An influential MIT study that suggested fracking could provide a "bridge to a low-carbon future" and would pose only "manageable" environmental issues lacked disclosure that it's lead author -- and now energy department nominee -- Ernest Moniz had ties to the natural gas industry, according to a watchdog group.
In their report released on Wednesday, the Public Accountability Initiative said that Moniz, director of the Energy Initiative at MIT, had joined the board of ICF, a consulting firm with oil and gas ties, just three days prior to the release of the report. They add that Moniz has since collected over $300,000 from ICF.
The nonprofit group, which has been critical of the gas industry and fracking, goes on to suggest other timely conflicts of interest among authors of the study. One co-author had joined the gas company, Talisman Energy, prior to release of the study; another was on the board of a liquid natural gas (LNG) company that would receive the U.S.'s only LNG export permit shortly after the study came out.
"The public should have been informed that MIT's natural gas study was written by representatives of the oil and gas industry," Kevin Connor, director of the Public Accountability Initiative, said in a statement. "Is MIT an independent research university or an oil and gas industry mouthpiece?"
The criticism builds on concerns already raised by fracking opponents. As The Huffington Post reported at the time of Moniz's nomination earlier this month, the controversial MIT research itself had also received financial support from oil and gas companies. The ties were disclosed in the MIT study but still concern critics like Anthony Ingraffea, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University.
In a prior interview with HuffPost, Ingraffea noted a number of pro-fracking studies that had come out of influential institutions such as the University of Texas at Austin and were later found to have been supported by industry. The MIT study, he said, is just one example of what he calls "frackademia".
Victoria Ekstrom, a MIT Energy Initiative spokesperson, defended the study's independence.
"The notion that these findings are developed based on anything other than the unbiased research of MIT researchers is false," she said in response to questions posed by the watchdog group. "The natural gas study was prepared by the faculty and researchers at MIT, and received input from an advisory committee that was drawn from energy experts -- including representatives from environmental organizations and relevant industry. While we do accept sponsors for the development of these reports, those sponsors have no role in determining the outcome of the study."
Many environmentalists continue to support Moniz's nomination, highlighting his depth and breadth of knowledge -- something the White House has repeatedly cheered.
"Continuing to deliver on the President's all-of-the-above approach, increasing our nation's energy independence, taking action on climate change, and expanding a range of energy sources, including renewable sources like wind and solar, biofuels, oil and gas, nuclear, and clean coal, will be a focus for the Department of Energy in the President's second term," the White House said in a statement. "Dr. Moniz' work at MIT demonstrates his ability to work collaboratively with a wide spectrum of stakeholders on a broad range of energy issues."
ProPublica has described additional ties between Moniz and fossil fuel, nuclear power and other energy industries -- while adding that such relationships "aren't uncommon for cabinet nominees."
"The fact that these ties weren't disclosed speaks to Moniz's ability, or lack thereof, to manage conflicts of interest, and they build on his ICF connection," Connor told HuffPost in an email. "The study endorses natural gas exports and doesn't note that one of its authors was on the board of an LNG company that was about to receive the only LNG export permit in the US? Ludicrous."