By Steve Horn
On Friday, SUNY Buffalo's President's Office released a lengthy and long-awaited 162-page report upon request of the SUNY System Board of Trustees that delved into the substantive facts surrounding the creation of its increasingly controversial Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI). The report was published in response to concern among journalists, advocacy groups, "fracktivists," and SUNY Buffalo professors and faculty that the university is transforming itself from a center of academia to a center for "frackademia."
In the spirit of "best practices" of politicially-astute public relations professionals, the report came out late on a Friday afternoon, when few people pay close attention to news and reporters have left the office for the weekend. This tactic is known as the "document dump" or "Take Out the Trash Day," in reference to a title of an episode of The West Wing.
Buck Quigley of ArtVoice noticed the report is actually dated Sept. 27, meaning SUNY Buffalo's been sitting on it for roughly two weeks, giving the public relations office plenty of time to craft a response narrative to offer to the press.
In actuality, the report is only 13 pages. The rest is Appendices.
The Meat and Potatoes of the Report
Writing with regards to SUNY Buffalo's Academic Freedom and Conflict of Interest Policy, the President's Office stated,
To ensure transparency and adherence to rigorous standards of academic integrity, we focus on identifying and managing potential conflicts of interest. If the conflicts are determined to be unmanageable, UB will not accept the funding.
As with all research at UB, regardless of the source of the funding, it is [not] the role...of the funding source to dictate the conclusions drawn by faculty investigators. This core principle is critical to the preservation of academic freedom. UB recognizes that conflicts - both actual and perceived—can arise between sources of research funding and expectations of independence when reporting research results.
The report fails to discuss the Institute's long history of courting oil and gas industry funding. As we recently reported, the gas industry explicitly acknowledged that it targets universities as a key front for legitimacy in the eyes of the public in the ongoing shale gas PR battle within the Marcellus Shale basin. This was revealed at the same conference in which the industry acknowledged it was utilizing psychological warfare tactics on citizens.
Later in the report, the President's Office stated that it has "every expectation that the faculty will conduct their public and policy-related activities as professionals, basing their conclusions on rigourous evidence and methodology." Yet, the President's Office has little ground to stand on here, given the flawed methodology of the Institute's first report, ruthlessly picked apart in May by the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI).
Responding to PAI's report, the President's Office said, "No concerns were raised by the relevant scientific community about the data used in developing the report's conclusion." Given that the scientific community generally doesn't do rapid-fire responses to reports, it's not surprising that this is the case.
On the flip side of the coin, given that four of the five peer reviewers for that report were on the payroll of the oil and gas industry, it's also obvious SRSI had its conclusions made before the "study" was ever conducted to begin with. In other words, it was an exercise in propaganda for the oil and gas industry, rather than science.
In page seven of the report, the President's Office offers a revelatory nugget: SRSI has been in the works since 2007, predating what was then the looming rapid ascendancy of the North American shale gas boom. The Office wrote,
Beginning in late 2007, the first departmental discussions related to the potential for a research center focused on energy resources took place. This dialogue, which would continue over the course of the next four years, involved conversations of faculty members and experts in the field, in consultation with the department's alumni advisory board and the offices of the dean and department chair.
Importantly, the report also says industry insider and SRSI Director John Martin—owner of the consulting firm JP Martin Energy Strategy LLC - will serve in this capacity only until a tenured, full-time faculty member is chosen to direct the Institute and take his place. "This remains the ultimate intention of the Dean," explains the report. "[T]oward this end, the Dean is engaged in a process to identify and appoint a full-time UB faculty member as the Institute's lead director."
The obvious questions arise: Why wasn't this person chosen from the beginning, given a five-year head start to locate him/her? Why was there ever a need to bring in a non-faculty member and oil and gas industry insider like John Martin to run SRSI to begin with?
President's Office, Like Provost Charles "Chip" Zukoski, Says "No Industry Funding" for SRSI
The biggest whopper is located on page nine of the report, in which the President's Office stated, "To date, the University at Buffalo has received no industry funding for the [SRSI]. Its expenses, including the salary of its part-time director and co-director, have been paid entirely by the university's College of Arts and Sciences through discretionary funds."
This is, at best, a half-truth and pure technicality. Though, to date, SRSI—in its infancy—hasn't received oil and gas industry largesse, that doesn't mean it isn't seeking this funding and won't obtain this funding in the near future, as we explained in our latest report with regards to Provost Charles "Chip" Zukoski's parallel "no industry funding" statement:
Two key details raise serious immediate red flags about Zukoski's claims of recieving "no industry funding."
The first: in its initial call out for funding, the SRSI stated it was seeking three-year $1.14 million corporate memberships "to create a dynamic and impactful program." Corporate members also are given a spot on the SRSI's Advisory Board, "ensuring focused alignment of purpose and deliverables," according to the funding request form. Put another way, three-year corporate memberships would yield some sort of deliverable goods for oil and gas corporations—a quid pro quo, if you will.
Confirming this but leaving out all of the substantive details of how this will take place and from whom the funding will come from, the Chacellor's Office wrote that "SRSI will generate research support through competitive grants, philanthropy, and from the private sector." "Private sector," in English, means the oil and gas industry.
The second: on Sept. 13, Buffalo's ArtVoice released the fruits of a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. One of the documents, dated Aug. 7, 2011, read that a "funding plan for alumni and large corporations has been in the works for two years. A pitch to alumni and corporate interests in Houston is planned for October, following on two earlier meetings there in Spring, 2011." Houston serves as the headquarters for numerous oil and gas corporations, and is a great place to go in search of funding for "frackademics."
That same document also showed that the SRSI, as of Aug. 7, 2011, had already received money from IOGA of NY. It also states that SRSI has "good contacts with National Fuel, their wholly owned subsidiary Seneca Resources, and other resource companies involved in the [Marcellus Shale]." Beyond merely offering to fund the SRSI, IOGA of NY has also provided "organizational help," according to the document.
IOGA's Board of Directors has representatives from Shell, Chesapeake Energy, and many other players in the unconventional gas sphere. National Fuel/Seneca "operates approximately 2,500 wells located in western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania...[and currently] owns approximately 730,000 acres of fee minerals, 260,000 acres of leased minerals and 100,000 acres of surface and timber rights throughout the region," according to its website.
President's Office Conclusion: Remain Silent, Defend SRSI to the Death
The President's Office closes the report with a cleansing of its hands, saying it will take a laissez faire approach to the situation. The Office stated [page 12], "In the specific case of the SRSI, and as a general academic principle, it is not the role of SUNY, or any university, to dictate the conclusions drawn by faculity from their research, or the review faculty research before it is published."
This conclusion was offered despite the fact that it's obvious what the research will yield: "deliverables" for the oil and gas industry, as we exposed in our previous report.
Despite this set of circumstances, it appears SUNY Buffalo's leadership will defend SRSI to the death.
Stay tuned for DeSmog's continuing coverage of the SUNY Buffalo SRSI affair and a forthcoming investigation digging into, of all things, SRSI's connection to the forthcoming fracking boom in the state of California.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.