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Businesses in controversial industries often turn to the academy for evidence exculpating them for the harm that they do, with trade groups funding “scholarly” reports claiming that their products and

Businesses in controversial industries often turn to the academy for evidence exculpating them for the harm that they do, with trade groups funding “scholarly” reports claiming that their products and business practices are safe for the public. In much the same way that Big Tobacco funded research claiming that secondhand smoke is not harmful, natural gas associations such as the Marcellus Shale Coalition have been paying for research that exaggerates fracking’s economic benefits and downplays its environmental risks both by funding individual studies and by donating to myriad shale gas research institutions, such as the University at Buffalo’s Shale Resources and Society Institute and the University at Wyoming’s Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy.

In addition to receiving industry funds to run these institutes and conduct these studies, researchers are often tied to the natural gas industry through former or continuing employment either for the frackers themselves, as consultants, or both. Timothy Considine is one such frackademic. Considine is the primary author of a number of studies touting the economic benefits of fracking in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, the director of the University of Wyoming’s Center for Energy Economics & Public Policy, and president of Natural Resource Economics, Inc., a consulting company.

Most recently, he was the lead author of the University at Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute’s first report, “Environmental Impacts During Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling”, wherein he and his co-authors massaged Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection data to support untenable claims that environmental violations by frackers are on the decline. A recent PAI report assessed and refuted the report’s assertions, exposing the ostensibly independent institute and Considine’s pro-fracking bias.

Considine’s lack of academic rigor and his cozy relationship with the gas and coal industries have resulted in criticism from within academia and without, even as his publications are used to promote fracking in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and elsewhere.

Industry ties

Considine has a history of publishing research on behalf of pro-fracking organizations. Since 2009, he has published annual reports bearing the Penn State name for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a consortium of natural gas drilling companies and related businesses that profit from fracking in Pennsylvania. In 2010, he wrote a piece for another trade group, the American Petroleum Institute (API), on fracking’s economic impacts in Pennyslvania and West Virginia and making predictions for New York; and in 2011 he wrote a report arguing against New York’s fracking moratorium for the conservative think tank the Manhattan Institute.

“An Emerging Giant: Prospects and Economic Impacts of Developing the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play” is the title of Considine’s first report issued under the aegis of his alma mater and former employer, Penn State, and had the school’s logo on every page. The report was funded by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, whose website describes the group as providing “in-depth information to policymakers, regulators, media, and other public stakeholders on the positive impacts of shale gas.” The organization’s membershipincludes nearly every major company engaged in hydrofracking.

It was not until the second of Considine’s annual Marcellus Shale Coalition reports came out that the landowner advocacy group the Responsible Drilling Alliance, noticing improbable jobs estimations, direct advocacy (the study recommended that Pennsylvania reject a severance tax on gas production and called the proposition that fracking be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act “ominous”), and the lack of sponsor attribution, wrote a letter to Penn State’s president. In June 2010, the Dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, William Easterling, retracted the original version of the report and chastised Considine:

[W]e found flaws in the way that the report was written and presented to the public. First, the report did not identify the sponsor of the research, which is a clear error… Second, the authors could and probably should have been more circumspect in connecting their findings to policy implications for Pennsylvania, and may well have crossed the line between policy analysis and policy advocacy.

The report was reissued with Penn State’s logo removed from all but the cover page and an acknowledgement of the “Marcellus Shale Gas Committee” for funding the study. The 2010 and later updates acknowledge the “Marcellus Shale Gas Commission”. The study promises hundreds of thousands of jobs for Pennsylvanians in fracking and related industries.

Through his consultancy, Natural Resources Economics, Considine authored a report, titled “The Economic Impacts of the Marcellus Shale: Implications for New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia”, on behalf of another trade organization, the American Petroleum Institute (API). API is an oil and gas trade association active around the Keystone XL and fracking issues whose members come from all sectors of the industry and include Chesapeake EnergyTalismanAnadarkoShell, and Chevron, five of the tentop Marcellus drillers in 2011. The API study is essentially a rehash of Considine’s Marcellus Shale Coalition work, purporting huge jobs gains and billions in benefits from fracking.

Considine’s 2011 report for the conservative think tank the Manhattan Institute is called “The Economic Opportunities of Shale Energy Development”.  Here, he reiterates the benefits Pennsylvania and West Virginia have seen from fracking, and introduces the analysis of Department of Environmental Protection violations he developed further in 2012 in his report for the University at Buffalo’s Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI). At the end, Considine concludes that New York’s drilling moratorium “is far costlier than its proponents, or even its opponents, realize.”

Considine’s gas studies are not his only work to come under fire for its industry funding. In 2009, Considine published a report commissioned by the Wyoming Mining Association entitled “Powder River Basin Coal: Powering America” that drew headlines such as: “Wyo coal sustains U.S. economy, UW study says”. Like his reports for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the API, and the Manhattan Institute, this study touted the coal industry’s positive economic impact and argued against what he perceived as hostile legislation, in this case, renewable portfolio standards. Not wanting to “open up that can of worms,” Considine did not focus on environmental impacts of mining and coal’s contribution to global warming. He told the Casper Star-Tribune “[i]t’s not easy to estimate the economic values of these costs.”

His coal study was described as a product of the University of Wyoming in the media, an assertion the school did not rebut. That school, where Considine is a professor at the School of Energy Resources and director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy, has ties with both the coal and gas industries. Considine’s Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy publicizes their affiliation with advocacy groups such as the American Petroleum Institute (for whom Considine wrote the report urging against a fracking moratorium in New York State) and the American Gas Association. Among the School of Energy Resources funders, through the donation of money, facilities, and services, are Anadarko PetroleumArch CoalBPConocoPhillips, and Halliburton as well as other energy industry names. These ties are particularly worrisome in light of SER’s partnership with “Wyoming’s schools from kindergarten through 12th grades to promote innovating energy education.”

Questionable research

Considine’s work on behalf of the gas and coal industries paints an optimistic picture, with hundreds of thousands of jobs and declining environmental problems; however, the veracity of these claims is widely disputed.

“An Emerging Giant: Prospects and Economic Impacts of Developing the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play”, predicted that fracking would create in excess of 48,000 jobs in 2009, 107,040 in 2010 and almost 175,000 jobs in 2020.

A year later, in “The Economic Impacts of the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play: An Update”, Considine and his co-authors found the 2009 jobs number fell short of their previous prediction (44,098 as opposed to the more than 48,000 they originally had called for). Accordingly, the authors scaled back their 2010 prediction to 88,588 jobs, but strangely they boosted their 2020 forecast to 211,909 jobs.

The 2011 update, “The Pennsylvania Marcellus Natural Gas Industry: Status, Economic Impacts and Future Potential”, went back to 2009 and increased their reported jobs gains by more than 16,000 to 60,168 and reported that 2010 beat their prediction by 57.9%, claiming that the state gained 139,889 jobs that year. Considine again increased his 2020 projection, now holding that that year would see 256,420 jobs, i.e. 4 percent of Pennsylvania’s entire labor force, supporting the shale gas industry.

These numbers have drawn the scrutiny of academics and environmental groups. A 2011 report titled “Economic Impacts of Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania: Employment and Income in 2009”from the Marcellus Shale Education & Training Center (MSETC), a collaboration of Pennsylvania College of Technology and Penn State Cooperative Extension, found fracking gains of “between 23,385 and 23,884 new jobs” in 2009, about 54% of Considine’s original estimate for that year and about 39.6% of his enhanced estimate, despite being based on the same gas company spending data Considine utilized in his reports. The researchers attributed the difference to “more specific leasing, royalty, and payroll data” and being “able to better account for how many such dollars actually remain within the Pennsylvania economy and were spent in 2009” as well as “updates [Considine and his co-authors] were able to make to IMPLAN based upon the purchasing data companies provided them.”

A 2011 study from The Ohio State University Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy, “The Economic Value of Shale Natural Gas in Ohio”, includes a more thorough critique of the methodology Considine used to estimate economic value:

Foremost, impact studies are not viewed as best practice by academic economists and would be rarely used in peer reviewed studies by urban and regional economists. Instead, best practice usually tries to identify a counterfactual of what would have happened without the natural gas industries and compare to what did happen (we adopt two of these approaches).

In addition to their criticism of using impact studies to estimate economic value, the Ohio State authors raise two other concerns with Considine’s reports. First, Considine double-counted indirect (jobs associated with various inputs required by the industry) and induced (jobs and services required by the workers such as restaurants and entertainment) jobs by including 3,003 jobs in the finance & insurance, educational services, health & social services, and entertainment & recreation sectors among those directly associated with drilling wells and extracting gas. Second, Considine overruled the IMPLAN software’s default state spending shares and inserted his own assumption that 95% of natural gas industry spending occurred in Pennsylvania, the “updates” to IMPLAN described by MSETC above, an unlikely scenario:

In global economies in which state economies are integrated with national and international economies, such assumptions would not be credible for independent economists. Moreover, because the industry is relatively new and undeveloped, more of the inputs would be brought in from outside of the state, e.g., from Texas.

Using Bureau of Labor Statistics data for eight sectors, the Ohio State authors found a gain of about 10,000 direct and indirect jobs in Pennsylvania from 2004 to 2010. Applying a multiplier of 2.0 to estimate induced jobs, the researchers found a gain of 20,000 jobs to Pennsylvania’s economy in that time period, a far cry from Considine’s 139,889.

Food & Water Watch, in their assessment of a New York study based on Considine’s work, raised the double-counting and in-state spending flaws as well, also noticing that Considine “undercounted the number of wells drilled in Pennsylvania, and thus overestimated the number of direct jobs per well.” With a larger jobs per well number, Considine could look at the number of wells gas companies predicted they would drill in coming years and multiply that times the inflated direct jobs per well to come to a higher number of future jobs.

Considine’s environmental research for the University at Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute was recently examined in depth by PAI in a report available here.  There were a number of significant flaws that undermine its central claims, specifically that fracking is getting safer and causing fewer environmental violations. According to the report’s own data, the rate of major environmental accidents actually increased 36% from 2008 to 2011. The report also claims that the total number of environmental events declined over the period studied. In fact, the total number of environmental events increased by 189%, and the number of major environmental events increased 900%. The report fails to address a number of factors that may influence the rate of environmental incidents per well. For instance, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) inspectors were instructed to seek pre-approval for the filing of Notices of Violation (NOVs) in 2011 by the incoming administration in what was criticized as a politicization of the inspection process. Such a stance could affect the rate of incidence of environmental violations as measured by the study.

The report further lifts entire passages, without attribution, from Considine’s earlier work for the Manhattan Institute, uses biased language and industry spin to exaggerate and obfuscate facts, and its attendant press release makes false claims (since retracted) of peer-review to lend their work credence.

Timothy Considine is one of many “frackademics” who lends his name and credentials to gas industry propaganda. This practice violates the traditional role of universities as centers of independent inquiry and rigorous investigation. LittleSis analysts have compiled a list of these frackademics and the industry-supported research centers that put out their work. The list is still in the works, and not all academics are as conflicted as Considine; you can contribute to our research keeping a watch on industry’s hold on academia, by joining LittleSis today.

This is cross-posted at the Public Accountability Initiative blog.