Report takes aim at Moniz, MIT fracking study

A report by an organization called the Public Accountability Initiative takes aim at President Obama’s energy secretary nominee Ernest Moniz and his participation in an influential Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) report on fracking.

The PAI report takes to task MIT’s June 2011 report on the future of natural gas as well as several other recent university reports that were generally favorable toward hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”

Moniz is a former Energy Department official and MIT professor who helps lead the MIT Energy Initiative. He is scheduled to have a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee April 9.

“Industry Partner or Industry Puppet: How MIT’s influential study of fracking was authored, funded, and released by oil and gas industry insiders,” was released by PAI during March.

The PAI describes itself as a non-partisan research and educational organization focused on “researching the 1%: Investigating power and corruption at the heights of business and government.” This report was authored by Kevin Connor, PAI’s director, and Robert Galbraith, a research analyst at PAI.

The report also takes some digs at the credibility of several frack-friendly studies done by various universities over the past few years.

“The process of natural gas extraction known as “fracking” is a subject ripe for sound academic study, given open questions about the risks and benefits of shale gas. Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that the oil and gas industry has made a concerted effort to corrupt this process of academic inquiry,” PAI said.

“Several universities have released high-profile studies on the subject of fracking that dismissed environmental concerns, but were later found to be tainted by poor scholarship, pro-industry bias, and significant conflicts of interest stemming from ties to industry,” PAI contends.

In addition to the MIT reports, several other university reports on hydraulic fracturing are also singled out for criticism. They include studies by the University of Texas, the University at Buffalo, and Penn State.

As for Moniz, he “lucrative position on the board of ICF International, a consulting firm with significant oil and gas ties, just prior to the release of the [MIT] report,” according to PAI. The MIT study was also funded by oil and gas industry sources and advised by a committee dominated by industry representatives, PAI said.

The MIT report came at a critical time for the industry, which was fending off a tide of negative press. A study by Cornell ecologist Robert Howarth released in April 2011 suggested that fracking may actually be dirtier than coal, due to methane leaks associated with the practice. The New York Times had also been running a series raising questions about fracking, PAI said.

The Public Accountability Initiative also said MIT professor, and former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Deutch also had ties to the natural gas industry.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.