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How MIT’s influential study of fracking was authored, funded, and released by oil and gas industry insiders

PAI’s “frackademic” investigation continues with this report on an influential 2011 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative, led by energy secretary nominee Ernest Moniz. That study, “The Future of Natural Gas,” concluded that the environmental risks of fracking were “challenging, but manageable” and pushed for a global natural gas market including increased exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

(Click here to read the full report as a pdf)

MITEI and the study’s authors presented the study as independent, but did not disclose its authors’ significant financial ties to the oil and gas industry. PAI found that Moniz, the study’s chair, failed to disclose that he had joined the board of ICF, a consulting firm with oil and gas ties, prior to the release of the report. Moniz’s compensation from ICF since 2011 is valued at over $300,000. The MIT report also failed to disclose that a study co-chair, Anthony Meggs, had joined gas company Talisman Energy prior to the release of the study. Another study group member, John Deutch, has served on the board of the LNG company Cheniere Energy since 2006 and owns $1.4 million in Cheniere stock.

The PAI study also notes that the MIT study was funded by oil and gas industry sources, including a foundation closely linked to Chesapeake Energy. Funding sources are disclosed in the MIT study, unlike the personal industry ties noted above. The study was also advised by a committee dominated by oil and gas insiders.

PAI’s report further points to poor scholarship in the MIT study. Its endorsement of a global gas market touts the economic benefits of gas exports without analyzing how this will effect US gas prices. And the report puts forward very little evidence backing its suggestion that environmental impacts are “challenging but manageable” – a “finding” reported by a gas company executive, Anthony Meggs.

Moniz’s study gave a full-throated endorsement of a “global gas market” with increased LNG exports, but offered little rationale for this support and failed to note that key authors of the study had ties to companies poised to profit from an expansion of LNG exports. Will a similar team be installed at the Department of Energy under Moniz, and will it continue this advocacy for LNG exports from a new position of influence?

Click here to read the full report (pdf) »

This is the third report in PAI’s series on the fracking industry’s influence on the academy. The first report examined the University at Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute May 2012 report on fracking’s environmental effects and the second analyzed the University at Texas Energy Institute’s February 2012 study of the public perception, environmental impacts, and state regulation of fracking.