Ohio fracking study funding pulled by foundations because of wrong conclusions

Oil and gas industry should step up and provide funding for University of Cincinnati to continue research on fracking, water wells

UPDATE: Just FYI, the Ohio legislator and the OOGA are wrong: the study is freely available at www.carrollconcernedcitizens.org and has been since my presentation a few weeks ago. – email from Prof. Townsend-Small

A small study in Ohio finds no effect from fracking on local water wells. Funders are disappointed and pull their support. Aside from a bit of local media, no one pays attention. Is this an opportunity for the energy industry?

Ohio

Prof. Amy Townsend-Small, geologist, University of Cincinnati. Photo: Twitter.

This is a minor but interesting story in the battle over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it’s commonly known, in America. And the fight is going to intensify as the United States shifts away from coal-fired power generation to cleaner technologies, including natural gas, which according to consultancy IHS is both far more abundant and cheaper in North American than previously estimated.

The Ohio study also comes on the heels of the Environmental Protection Agency’s comprehensive review, released last summer, that found no widespread systemic contamination of water supplies by fracking.

The research was led by Prof. Amy Townsend-Small of the University of Cincinnati, who found that methane in drinking water was generated by subsurface coal beds, which can be found in much of eastern Ohio. Water was sampled three to four times per year from 23 wells from 2012 to Feb. 2015. A total of 191 samples were taken, according to the Times-Reporter.com.

“Some of our highest observed methane concentrations were not near a fracking well at all,” Townsend-Small told a community meeting in Carroll County, one of five counties studied.

She was asked by an audience member if the university – who wisely noted that had the findings found fracking caused the methane in the wells that the story would have been national news – was going to publicize the results of the study.

“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 crowd, as reported by Times-Reporter.com.

“They feel that fracking is scary and so they were hoping our data could point to a reason to ban it.”

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According to the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, the research was funded by the Deer Creek Foundation of St. Louis and the Alice Weston Foundation of Cincinnati.

The foundations are free to spend their funds as they choose, of course, and no one should be surprised that they hoped to use the scientific research for political purposes. The energy industry has a long and storied career of doing exactly the same.

But this is an opportunity for industry to step up and provide no-strings-attached funding to continue Prof. Townsend-Small’s work.

Yes, the source of money might somewhat taint the results, assuming they don’t change going forward. But funding from anti-fracking activists obviously didn’t influence the first three years of research. That’s a pretty good defense against the standard Koch-brothers style accusations leveled at industry-paid for research.

Perhaps the Ohio oil and gas folks could take a break from blog writing – the latest was carping about the University not releasing the study data, even though some tax dollars may have supported the work – long enough to write a cheque to Prof. Townsend-Small. Financial support would presumably entitle the Association to the data.

A little skin in the game might go a long way to bolstering the Association’s support of fracking in Ohio.

Posted in: Markham on Energy

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