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Food & Water Watch Blog

Frackademia Exposed: Federally Funded, Industry Driven

Recently, Steve Horn of the DeSmog Blog uncovered shocking information that leaves us shaking our head at our nation’s leaders and our once trusted scholars. Embedded in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 is section 999, which describes the U.S. Department of Energy-run Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA). We knew previously that oil and gas companies and industry executives have funded and advised academic research on fracking, but the U.S. government has a major role in these projects, too. Federal funding of oil and gas industry controlled “frackademia” leaves us concerned for the future of fracking, and for our air, water and public safety.

In May, Food & Water Watch released an extensive review of frackademic projects. Research revealed the projects were insufficiently controlled by universities, lacked peer review and were developed by advisory boards with undue pro-industry agendas.  Ties between research and “Big Oil and Gas” companies have led to the promotion of shale gas development under the guise of credible academic research.

In June, we blogged about a slightly different form of frackademia: Universities have been scrutinized for their intention to lease campus land to the industry for “fracking research” in exchange for lowered tuition rates and research funding. Obvious conflicts of interest in these cases have led student activists and community members to speak up for their school’s academic integrity, as well as for the health and safety of the community. As a result, some project proposals have been put on hold.

Research that is tainted by the oil and gas industry’s profit-driven model is inherently unsound and not credible. But even more troubling is that “frackademic” research actually exists by law. RPSEA is a program that has been implemented for the past several years under the auspices of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Since 2006, this frackademic program has existed under federal law, receives federal funding and is led mainly by industry and government officials.

RPSEA is a non-profit organization composed of dozens of top U.S. energy entities, 22 top academic research institutions and just a small handful of independent research laboratories. RPSEA receives about $100,000 in annual funding under the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Mind you, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 is the very same act that exempts fracking from the Safe Drinking Water act. In addition to the annual $100,000, RPSEA receives an income fund from any federal royalties obtained from onshore and offshore oil and gas leases on federal land. Furthermore, in 2006, the U.S. Department of Energy selected RPSEA as recipient of a ten year, $50 million research program aimed to “develop new technologies and produce more abundant and affordable domestic energy supplies.”

RPSEA has funded at least 23 studies to date under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, with dozens more in the works. Of course, RPSEA is selective in their solicitation process, and its committee members have major say as to what kinds of projects receive funding. Let us now consider RPSEA’s leadership and the spokespeople who are in charge of making these decisions.

This federally funded program is directed and led by government officials and industry “professionals,” whose pro-industry goals are obvious and not conducive to the production of sound academic research.

Ernest Moniz is Obama’s recently appointed Secretary of Energy who, according to the Department of Energy’s 2013 annual plan, is also RPSEA’s chief advisor.

In March, Food & Water Watch investigated Obama’s decision and found Moniz has been clearly tethered to the oil and gas industry for years. Prior to his appointment, he was on RPSEA’s board of directors. Now as Obama’s Secretary of Energy, the man in charge of the nation’s oil and gas development agenda still holds a top-dog role in the decision-making processes for RPSEA’s federally funded research projects.

RPSEA is composed of several other advisory committees whose leaders (academic, federal and corporate) are embedded in a web of pro-fracking industry ties. Here you will find that the majority of RPSEA’s leadership members are industry representatives. They hold positions with Halliburton, BP America, Shell, Hess, Chesapeake Energy, Sabco Oil and Gas and Chevron, to name a few. It is no wonder the mission of RPSEA does not allow for the dangerous effects of fracking to be studied.

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the government will continue to subsidize industry-driven fracking research for three more years. In a time where crucial decisions on fracking legislation are being made, it is unacceptable that our nation’s leaders are fueling the development of biased information that could lead to increased air and water pollution and exacerbated climate change. We as a people must be critical of these conflicts of interest and of the information that we are presented with. We cannot allow misguided research to inform our nation’s policy makers.

Katherine Cirullo

Katherine Cirullo is the communications assistant for Food & Water Watch. She provides support to the communications team in a number of ways, particularly by tracking and organizing media and writing and editing press materials. Katherine received a B.A. in sociology with a concentration in environmental studies from Colorado College. She also has experience in the field studying agro-ecology and political ecology of forests and oceans in Thailand. She can be reached at

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