The Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI), an institute created by the State University of New York at Buffalo, which is devoted entirely to shale gas drilling study, issued a report mid-May that detailed the effectiveness of Pennsylvania regulations in making hydraulic fracturing safer. However, shortly after its release, the study met strong criticism from various environmental and government watchdog groups, questioning the authors’ ties with the industry, the sources for the funding for the report, and the validity of the facts presented. However, despite this opposition, SUNY refused to investigate the integrity of the report, citing that it is a breach of freedom in regards to academic research.
One of the biggest reasons that the report met so much opposition was because its two main authors, Timothy J. Considine, a professor at the University of Wyoming, and Robert W. Watson, a professor at Pennsylvania State University have both done research in the past for the oil and gas industry. The third author, John P. Martin also does PR work for the industry. Though it is claimed that the institute, SRSI, has not yet received any funding from the industry, it is currently seeking start-up funding up to $1.14 million from the oil and gas industry over the next three years.
From an academic accountability stand point, Kevin Conor, co-director of a local watchdog group, the Public Accountability Initiative, called the authors out for copying directly from a report they wrote last year for the Manhattan Institute. Also, initial claims state that the article was “peer-reviewed,” though the university later retracted that statement.
Corporate funding among academic research is not a new concept, nor is it necessarily always bad. Researchers try to not be biased toward the sponsor, though some say that it is nearly impossible to not feel a duty to do so. Some researchers feel they owe a thank you to the funding group. Thomas O. McGarity, a board member for the Center for Progressive Reform tells us that it is most important for universities to be absolutely transparent about funding in academic research.
The goal of founding this group was to bring academic rigor and decisive research to a controversial topic that is close to the hearts of many communities. In a June 28 press release responding to the criticism surrounding the SRSI report, UB stated that, “The University upholds academic freedom as a core principle. In accordance with this principle, faculty members are free to conduct research on any topic, including controversial ones…”