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Criticized NY university shale gas center closes

Carolyn Thompson, Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- The University at Buffalo on Monday closed its seven-month-old shale gas research institute, which was under investigation by the State University Board of Trustees after a group of professors accused it of having undisclosed ties to industry.

UB President Satish Tripathi acknowledged that the university's policies governing disclosure of financial interests had been "inconsistently applied" and the appearance of independence and integrity of the institute's research impacted.

"Research of such considerable societal importance and impact cannot be effectively conducted with a cloud of uncertainty over its work," Tripathi said in a letter to the university community announcing the closure. He said the decision followed an internal assessment of the institute.

Environmental groups have been critical of the institute since May, a month after its opening, when it released its first report. The report concluded that state regulators in Pennsylvania have improved oversight of the gas drilling industry and New York's regulations will prevent major environmental impacts. The university at first said the study was peer-reviewed, but later withdrew that statement.

A coalition of faculty, staff, students and alumni subsequently questioned the report's academic integrity and called for an inquiry into the institute's industry ties.

"This is a victory for real science over junk science peddled by the gas industry," Rebecca Weber of the New York Public Interest Research Group said in a statement.

All three of the May report's lead authors have ties to the energy industry as well as being academicians, but institute Director John Martin has said that the study was funded entirely by the University at Buffalo with no industry support.

Martin did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

The State University of New York Board of Trustees in September passed a resolution requiring UB to answer questions about the formation of the institute and involvement of natural gas companies in the publication of its report.

The resolution followed an open letter to the UB administration signed by more than 80 current and former faculty members concerned that controversy had tarnished UB's credibility as a major research university.

"Given the questions that continue to surround the Shale Resources and Society Institute, SUNY administration and the Board of Trustees support the University of Buffalo's decision to close it," SUNY said in a statement Monday. "The board and SUNY reserve further comment at this time while the board completes its formal review of the SRSI with the anticipation that its findings will be discussed in a future public meeting."

Shale gas drilling hasn't been allowed in New York since the Department of Environmental Conservation began a review in 2008 to address impacts from horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which uses millions of gallons of chemically treated water per well to crack shale and release gas.

"The issues associated with natural gas production from shale are broad and complex with extensive public implications," Tripathi wrote Monday. "It is with these considerations in mind that we must assess the mission and practices of the Shale Resources and Society Institute."


Associated Press Writer Mary Esch contributed to this report from Albany.