University at Buffalo’s president Satish Tripathi published a letter to the university community Monday announcing his decision to shut down the controversial Shale Resources and Society Institute. The University came under scrutiny after the Institute published a report claiming that regulatory oversight in Pennsylvania had made gas drilling safer. But critics say parts of the study were plagiarized and the authors had ties to industry, which was not disclosed. The initial report also claimed it was peer-reviewed, but that was later retracted by the University. University faculty, who said the report reflected poorly on the university’s academic integrity, demanded the Institute be shut down.
In a letter posted on SUNY Buffalo’s website Monday, Tripathi says research regarding such important issues as energy extraction and its impact on the environment needs to be conducted without “a cloud of uncertainty.”
— While UB’s policies that govern disclosure of significant financial interests and sources of support are strong and consistent with federal guidelines, these policies are in need of further clarification and because of this lack of clarity were inconsistently applied. (To remedy this, UB has established a committee with participation of the faculty senate with the goal of developing recommendations to strengthen and clarify our policies in these areas.)
— The institute lacks sufficient faculty presence in fields associated with energy production from shale for the institute to meet its stated mission.
— 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.
Tripathi’s decision follows an internal investigation of the institute. Tripathi says he has appointed a university official to create a faculty-driven plan to develop education and research surrounding energy and the environment.
The Institute’s study, “Environmental Impacts during Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts, and Remedies,” was conducted by Timothy J. Considine, an economics professor at the University of Wyoming, and Robert W. Watson, an engineering professor at Penn State University. The director of the Shale Resources and Society Institute, John Martin, is a founder of the industry public relations firm JP Martin Energy Strategy, LLC. The Institute’s website, and its link to the study, has been removed from the University at Buffalo’s site.