University At Buffalo’s Shale Resources And Society Institute’s ‘Environmental Impacts During Shale Gas Drilling’ Report

The University at Buffalo’s Shale Resources and Society Institute issued a report yesterday, “Environmental Impacts During Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts and Remedies,” which offers a quantitative data review of Pennsylvania’s regulation of natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale. The press release notes that I was a reviewer for the report.

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.

Does the report have strengths? Absolutely. Unfortunately, it is hard to find understandable, comprehensive data describing natural gas industry environmental violations and the responses taken by enforcement agencies. The University at Buffalo has done a great service by bringing such information to light for the period studied (2008 through August 2011).

At the same time, several of the opinions and conclusions in the report are questionable. These include: 

  • The idea that a violation isn’t an “environmental” concern if it is a violation of “paperwork” or “preventative” regulations and didn’t result in immediate, actual harm to the environment.
  • Characterizing the rate of environmental violations (narrowly defined) as “low” in the first eight months of 2011 when, even using a narrow definition of environmental violation, violations were found at 26.5% of the wells drilled.
  • The suggestion that the present regulatory program is effective because the incidence of “environmental violations” (narrowly defined) declined from 58.2% of wells in 2008 to 26.5% of wells in 2011.

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.

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  1. Peterk
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    glad to see that the EDF is at least willing to participate as a reviewer and not stand outside poo-pooing the reports.

  2. Jim Holstun
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    The University at Buffalo Press Office says the SRSI report was “peer reviewed, a process of self-regulation to maintain standards and provide greater credibility, by the following. . . . Scott Anderson, senior policy advisor with the Environmental Defense Fund’s Energy Program.”

    This is a serious abuse of the term “peer review.” It doesn’t mean just running your ideas by a few people inside and outside the field, following the advice you like, and ignoring the advice you don’t, then publishing yourself. It means that a scholarly journal receives a submission, asks experts in the field to comment and reject it, accept it, or accept it with a demand for revisions. The journal then returns to the writer asking for revisions and, contingent on his or her response, decides to publish or not to publish.

    It isn’t properly “peer review” if the peer reviewers can’t turn the submission down. Dr. John Martin can’t be both one of the persons writing the “scholarly article” and one of the Co-Directors of SRSI deciding whether or not to publish it. I teach at the University of Buffalo, and if I were to try to self-publish an article and claim that it had been subject to “peer review,” I would be laughed out of my office, and perhaps out of my job. Rightly so, too.

    • Josh Stack
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

      Jim, as a UB alum, I appreciate your thoughts and position on this. I’m actually surprised at how egregious and thinly veiled this “Institute” is in terms of its true motivations.