UB Marcellus Study: The Numbers Don’t Lie

Let’s say, hypothetically, that a deep-pocketed organization was financially underwriting the bulk of activities associated with a campaign to stop oil and gas development in America, including organizing and orchestrating research projects designed to attack 65 years of history, science and experience with respect to the safe use of hydraulic fracturing.

Now let’s stop pretending and recognize that everything we’ve described above is, in fact, happening, and the organization so-described is the Ithaca-based Park Foundation. Would that classify as news fit to print?

Not according to the New York Times, it isn’t.

What the Gray Lady does view as a story, however, is a fresh round of grumbling from opposition groups charging that a recently released paper on Marcellus regulation in Pennsylvania from the University at Buffalo is “biased” – and that, because of this paper, the entire university’s reputation is now at risk. You know, the same way Cornell’s reputation was reduced to a smoldering husk following the release of the now widely debunked Howarth and Ingraffea GHG papers.

Wait, what? Cornell’s doing just fine? Right, that’s what we thought.

Anyway, the report about which activists are screaming “bias!” (more on that later) was released last month by the University at Buffalo’s Shale Resources and Society Institute. It found that even as natural gas development from the Marcellus Shale has increased in Pennsylvania in recent years, the number of environmental incidents has actually fallen on a per-well basis, and that New York’s proposed regulations would have prevented many if not all of those incidents from occurring in the Empire State.

But opponents say the opposite is the case, citing the increase in total violations in Pennsylvania as evidence that things are getting worse, not better.

The reality, though, is that the term “violation,” especially as it relates to oil and gas operations, suggests (at least through implication) an environmental problem. But most violations are actually administrative in nature and relate to the mountain of paperwork that must be filled out before, during, and after a well is drilled. These are logged as “violations,” but there’s obviously no environmental damage resulting from an unfilled box on a piece of paper submitted to the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection.

According to the UB study, 62 percent of all violations were for “administrative or preventative reasons.” The study also points out that the number of violations constituting the remaining 38 percent is itself a bit misleading, as multiple violations often referred to the same incident. And as the folks at EID-Marcellus have previously observed, the number of violations per well has actually been decreasing in recent years.

But what activists claim — and for which the Times provided a lopsided forum — is that the types of violations don’t matter. To them, a misspelled word on a piece of paper is apparently an environmental catastrophe.

Of course, this isn’t the first time opponents have tried to skew violation data in their favor. But unfortunately for them, the whole truth continues to be a better barometer than the half truth they got the New York Times to promote.

What else did the Times leave out of its skewed attempt to connect the dots between funding and advocacy in shale development? Why, only the most obvious and blatant example: The Park Foundation.


  • It was the Park Foundation that helped fund the thoroughly discredited movie Gasland, as well as multiple anti-shale efforts across the country.
  • It was the Park Foundation that funded the “study” from Duke University that tried to link Marcellus development with methane in private water wells. Both the former and current Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection have raised considerable questions about the validity of the paper.
  • It was the Park Foundation that funded the infamous Howarth “study” that suggested shale development was worse for the climate than coal. Independent experts, the U.S. Department of Energy, a study funded by the Sierra Club, and even the authors’ colleague at Cornell have all debunked Howarth’s conclusions.
  • It was the Park Foundation that funded the “study” about how Marcellus development will, someday, eventually, theoretically contaminate water supplies. Predictably, the study’s thesis is completely bogus.
  • It was the Park Foundation that funded the “study” concluding EPA’s draft report on Pavillion, Wyo., water quality was sound — even though the EPA itself has suspended peer review of that report in order to gather and analyze more data.
  • It was the Park Foundation that created an entirely new “research” organization dedicated to undermining shale development: Physicians, Scientists, & Engineers for Healthy Energy.

All of these efforts continue to draw media attention, despite each of them being thoroughly debunked by scientists, regulators, and independent experts. Yet all of this was also overlooked in a story purporting to examine how money can drive research. Of course, the Times likely doesn’t want to tell the ugly truth about an organization on which it relies for research, so it’s perhaps only fitting that the story had such a glaring omission.

There’s also something else worth pointing out here: Is it possible that opponents doth protest too much? Hearing “bias!” from anti-shale activists is not news, but rather the natural product of a desperate yet well-funded national campaign to deny science, deny evidence, and deny the truth as it tries to stay relevant. Participants cannot rely on scientific findings to support their claims (because there are none), so, when they’re not funneling money to friendly professors to score headlines, they speak in talking points (“bias,” “industry shill,” “hack,” etc.) and hope the public is too stupid to see what’s really going on.

A few notable examples:

  • The most recent University of Texas study that found there’s “no evidence” of hydraulic fracturing contaminating water? A local activist immediately suggested it was biased and funded by industry, which, of course, it was not, as a University spokesman quickly noted. (NOTE: The study was actually reviewed by the Environmental Defense Fund.)
  • What about the Secretary of Energy’s Shale Gas Subcommittee Report, which proposed a series of recommendations to continue safe and responsible shale development? Yep, they said the panel was biased.
  • State regulators, who have tightly and effectively regulated hydraulic fracturing for decades, are routinely maligned as “biased” for their supposed coziness with the industry.
  • Activists have even criticized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — the same entity they want to regulate hydraulic fracturing, mind you — for its multiple water tests in Dimock, Pa., each of which concluded the water was safe. The results weren’t what they wanted, so…shenanigans!

So, to recap: A large, multimillion dollar organization co-headquartered in New York and California is funneling money to a thumb-on-the-scale “research” campaign aimed at trying to shut down hydraulic fracturing. But the intrepid reporters at the Times write an 1,100-word story about how opponents of responsible energy production are, for the umpteenth time, accusing those with whom they disagree of being biased.

Amazing that no one seems to read newspapers anymore, isn’t it?


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