Image: Kxlly Kxsh, Flickr.

Two studies at UCL and the University of Edinburgh that have received money from a new €12 million EU funding pot for research into the impacts of fracking have been criticised for involving controversial companies in their research.

The University of Edinburgh-led study is aimed at providing “key scientific-based practical recommendations aimed at minimising the environmental footprint of shale gas extraction through effective planning and regulation, and also to address public concerns”. It has triggered anger for partnering with Israeli company EWRE (Environmental Water and Resources Engineering).

EWRE has provided services to the Israeli water authority and other Israeli government bodies who have expropriated water resources in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, as CommonSpace has reported.

The project is titled: “Furthering the Knowledge Base for Reducing the Environmental Footprint of Shale Gas Development (FracRisk)”. The University of Edinburgh’s press office refused to comment on the activities or suitability of EWRE as a partner.

Meanwhile the UCL study will look at the ‘migration’ of chemicals below the ground and has the notorious US oil and gas services company Haliburton as a partner. Halliburton are notorious for its links to the Iraq war and former US president Dick Cheney, at one point, at one point receiving $7 billion in a contract for which no other companies were allowed to bid. Halliburton was also found to be at fault, along with BP, in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Campaigners, such as Richard Dixon of Friends of the Earth Scotland, have questioned how objective a study into fracking can be where a company from the fossil fuel industry is involved. He told CommonSpace that studies involving companies with a “vested interest” in unconventional gas “will not inspire any confidence in the communities facing this dangerous technology”.

Asked for comment, Halliburton’s Senior Public Relations Representative, Susie McMichael, told Bright Green: “This study is being developed for science, not for profit. A Halliburton consultant is donating his time and knowledge to the study, and Halliburton is not receiving any EU Horizon 20/20 program funds.”

Halliburton is also set to be a partner in an ‘Underground Coal Gasification’ project in the Firth of Forth. Underground Coal Gasification has been exempted from the Scottish Government’s moratorium on fracking. This process involves turning coal into natural gas underground through the injection of chemicals. Halliburton is similarly a likely subcontractor for a test frack in Ryedale, Yorkshire.

Another recent UCL study found that 30% of oil, 50% of gas, and 80% of coal reserves must be left in the ground for countries to keep their international commitments to keep the world below 2 degrees of warming. Despite clear evidence that extra gas from fracking will only add to this approaching environmental disaster, the University of Edinburgh’s press office said that considering these figures will not be ‘within the scope of [the Edinburgh-led study]’.

In providing funding, the EU does not seem to have addressed the question of whether, given the current scientific consensus on the need to drastically cut fossil fuel emissions, fracking should be pursued at all. Robert Jan-Smits, director-general of the European Commission’s Research directorate, said that European governments are free to make their own choices as to whether to sanction fracking. He announced at a recent conference: “We must address concerns with sound scientific evidence – taking the debate away from emotions and fears, and basing it on facts and figures”.

However the available facts and figures about unburnable carbon seem to be being sidelined. Even in the New Scientist, a recent article asking whether the UK should frack for gas only mentioned that “there is no room for fracking if we want to make sure we don’t go over 2º C warming” in its final paragraphs; other articles did not mention even mention these figures.

It seems that in the eyes of many such big organisations, the ‘facts and figures’ of short-term economic profit – their own bank balances – speak louder than evidence from the IPCC and others of the drastic environmental and human impact of climate change.

In the face of official intransigence, campaigners have been arguing for fossil free universities, calling for divestment from fossil fuels and an end to the industry’s involvement in funding research. Companies such as Shell spend millions of pounds on academic studies each year (56.7 in 2009, BP, Shell and Exxon, Fossil Free Universities report). Campaigners at the University of Edinburgh are expecting an imminent decision on divestment, whilst campaigners at Oxford University recently painted their degrees black in a stunt to illustrate how the university’s fossil fuel investments dirty their degrees.

The UK parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee recently concluded that the development of fracking in the UK is incompatible with climate targets and would increase reliance on fossil fuels.

Academics leading the UCL-led study have not responded to Bright Green’s request for comment.