(part 3 of 3)
[Part 1: Lackawanna College, a two-year college in Scranton, Pa., accepted a $2.5 million endowment from Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. to strengthen that college's programs and ties to the oil and gas industry. Part 2: Problems with academic integrity in other Pennsylvania colleges.]
Among the mission statements of the University of North Dakota Department of Geology and Geological Engineering is that it "strives to develop in its engineering graduates keen insight and abilities to design an environmentally sound and sustainable future for humanity."
Like most college mission statements, it's a broad and vague goal, one that may not reflect reality. The Department is one of the better ones in the country, especially in training students to work in areas of gas and oil exploration and processing. However, their training--and research by the faculty--may be tainted by an industry bias, fueled by a $14 million gift.
The Department is now the Harold Hamm School of Geology and Geological Science. Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, the ninth largest oil producer in the United States, provided $5 million to the renamed School; his company provided an additional $5. The other $4 million came from the Industrial Commission/Oil and Gas Research Program, a merger of the state of North Dakota and several gas and oil corporations.
Continental Resources, which had revenue of $3.65 billion and a net profit of $764.2 million in 2013, had opened up the oil shale in North Dakota, site of the Bakken Shale, and is currently the top producer of oil production in the country. Continental, which uses the controversial practice of high volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing (known as fracking) to extract the oil, predicts to produce 62.5--65.5 million barrels of oil, an increase in production of 26-32 percent.
UND isn't the only college to benefit from the oil and gas industry.
In West Virginia, Bethany College and West Liberty University signed mineral rights leases, claiming the money from royalties would help improve programs and provide for new buildings. The University of Texas at Arlington, sitting above the Barnett Shale, has 22 wells on a single pad site at the edge of campus. At Indiana State University, president Dan Bradley, a petroleum engineer who touts fracking as "a freight train on steroids," has permitted wells and pipes on campus.
Against significant student and community opposition, the University of Tennessee opened its 8,000 acre Cumberland Research Forest to the natural gas industry. The 20-year lease includes a $300,000 a year payment plus at least 10 percent royalties. The university stated it was entering into the agreement in order to "conduct unbiased, scientifically sound research." However, because the research is funded by the natural gas industry, the ethical probability of a conflict of interest must be raised. If the university makes money from the industry, and a portion of that money is targeted for faculty research, how impartial can that research be?
Politicians who take substantial contributions from the oil and gas lobbyists tend to be the ones who vote against human services and education budget increases. By dangling possible income from mineral rights leases, they blur the distinction between professors and corporate shills.
Research conducted by Drs. Charles G. Groat and Thomas W. Grimshaw and a team from the Energy Institute at the University of Texas placed the primary problem of methane in well water with the construction problems in both natural gas wells and drinking water wells rather than the process itself. Dr. Groat's study supported the industry's claims that fracking doesn't cause health and pollution problems.