By Steve Horn
[Editor's note: Yes, many blows to the fracking industry lately, including the announcement yesterday from the faculty at the Community College of Philadelphia about passing a resolution calling on the college “to sever all ties to the Marcellus Shale Coalition and the gas fracking industry” and urging the college instead “to expand its initiatives and offerings in clean, green energy and environmental career fields.”]
Weeks after SUNY Buffalo's upper-level administration gave the Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) the boot due to its gas industry public relations effort masked as a "study," University of Texas-Austin's (UT-Austin) administration has somewhat followed suit for its own "frackademia" study.
The decision comes in the aftermath of an independent review of a controversial study completed under UT-Austin's auspices.
Like SRSI's "shill gas study," UT-Austin brought itself attention when it published a "study" in February 2012 titled, Separating Fact From Fiction in Shale Gas Development. UT-Austin's study—conducted under the wings of its Energy Institute—claimed that there's "no scientific proof" that unconventional oil and gas development can be linked to groundwater contamination.
As it turns out, the author's lead investigator, Charles "Chip" Groat is on the payroll of the oil and gas industry via Plains Exploration & Production, a direct conflict-of-interest under the standards of academia (not to be confused with those of "frackademia"). "Groat earned more than double his University of Texas salary as a PXP board member in 2011—$413,900 as opposed to $173,273—and he has amassed over $1.6 million in stock during his tenure there," Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) explained in a report.
The embarrassment created by these revelations moved Groat to retire after the spring semester, while the head of the Energy Institute, Raymond Orbach, stepped down yesterday as head of the institute, though he'll still remain on the UT-Austin faculty.
UT-Austin's administration, in effect, has decided to distance itself from the report due to its numerous conflicts-of-interest, though unlike the SRSI, the Energy Institute won't be ended.
"The school said it will undertake six recommended actions, the most significant being the withdrawal of papers from the Energy Institute’s Web site related to the report until they are submitted for fresh expert review," explained the New York Times.
Kevin Connor, director of PAI, issued this statement in response to UT-Austin's decision:
The University of Texas has now joined the University at Buffalo in sending a strong message to the oil and gas industry: our universities are not for sale. This is another major blow to gas industry pseudoscience and a victory for academic integrity in the debate around fracking.
The University of Texas deserves credit for taking a difficult but important stand for transparency and integrity by releasing this review and pursuing these recommendations.
U of Michigan: The Next Frontier for "Frackademia"?
This announcement comes soon after University of Michigan-Ann Arbor stated it would be conducting its own forthcoming two-year study on the ecological impacts of fracking in Michigan.
"Industry representatives, nongovernmental organizations, state government officials, academic experts and other stakeholders are providing input," explained University of Michigan in a press release.
Members of the study's Steering Committee include two representatives of the Michigan Oil and Gas Association and members of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's cabinet, along with several university-affiliated faculty members.
A Dec. 3 story by Energy and Environment News explained that Energy in Depth, the shale gas industry front group, will also be deeply involved with the study.
"Some of those stakeholders are being pulled in as resources for the UM study, said Energy in Depth Field Director Erik Bauss, whom UM researchers have already called on to help facilitate a visit to a Michigan frack site," wrote E and E.
Given the recent state of play for "frackademics," DeSmog will be keeping a close eye on the Michigan study in the weeks and months ahead. Stay tuned.
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.