Appalachian Basin

‘Absolutely Objective’ Peer Reviewer Gives ‘Victory’ Speech at New York Anti-Fracking Party

Poet, biologist and political activist Sandra Steingraber appears in this 2014 “Ban Fracking Now” video.

The peer reviewer of a research paper used to ban shale gas development in New York gave a victory speech to an anti-fracking celebration this week, just days after she called herself “absolutely objective” in an interview with a news reporter.

“[I]t is so sweet now to come together in one room to tell the story of our victory over the shale gas army to each other,” Sandra Steingraber told a Jan. 21 anti-fracking victory party in Albany, according to the activist website EcoWatch.

Steingraber – a self-described poet, biologist and advocate – was one of three shale gas opponents who peer-reviewed a research paper claiming “potentially dangerous” pollution levels near oil and natural gas wells. The authors of the paper were shale gas opponents, too, but these clear conflicts of interest were not disclosed. This violates well-established codes of conduct for scientific research, as Energy In Depth first detailed on the news and analysis website Breaking Energy.

Even so, this paper was used to support New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker’s decision to ban shale gas development. Zucker even held up the paper – literally – as an example of “bona fide scientific literature” during a Dec. 17 press conference with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing the shale gas ban.

The Cuomo administration has refused to answer questions about the affair. When a reporter started to investigate, her calls and e-mails to Cuomo’s office were not returned. Meanwhile, Steingraber – co-founder of the group New Yorkers Against Fracking – told the same reporter there was no problem peer-reviewing a paper about shale gas development when you’re also an outspoken opponent of shale gas development. According to the Jan. 19 news story, Steingraber said:

“I think we are all proud of our ability to be conservative and analytical and absolutely objective about the data. I look at the data and call it as I see it.”

Two days later, Steingraber gave her speech to the anti-fracking victory party at the Hilton Hotel in Albany. Here are some more highlights, according to EcoWatch:

“We are the maker of this story that has been shaped by our unceasing, unrelenting efforts—all of which mattered and made a difference.

Every rally. Every march. Every jug of Dimock water. Every public comment. Every local ban. Every letter to the editor. Every letter to the Governor. Every concert. Every expert testimony at every hearing.

It all mattered.

Every phone call. Every media story. Every press conference. Every petition signature. Every chant. Every sign and banner. Every birddogging mission.

And every alarm clock that rang at 3:30 a.m. to take every person to every bus to Albany every time we came here for the past five years…

Our next battle is fracking infrastructure—from Seneca Lake to Port Ambrose, from the Constitution pipeline to the Dominion New Market Project, and from drill cuttings to liquid waste dumping.

As we go after these various proposals and projects, our work now diversifies and become more diffuse. But, happily, our skill set has also diversified. We’ve learned a lot over the past five years, we are battle tested, and we have wind in our wings.

Against fracking infrastructure, we will prevail. I am playing to win.”

As Energy In Depth first noted on Breaking Energy, the factual basis for New York’s shale gas ban has been shaky from the start, but the revelation that Steingraber and other shale gas opponents were lobbying the Cuomo administration while also producing scientific research used by the Cuomo administration takes the debate to a new level.

We now know at least one of Zucker’s “bona fide” research papers was the creation of shale gas opponents who subverted the peer-review process. Even more disturbing, some of those activists are senior figures in the campaign that successfully lobbied Zucker and Gov. Cuomo to block hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in New York.

This means shale-gas opponents wrote a paper, reviewed a paper and then convinced the State of New York to act upon the findings of a paper as though it was independent research. It also means the paper was misrepresented to the scientific community and the general public as “bona fide” research, not just by the authors and the reviewers, but by New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker himself.

Did Zucker know about this, or was he deceived like the rest of us? And if Zucker calls this paper “bona fide” research, how are we supposed to trust his judgment on the others he used to justify New York’s shale gas ban? We continue to believe these are urgent questions that demand urgent answers from officials in the Cuomo administration, despite their best efforts to ignore them.


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