PITTSBURGH - A well-known expert on the natural gas boom is again facing criticism over his ties to industry and a lack of transparency in how he presents work to the public, fueling debates over research that has been published by major universities.
Timothy Considine was lead author on a shale gas report recently issued by the University at Buffalo and a previous report from Pennsylvania State University. Critics say both reports presented research in misleading ways and failed to fully disclose funding sources.
Considine, now at the University of Wyoming, has received funding from industry groups such as the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the Wyoming Mining Association, the American Iron and Steel Institute, and the American Petroleum Institute.
On Thursday, the Public Accountability Initiative, a Buffalo nonprofit, issued a critique of the study by the University at Buffalo's Shale Resources and Society Institute.
"Taken together, the serious flaws in the report, industry-friendly spin, strong industry ties, and fund-raising plans raise serious questions about the Shale Resources and Society Institute's independence and the University at Buffalo's decision to lend its independent, academic authority to the Institute's work," the critique said.
Some say Considine and the University at Buffalo could easily have avoided the controversies over transparency.
"It sounds like a moral blind spot," said Stephen Satris, a professor of philosophy at the Clemson University Rutland Institute for Ethics.
In 2010, Penn State administrators retracted the original version of a report on the economic impact of Marcellus Shale natural gas, noting that Considine and his coauthors made "a clear error" in not disclosing that the report was funded by an industry group, as well as "flaws in the way the report was written and presented to the public."
This week, the University at Buffalo published a correction to Considine's report on environmental regulations involving the Marcellus Shale, noting that an initial assertion that it went through an independent peer-review process "may have given readers an incorrect impression."
The University at Buffalo also said the report "was not funded or commissioned by external sources." But Considine told the Associated Press in an e-mail that the University of Wyoming paid him and two other lead authors.
Considine said that the Wyoming funding was disclosed in a conference call with reporters and that he was just doing work as a tenured professor. That funding link was not acknowledged in the actual published report.
Considine is the director of the University of Wyoming Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy.
Asked about industry-funded research, Considine replied that "two plus two should always equal four, no matter who paid for the pencil." He added that he doesn't see how the shale institute "could provide any more transparency than it already has."
Satris said the suggestion that more transparency wasn't possible was flat-out wrong, adding that after the PSU experience, the researchers "should know better."
The University at Buffalo did not respond to repeated requests from the AP for comment about the Wyoming funding.
Although some criticize Considine for accepting research funding from industry, the practice is widespread in academia. Wyoming spokesman Chad Baldwin said the school "does not prohibit professors from doing private consulting work" and would not have information on private contractual arrangements.
"I think that's behind the times," Satris said of the school policy, noting that the medical community has moved to embrace full disclosure of research funding after scandals over how the tobacco industry secretly funded pro-smoking studies for decades.