'Peer-reviewed' Label Pulled From UB Shale Study

10:54 PM, May 23, 2012   |    comments
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Albany Bureau

ALBANY -- The University at Buffalo has removed the "peer-reviewed" label from a document touting a recent study on natural-gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing, acknowledging that it may have given an "incorrect impression."

Last week, the UB Shale Resources and Society Institute released its first study, which analyzed more than three years of regulatory violations in Pennsylvania's portion of the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation. The authors concluded the number of environmental fouls compared to the total number of wells drilled dropped from 58.2 percent in 2008 to 30.5 percent in 2010.

Originally, the university touted the study as "peer reviewed, a process of self-regulation to maintain standards and provide greater credibility." By Wednesday, an "editor's note" was attached to the top of the original news release that detailed the study.

"An earlier version of this story described the report as 'peer-reviewed,'" the note reads. "This description may have given readers an incorrect impression."

In general, peer-reviewed studies are submitted to a scholarly journal and subjected to a lengthy oversight process by scholars.

The news release was edited to read that drafts of the UB study were "reviewed by several individuals with expertise in related areas, who provided comments to the authors." The edit was made to "more accurately describe the process by which the report's authors gathered comments before finalizing their report," according to the editor's note.
UB spokesman John DellaContrada said in an email Wednesday: "We clarified the term 'peer-reviewed' as described in the press release after receiving feedback from faculty."

Last week, the authors of the study said the research shows Pennsylvania's regulations have become effective at mitigating environmental impacts.

"While prior research has anecdotally reviewed state regulations, now we have comprehensive data that demonstrates, without ambiguity, that state regulation coupled with improvements in industry practices results in a low risk of an environmental event occurring in shale development, and the risks continue to diminish year after year," Timothy Considine, a University of Wyoming professor who co-authored the study, said in a statement.

Scott Anderson, senior policy advisor with the Environmental Defense Fund's Energy Program, called several of the report's conclusions "questionable."

Anderson was one of five experts who reviewed drafts of the report, according to the university.

"While I was a reviewer, this does not mean that all of my suggestions were taken or that I agree with all of the report's opinions and conclusions," Anderson wrote on the Environmental Defense Fund's website.

In particular, Anderson took issue with the authors of the report separating "environmental" violations from "administrative" violations, the "narrow" definition they gave to environmental violations, and the suggestion that Pennsylvania's regulations have been effective because the rate of violations has dropped.

"In sum, there's a lot of good information to be gleaned from the study, but caution should be exercised with regards to some of the conclusions," he wrote.

The report was written by Considine; John Martin, co-director of the UB Shale Institute; and Pennsylvania State University researcher Robert Watson.

Watson and Considine have authored previous studies financially underwritten by industry or business-backed groups, including a three-part Penn State study funded by a gas-industry trade group and a 2011 report funded by the Manhattan Institute.

Some portions of the UB study were updated extensions of those in the Manhattan Institute report, which had sought to place a cost on New York's de facto moratorium on high-volume hydrofracking. The Manhattan Institute report looked at the Pennsylvania environmental violations between 2008 and 2010, while the UB report included some 2011 figures.

DellaContrada said Wednesday that the UB study was funded by its College of Arts and Sciences, which "processes its funding through the UB Foundation," the school's separate fundraising arm.

The report "was not funded by or commissioned by external sources, including industry," he said. "The Shale Institute does not have any external funding."

New York sits atop a significant portion of the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, though the state has yet to allow any high-volume hydrofracking. The much-debated technique used with gas drilling is on hold until the state Department of Environmental Conservation completes a regulatory and environmental review.

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