By SHIRLEY PULAWSKI
OBSERVER Staff Writer
BUFFALO - After a brief history filled with controversy, the University at Buffalo Shale Institute is having its doors closed by UB's president, following an internal investigation.
Even so, SUNY Fredonia Geosciences Professor Gary Lash, who helped discover the Marcellus Shale, expressed "the hope that UB faculty and students can carry out and report on basic scientific research regarding these deposits."
The Shale Resources and Society Institute was officially formed earlier in the year and published a report in May titled "Environmental Impacts during Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts, and Remedies," which became a source of controversy. In an open letter, UB President Satish K. Tripathi said the report, "Led to allegations questioning whether historical financial interests influenced the authors' conclusions. The fundamental source of controversy revolves around clarity and substantiation of conclusions."
The report stated improvements had been made in oversight of shale drilling, known as hydrofracking, in Pennsylvania, among other statements of praise for the industry. The paper was cited to be peer-reviewed. The report began a slew of inquiries by faculty and environmental groups, and the university eventually withdrew the claim the paper was peer-reviewed, which prompted an internal assessment by Tripathi, Provost Charles Zukoski and E. Bruce Pitman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Tripathi said, "Research of such considerable societal importance and impact cannot be effectively conducted with a cloud of uncertainty over its work." He also cited lack of "sufficient faculty presence in fields associated with energy production from shale for the institute to meet its stated mission" as one of the numerous reasons listed supporting the decision to close the institute.
"Conducting research that has such profound environmental, societal, public health, and economic implications requires that we adhere to the utmost standards of academic integrity and transparency. It must be remembered that the issues associated with natural gas production from shale are broad and complex, with extensive public implications," Tripathi stated.
According to Tripathi, the university will continue to pursue research in the area of energy and the environment but it will focus its research more broadly to establish "a comprehensive program of scholarship and education with appropriate breadth and complexity," and added, "It is imperative that our research is of appropriate scope, and that it has strong faculty presence."
In the statement, Tripathi also stated UB's policies regarding financing of research must be clarified. "UB's policies that govern disclosure of significant financial interests and sources of support are strong and consistent with federal guidelines (but) these policies are in need of further clarification and because of this lack of clarity were inconsistently applied." Tripathi said a committee has been established to address the concerns with "participation of the faculty senate with the goal of developing recommendations to strengthen and clarify our policies in these areas."
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