New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation has chosen Robert Jacobi, a University at Buffalo geologist with ties to the natural gas industry, to study the link between fracking and earthquakes, a DEC spokeswoman told Bloomberg’s Jim Esftathiou, Jr. Jacobi, who is a senior advisor to gas driller EQT Production and who runs a geoscience consultancy, was a co-director of the University at Buffalo’s short-lived Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI), which was closed in November 2012 following a controversy over an industry-friendly study that downplayed fracking’s risks. “Jacobi has a vast range of experience that makes his expertise useful,” the DEC said in a statement e-mailed to Bloomberg. Jacobi’s experience includes a long career with the fossil fuel industry, to which he still has ties, and recently reviewing the report that led to SRSI’s closure.
Jacobi has consulted for the oil and gas industry for almost 20 years according to his resume. Since 1994, he has worked for Anschutz, Talisman, and Norse Energy, serving as the director of special projects for the latter from 2007 to 2011. In February 2012, he joined Pittsburgh-based EQT as a senior geology advisor. That same year, he was named co-director of the Shale Resources and Society Institute at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
The Shale Resources and Society Institute was announced quietly in April 2012, following a report in Buffalo’s Artvoice newspaper. An allegedly peer-reviewed report followed in May titled “Environmental Impacts During Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts, and Remedies.”
This report, a study of the notices of violation (NOVs) issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to Marcellus drillers, concluded that, thanks to enhanced regulation and better industry practices, polluting events in the Marcellus Shale were on the decline. However, UB retracted the peer-review claim when it became clear that the study had not, in fact, undergone peer review, but rather an “open peer-review method,” whereby five reviewers were asked to comment. Jacobi was one of these reviewers.
An analysis by PAI showed that the researchers either misinterpreted or misrepresented their data – major environmental impacts had actually increased in the time period studied.
Questions were also raised about the institute’s ties to the gas industry, as PAI’s investigation revealed that SRSI was co-directed by Jacobi and John P Martin, another gas industry consultant based in the Albany area. The SRSI website solicited donations from oil and gas companies and documents made public through document requests to the university revealed fundraising trips to Houston where many energy companies are headquartered; however, because the institute got its funding from the UB Foundation, a private non-profit corporation that is beyond the reach of New York’s Freedom of Information Law, it was impossible to tell whether gas industry donations had gone to the institute. Jacobi described SRSI’s funding in a radio program about the ensuing controversy:
“We’re trying to put that money into a slush fund that’s mixing it up,” says Jacobi. “Like a Slurpie, [for instance]. You don’t know what’s ice and what’s taste. It’s all mixed up.”
Following an inquiry by the State University of New York trustees, UB announced that it was closing the Shale Resources and Society Institute in a letter from President Satish K. Tripathi:
Conflicts – both actual and perceived – can arise between sources of research funding and expectations of independence when reporting research results. This, in turn, impacted the appearance of independence and integrity of the institute’s research.
“Research of such considerable importance and impact cannot be effectively conducted with a cloud of uncertainty over its work,” Tripathi wrote.
The Department of Environmental Conservation’s hiring of Jacobi is as troubling as his affiliation with SRSI, if not moreso. With longtime ties to the industry, and a current financial interest in fracking’s approval, Jacobi’s conclusions about the seismic consequences from the practice are inherently conflicted. On top of his industry ties, the report Jacobi reviewed for the institute he co-directed relied on a error for its primary conclusion, an error that no one associated with the report, Jacobi included, attempted to correct. Whether this was a misinterpretation or misrepresentation, with Jacobi’s conflicts of interest it casts doubt on Jacobi’s reliability in determining whether fracking is safe.
This post is cross-posted at the Public Accountability Initiative blog.
*** CBS News recently published a story on the frackademia phenomenon featuring PAI’s research that highlighted Jacobi’s DEC work and industry ties:
“Jacobi, a former director of the Shale Resources and Society Institute, has worked as an advisor to gas drillers for nearly two decades. His research will be included in an environmental review study out next week that will help decide whether the state’s fracking moratorium is lifted.”
Brian Montopoli’s whole article, titled “A poisoned well? Fracking studies stir doubts,” is available online.