” If only the Buffalo News could learn to imitate what he does, rather than pinching occasional bits of journalism by him and by other Artvoice journalists.
As UB’s administration raffles off what remains of its good name to aid in more local and global environmental degradation, will it ever stop and ask, “Is it really worth it?” How much of a laundered contribution from the energy industry is UB getting for its obliging services via SRSI? A lot, I hope. On May 1, in a UB Faculty Senate meeting, I asked UB President Satish K. Tripathi if the SRSI would be making its funders known. He said that it would be doing everything required—for instance, listing in all published scholarly research the funders underwriting that research. But this initial SRSI venture into published “research” lists no funders. So did President Tripathi misspeak? Who are the actual funders? As Quigley points out, UB itself is confused, saying first it was UB itself, second that it was the UB Foundation: the secretive moneypot which can be used to launder contributions from, say, the oil and gas industry, then pass them along to underwrite oil and gas company propaganda with the UB seal of approval. But in any case, it’s a serious scholarly error not to list the sponsors of this piece.
Second, President Tripathi may have been speaking gospel truth. For if he actually read the report, he is scientist enough to know that it is in no way “research.” As the blogger BuffaloPundette points out in “FrackU: UB releases its first ‘peer reviewed’ research of fracking,” the notion that this is “peer-reviewed” is laughable when you actually examine the ostensible peers who reviewed it. It is corporate advocacy, bought and paid for, aimed at bringing fracking to New York State. In a UB press release—the kind that the Buffalo News copies out so dutifully, like a medieval monk—report co-author and SRSI co-director John Martin is quoted saying, “New York’s current regulations would prevent or mitigate each of the identified major environmental events that occurred in Pennsylvania.” This is pure hucksterism combined with crystal-ball-gazing, with no illusion of science: New York’s regulations “would”? But Dr. Martin, Pennsylvania’s regulations also “would have” prevented these “major environmental events,” but they didn’t. Why not? Because the frackers broke the law. You see, these weren’t just “events”—they were violations and corporate crimes.
And Martin’s own data contradicts his claim here: Some of the events were partly due to equipment failure—for instance, the Stevens River Fish Kill, during which Cabot Oil dumped 8,000 gallons of fracking lubricant gel. Actually, as BuffaloPundette points out in “UB Sez Release Fracken,” it was over 8,400 gallons of lubricant gel. She also notes that the Pennsylvania DEP was not so quick to give Cabot Oil a pass on the grounds of “Oops! Equipment failure!” But let all that slide for a moment, and let’s say it was just equipment failure, plain and simple. This doesn’t make the fluid spill go away. Fracking fluid frequently contains benzene, among other carcinogens, and oncologists have not yet discovered a way to distinguish the cancer you contract because of oil company equipment failure from the cancer you contract because of oil company malevolence. And “mitigation”—a favorite SRSI weasel word—may bring us cold comfort: Surely the authors know that, while chemotherapy can sometimes mitigate cancer, it doesn’t always cure it.
So how do you keep the benzene out of your morning coffee? You don’t pump it underground in the first place, so there’s nothing to “mitigate.”
A student of mine at UB points out that the new institute’s acronym, SRSI, suggests Circe, the Greek sorceress who could turn men into pigs. Instead of SRSI’s disingenuous new leafy earth emblem that whispers “Gaia Loves Frackers!” might I suggest something along the lines of a man turning into a pig? SRSI could even franchise this logo nationally for other academic public-private partnerships. Think it over, UB—there could be some serious money in this. And in addition to the truth in advertising, it probably wouldn’t cause any cancer.
> Jim Holstun, Buffalo
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