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UB President Defends Shale Institute

On Wednesday, September 12, State University of New York (SUNY) Trustees requested a report from UB “regarding the formation of the UB Shale Institute, the selection of its directors, and the publication of its initial report, including that natural gas companies requested that the institute be formed, were involved in the selection of its directors and significant errors in its first report, including misstating that it was peer reviewed.”

The ensuing report, addressed to SUNY chancellor Nancy Zimpher from University at Buffalo president Satish Tripathi, is dated September 27.

The report was withheld from the press and public by both UB and SUNY for two weeks—despite immediate Freedom of Information Law requests from this paper and others—until it was finally released, unredacted and complete with a long-winded explanation defending it on the UB News Services website last Friday afternoon, October 12. Friday afternoons are the time of the week when press releases are traditionally issued to generate the least fanfare—which is exactly what any public relations person would want to do when tasked with downplaying the controversy connected with the UB Shale Resources and Society Institute. It was a nice try.

On the issue of funding SRSI, the report states:

UB’s College of Arts and Sciences has been the sole source of funding for the SRSI. There has been no industry funding of the Shale Resources and Society Institute. SRSI can solicit support for the institution from external sources, including state and federal agencies, individuals and philanthropies, and corporations, however, none of its funding has come from these entities (See Attachment E: Funding Breakdown for the SRSI).

Attachment E then explains that the $177,442 total SRSI funding that is attributed to UB’s College of Arts and Sciences actually flowed from one of the UB Foundations, whose donors are beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Law. Attachment E also says that a “UBF account was also set up by Development for the Institute. However, there is no funding in the account.”

I guess everyone is just going to have to take them at their word that there’s no funding in the account, since they won’t open their books. In which case, UB appears to have paid nearly $180,000 to start up an institute that no other individuals or entities care to support.

In the meantime, according to reports by Steve Horn, published on DeSmogBlog and picked up on such websites as CounterPunch and TruthOut, SRSI co-director John P. Martin—a co-author of SRSI’s first (and only), widely panned report—picked up a nice consulting gig for his side business, JPMartin Energy Strategies, LLC, as a “peer reviewer” of a study done by energy consultants Cardno ENTRIX for gas and oil company Plains Exploration and Production (PXP). The study, released October 10, concludes that it would be safe to employ high-volume horizontal fracking in the Inglewood oil field in Los Angeles county, California—fault lines and all.

In his biography accompanying the PXP report, Martin makes no mention of his role as co-director of the battered SRSI, for which he is being paid $60,000 plus $12,000 for travel annually by the UB Foundation.

Tripathi’s report has been in the hands of the SUNY trustees for three weeks. Upon its public release last week, SUNY issued the following statement:

The Board of Trustees is reserving comment at this time as it continues to review the UB Shale Institute Report. It does not view the public release of the report as the end of the process and may discuss possible responses or other related actions at a future public meeting.

But of course, the SUNY trustees have a lot on their plates at the moment, trying to figure out how the SUNY Research Foundation came to pick up Chancellor Zimpher’s $28,000 in charges for booze, meals, and club memberships over the last three years, for example.

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