The University at Buffalo’s shale institute has a budget of more than $177,000 – nearly three-quarters of which is shared by its two co-directors – but none of that money has come from the oil and natural gas industry, according to a new UB report.
The UB report about the founding, funding and staffing of its Shale Resources and Society Institute was requested by the State University of New York’s board of trustees last month, after campus critics raised concerns about conflicts of interest and the academic integrity of the institute.
SUNY released the UB report Friday.
“The board reserves comment at this time, as it continues to review and analyze the shale institute report,” SUNY spokesman David Doyle said in a prepared statement. “The board may discuss further responses or related actions at a future public meeting.”
The report, however, did little to quell critics, who continue to question the institute’s ties to the oil and natural gas industry and demand UB be more transparent on the issue. But UB maintains that the institute is funded solely by the university.
“To date, the University at Buffalo has received no industry funding for the Shale Resources and Society Institute,” the report states. “Its expenses, including the salary of its part-time director and co-director, have been paid entirely by the university’s College of Arts and Sciences through discretionary funds.”
Institute funding totals $177,442 for the year, the report shows. The part-time director, John P. Martin, is earning a $60,000 salary, along with roughly $4,914 in fringe benefits and a $12,000 travel stipend. Co-director Robert Jacobi is paid $41,928, along with a $10,000 summer salary. The remaining $48,600 is for staff and operating support, the report showed.
While the university said the shale institute hasn’t yet received outside money, UB Provost Charles Zukoski emphasized the institute will be expected to seek funding from grants, philanthropy and industry to support its research.
The report points out that such practice is both common and essential. It also goes on to say there is increased scrutiny on potential conflicts of interest and accepting industry money for research.
English professor Jim Holstun called the shale report from UB President Satish Tripathi a “great disappointment.”
“He responds vigorously to ridiculous demands that nobody has made,” said Holstun, chairman of the UB Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research. “He ignores serious questions about conflict of interest that have been raised again and again. And he stands firmly behind foolish math errors that taint the shale institute’s first report. If a university’s first loyalty isn’t to truth, transparency and candor, then it ceases to be a university.”
This contentious topic began with the shale institute’s April unveiling. It was followed up in May with a report that indicated the form of natural gas drilling known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” had become safer, thanks to state oversight and better industry practices.
Critics – who pointed out that Martin and his fellow author have close ties to the oil and natural gas industry – poked holes in the report, pointed out errors and immediately raised concerns about the integrity of the research.