A new University of Wyoming professor has been criticized for being the energy industry's go-to academic for highlighting the positives, and not the negatives, of fossil fuel development.
Timothy Considine is professor of economics at UW's School of Energy Resources. Before leaving Penn State University, he began researching a report paid for by an oil and gas group called the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
He finished the report while at the University of Wyoming.
A Pennsylvania landowner advocacy group called the Responsible Drilling Alliance, among others, said the report grossly overstated the potential job creation and tax revenue of the Marcellus shale gas play. The organization said the report failed to analyze many of the potential negative economic impacts of the development, such as the potential to damage drinking water supplies.
Responsible Drilling Alliance founding member Jon Bogle said the first report, against university policy, carried the Penn State seal on every page and failed to properly disclose who funded the report.
Bogle said Pennsylvania is currently debating whether to impose a severance tax on the industry.
"The Penn State report is being quoted by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, and so it's having a very subversive impact on the severance tax debate in Pennsylvania," Bogle said.
Penn State's dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, William E. Easterling, penned a letter to university officials expressing concerns about the report.
"... the authors could and probably should have been more circumspect in connecting their findings to policy implications for Pennsylvania, and may well have crossed the line between policy analysis and policy advocacy," Easterling wrote in a June letter to the Penn State board.
In an interview with the Star-Tribune, Considine said critics of the Marcellus report have blown things out of proportion.
"They criticized the report that it doesn't consider the environmental cost. Well, that's not the question," Considine said.
He said the report does discuss, but does not analyze, the potential negative economic impacts of things like damage to drinking water supplies. He said those questions and that analysis is being performed by others in academia.
"I may be doing something like that in the future, where you do a full-blown benefit analysis," Considine said.
In December, Considine released a report titled, "Powder River Basin Coal: Powering America," which was commissioned by the Wyoming Mining Association.
Similarly, Considine's analysis focused on the positive economic effects of the industry, and not the negative issues such as the environmental impacts of mining and Powder River Basin coal's contribution to global warming.
"I didn't want to open up that can of worms, because the estimates of those costs vary greatly," Considine told the Star-Tribune in January.
Earlier this month, the University of Wyoming issued a press release advertising Considine's pending July 16 speech before the joint forum of the Congressional Coal Caucus and Congressional Western Caucus in Washington, D.C.
"The School of Energy Resources was very pleased to hear that I was going to Congress to report my findings on the study," Considine told the Star-Tribune recently.
Asked about criticism of Considine's industry-funded work, UW Provost Myron Allen said the university accepts research funding and gifts from a wide variety of government, corporate and nonprofit organizations.
"We regard their willingness to fund our faculty's work as evidence of its relevance to real-world problems," Allen said in an e-mail. "However, while outside agencies may select the topics and experts they're willing to fund, we do not accept grants or gifts that attempt to dictate our faculty's research outcomes."
Considine said it's difficult to quantify economic losses due to man-caused carbon dioxide emissions, climate change or even the significant consumption of water through mining and burning fossil fuels.
"It's not easy to estimate the economic values of these costs," Considine said.
And furthermore, that's not what the Wyoming Mining Association, nor the Marcellus Shale Coalition, asked him to analyze.
"The Powder River Basin study looked at the value of Powder River Basin coal to the economy," Considine said. "It's important to Wyoming. There are a lot of people who would like to shut down Wyoming coal production. My opinion is that would be bad for Wyoming and bad for the country."
Bogle said that while there are numerous studies considering the economics of Powder River Basin coal and the Marcellus shale gas development, the key question is how they are portrayed. When industry groups continually seek the same professor to consider one side of the equation, it's an important consideration.
"The crux of problem is not that the industry wants to portray itself well. But it's been able to get state-operated universities to help them do it, which I think is astonishing," Bogle said.
Considine said he recently finished an economic report on Europe's attempt at cap-and-trade carbon policy, and he's interested in researching the potential economic impacts of the Niobrara oil play in southeastern Wyoming.
"The thing you keep in mind is the recent studies I've done are contributing a piece of the debate," Considine said.
* "An Emerging Giant: Prospects and Economic Impacts of Developing the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play," by Timothy Considine and Robert Watson.
* Updated version: "The Economic Impacts of the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play: An Update," by Timothy Considine, Robert Watson and Seth Blumsack.
* " Powder River Basin Coal: Powering America," by Timothy Considine.