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Sean Hackbarth A drilling rig sits on a natural gas pad in Pennsylvania.A drilling rig sits on a natural gas pad in Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.

Recently, I wrote about hydraulic fracturing opponents being put in the uncomfortable position of funding a University of Cincinnati research project that found fracturing didn’t contaminate groundwater in Ohio’s Utica Shale.

New information has surfaced on how its research was funded. Based on this, the university is obligated to do more to publicize the study’s findings.

For those getting up to speed on the story, Energy In Depth posted a short clip [full video] from the University of Cincinnati’s Dr. Amy Townsend-Small’s presentation to local Ohio hydraulic fracturing opponents along with some key findings about hydraulic fracturing’s safety:

“All the samples fell within the clean water range and they did not find any changes over time either in any of our homes during the time series of fracking.” “We never saw a significant increase in methane concentration after fracking well was drilled.” Samples that were collected that were high in methane “clearly did not have a natural gas source.” “Some of our highest observed methane concentrations were not near a fracking well at all.” “There was no significant change in methane concentration over time, even as more and more natural gas wells were drilled in the area.”

Unfortunately Townsend-Small said her team’s research won’t be publicized further because the study’s funders stopped supporting them because of they didn’t like the findings.

“I’m really sad to say this but some of our funders, the groups that had given us funding in the past, were a little disappointed in our results,” Townsend-Small told the audience. “They feel that fracking is scary and so they were hoping our data could point to a reason to ban it.”

No press releases, no research papers, and no data released for the public or other researchers to dig deeper.

That’s not just disappointing; it looks to be in violation of the grant the University of Cincinnati used to fund its research.

The premise of the research project was to see what effects hydraulic fracturing has on drinking water by testing wells before, during, and after fracturing took place.

Here’s how the Ohio Environmental Council (no fans of hydraulic fracturing) described the project that earned one of its Environmental Achievement Awards in 2014:

This innovative research study is examining the potential effects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on groundwater in Ohio's Utica shale. Led by UC geologist Amy Townsend Small, this first-of-a-kind project is testing for the presence of methane (the primary component of natural gas) and its origins in groundwater and drinking water wells before, during, and after the onset of fracking.

Water samples were tested using a stable isotope ratio mass spectrometer to determine the source of methane found in the water. As Inside Climate News explained in a 2014 story:

Each sample is tested for methane, the main component of natural gas. Townsend-Small's lab uses isotopic analysis to "fingerprint" the methane to determine if it's "biogenic methane" (produced by microbes, and unrelated to natural gas drilling) or "fossil fuel methane" (methane found in oil, gas and coal deposits).

The University of Cincinnati purchased the mass spectrometer to do the testing in 2012 with a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation—i.e. taxpayers’ dollars. Townsend-Small’s team was one group of UoC researchers using the device.

The NSF grant’s mandate states unequivocally that findings gleaned from using the instrument be made publically available:

Results from research projects using this instrumentation will be disseminated through student and faculty presentations at national and international scientific meetings, publications in peer-reviewed journals, and online data repositories.

The University of Cincinnati should hold up its end and add to the public’s knowledge of hydraulic fracturing’s safety. With so much misinformation being pushed by hydraulic fracturing opponents, a short presentation in front of a few people in southeast of Canton, Ohio doesn’t cut it.

Sean Hackbarth An oil tanker in the Anzoategui State in Venezuela.Oil-rich Venezuela is importing U.S. oil. Photo credit: Juan Carlos Hernandez/Bloomberg.

A big part of public policy debates involves countering misleading claims. In this regular feature, I highlight important facts about the key issues being debated around Washington, D.C.

Claim: With low oil prices, there’s little incentive to export U.S. oil.

What you need to know: After forty years, the oil export ban was lifted in December. Now, global markets can directly benefit from America’s energy renaissance.

Because of low oil prices—partly due to hydraulic fracturing generating tremendous increases in domestic oil production--some energy analysts thought there would be little interest in exporting oil.

However, soon after the ban was lifted, companies quickly loaded a tanker with Texas shale oil and sent it to Italy.

And in an remarkable turn, oil-rich Venezuela is importing U.S. oil:

Petroleos de Venezuela SA received a cargo of West Texas Intermediate crude at the end of January at a terminal on the island of Curacao, where PDVSA operates a refinery, according to two people familiar with the shipment. It was the first delivery since export restrictions on U.S. crude were lifted last year.


Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, despite having access to the world’s largest petroleum reserves, uses lighter crude from abroad to blend with its heavier production. In 2015, the company imported about 40,000 barrels a day from countries including Russia, Nigeria and Angola, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“They’re desperate, they’re really desperate,” said Carl Larry, head of oil and gas for Frost & Sullivan LP. “It’s well known PDVSA has had issues running their refineries in recent years. It really raises a red flag about their economic situation and where their oil company is situated."

This is just the beginning. World demand for U.S. crude is out there. 

Ending the ban will encourage investment in the energy industry and create jobs--as many as 859,000 jobs annually.

Sean Hackbarth Power transmission lines are suspended from an electricity pylon in Clifton, New Jersey.Photo credit: Steve Hockstein/Bloomberg.

A big part of public policy debates involves countering misleading claims. In this regular feature, I highlight important facts about the key issues being debated around Washington, D.C.

Claim: EPA’s carbon regulations will save people money.

What you need to know: EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy claims her agency’s Clean Power Plan, a forced reengineering of America’s power grid, will “save us billions of dollars every year.”

The Supreme Court put a break on its implementation until the plan’s legality is settled.

The truth is the Clean Power Plan will make electricity more expensive. NERA Economic Consulting found that 40 states could see an average retail electricity price increase of 10% or more.

Two states, North Dakota and Utah could see rate increases of 43%.

clean-power-plan-will-mean-higher-electricity-bills-average-electricity-rate-increase-2022-2033-_chartbuilder.png  These states will see average electricity rate increases of at least 30% because of EPA's Clean Power Plan Chart: These states will see average electricity rate increases of at least 30% because of EPA's Clean Power Plan

Even EPA admits its regulations will cause electricity prices to rise.

Despite what EPA says, its carbon regulations will mean higher electricity prices.