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“Frackademia” By Law: Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 Exposed

With the school year starting for many this week, it’s another year of academia for professors across the United States – and another year of “frackademia” for an increasingly large swath of “frackademics” under federal law.

“Frackademia” is best defined as flawed but seemingly legitimate science and economic studies on the controversial oil and gas horizontal drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), but done with industry funding and/or industry-tied academics (“frackademics”).

While the “frackademia” phenomenon has received much media coverage, a critical piece missing from the discussion is the role played by Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Although merely ten pages out of the massive 551-page bill, Section 999 created the U.S. Department of Energy-run Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), a “non-profit corporation formed by a consortium of premier U.S. energy research universities, industry and independent research organizations.”

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, RPSEA receives $1 billion of funding – $100 million per year – between 2007 and 2016. On top of that, Section 999 creates an “Oil and Gas Lease Income” fund “from any Federal royalties, rents, and bonuses derived from Federal onshore and offshore oil and gas leases.” The federal government put $50 million in the latter pot to get the ball rolling.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005’s “Halliburton Loophole” – which created an enforcement exemption from the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act for fracking, and made the chemicals found within fracking fluid a “trade secret” – is by far the bill’s most notorious legacy for close followers of fracking.

These provisions were helped along by then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Policy Task Force, which entailed countless meetings between Big Oil lobbyists and executives and members of President George W. Bush’s cabinet. Together, these lobbyists and appointees hammered out the details behind closed doors of what became the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a bill receiving a “yes” vote by then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, almost no focus – comparatively speaking – has gone into scrutinizing Section 999, which subsidizes biased pro-industry studies for a decade and in turn, further legitimizes unfettered fracking nationwide.

Speaking at an industry public relations conference in Houston, TX in 2011 – the same conference in which it was revealed the shale gas industry is using psychological warfare tactics on U.S. citizens and recommending the military’s “Counterinsurgency Field Manual” for “dealing with an insurgency” of Americans concerned about fracking – S. Dennis Holbrook of Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York stated that it’s crucial for industry to “seek out academic studies and champion with universities—because that again provides tremendous credibility to the overall process.” [cont’d.]

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