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Tell MIT: Investigate biased fracking research

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The petition reads:

MIT researchers, led by energy secretary nominee Ernest Moniz, failed to publicly disclose their major financial ties to the fracking industry in a pro-fracking report they authored. MIT should investigate conflicts of interest at the Energy Initiative and determine whether they tainted MIT's fracking research.

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    Tell MIT: Investigate biased fracking research

    Ernest Moniz is President Obama's nominee for energy secretary. He's also the director of MIT's Energy Initiative and was the lead author of a widely publicized pro-fracking study published by MIT in 2011.

    The study, which was funded by the fracking industry, claims that fracking's environmental risks are "challenging but manageable" and that fracked gas is a "bridge fuel" between coal and renewables.

    According to a new blockbuster report by the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI), Moniz and two co-authors of the study failed to publicly disclose major financial ties to the fracking industry.1 2 Further, PAI's report found evidence of shoddy scholarship in the study and stated that it is marred by pro-industry advocacy.

    These undisclosed conflicts of interest call into question the objectivity of the study, its authors and MIT's Energy Initiative, which was co-founded and is primarily funded by oil and gas companies. MIT owes the public a thorough and transparent investigation into what went wrong at the Energy Initiative, and whether conflicts of interest tainted the Initiative's research.

    Tell MIT: Investigate Ernest Moniz's Energy Initiative and undisclosed conflicts of interest in its pro-fracking research.

    This isn't the first time that academics with financial ties to the fracking industry have produced pro-industry research without disclosing their conflicts of interest. Penn State, SUNY University at Buffalo and the University of Texas have all been forced to publicly withdraw pro-fracking research in response to scandals over undisclosed conflicts of interest.

    An investigation into conflicts of interest and potentially biased research by the Energy Initiative is particularly important as Moniz begins his confirmation process in the Senate. As secretary of energy, Moniz would be responsible for billions of dollars in research funding and for deciding whether to allow the fracking industry to cash in by exporting gas overseas. It's important for MIT to determine the extent of industry's influence at Moniz's Energy Initiative, since Moniz's conduct as director of the Energy Initiative is likely a preview of how he would manage conflicts of interest at the Department of Energy.

    Tell MIT: Investigate Ernest Moniz's Energy Initiative and undisclosed conflicts of interest in its pro-fracking research.

    The connection to the fracking industry of Moniz and his fellow study authors unfortunately goes well beyond accepting research funding. Just before the Energy Initiative's study was released, Moniz took a lucrative position on the board of a consulting firm with substantial oil and gas industry ties. He was also on the advisory board of a firm that invests in the oil and gas industry. Two other authors also hold prominent positions working for major fracking companies.

    Further, the study's claim that the environmental risks of fracking are "challenging but manageable," which has been widely repeated, is not based on original research or even on a comprehensive survey of existing literature. In fact, only nine pages of the 170-page study are devoted to the question of environmental impacts associated with fracking. The study aggregated data on fracking accidents from three prior reports and baselessly concluded that "the environmental record of shale gas development has for the most part been a good one."

    Shoddy, biased research hurts all of us, especially when it favors dangerous industries like the fossil fuel industry. And failures to disclose conflicts of interest make it impossible for the public and policymakers to determine whether research is objective or intentionally biased. MIT owes the public a thorough explanation of what happened at Moniz's Energy Initiative.

    Tell MIT: Investigate Ernest Moniz's Energy Initiative and undisclosed conflicts of interest in its pro-fracking research.

    1. Kevin Connor and Robert Galbraith, "Industry Partner or Industry Puppet?" Public Accountability Initative, March 2013
    2. Bryan Bender, "Choice for energy secretary has ties to oil, gas examined," The Boston Globe, March 23, 2013