UB pulls plug on Shale Institute

News and analysis by Dan Telvock, Investigative Post's environmental reporter

The dark cloud is dissipating over the University at Buffalo and its short-lived Shale Resources and Society Institute.

UB President Satish K. Tripathi announced Monday he has closed the institute.

The decision comes seven months after the institute released a controversial study that claimed instances of pollution related to the process of natural gas drilling called hydrofracking declined 60 percent from 2008 to August 2011 because of regulation in Pennsylvania. As a result, the Marcellus industry cut incidences of environmental violations by more than half in three years, the study claimed.

Artvoice exposed the institute before the university ever announced its existence, raising questions about its creation right off the bat.

Then the government watchdog organization Public Accountability Initiative added more fire when it found  numerous factual errors in the study and that its authors had ties to the oil and gas industry that were not cited in the institute’s study.

National news organizations, including the New York Times, picked up Public Accountability Initiative’s criticism, attracting an ominous spotlight on UB.

UB students and faculty were up in arms over the brouhaha and called for more transparency of research funding and for the closing of the institute.

After more watchdog pressure, the president decided to close SRSI for four reasons:

  • There was a cloud of uncertainty over the research.
  • UB needs to improve its policies for disclosure of financial interests and sources of support for any research.
  • The reported conflicts damaged the integrity of the institute’s research.
  • The institute did not have enough faculty in the fields of shale energy production to meet its mission.

You can read the full statement from Tripathi here.

Tripathi’s assessment was conducted with the help of Provost Charles Zukoski and E. Bruce Pitman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Tripathi said UB still can be a leader in energy and environmental research.

“To do so, we need to be deliberate and thoughtful, with an eye toward the long-range implications of this research, which has tremendous local, national, and global impact,” Tripathi said.

Kevin Connor, the co-director of the Public Accountability Project, told the Buffalo News that, UB showed integrity by pulling the plug on the institute.

“There have been a series of missteps in the administration’s handling of this and I think they finally got it right today,” Connor said.

Related:

‘Frack’tured faculty at UB over shale gas study

Interview with Public Accountability Initiative Co-Director Kevin Connor