Environmental news from California and beyond

« Previous | Greenspace Home | Next »

Big Oil goes to college: a conflict of interest?

Have hundreds of millions of dollars in grants from major oil companies compromised the ethics of energy research at such institutions as UC Berkeley, UC Davis and Stanford?

That's what Jennifer Washburn, a longtime critic of academic conflicts of interest, contends in "Big Oil Goes to College," a new report that delves into the details of contracts signed between 10 major U.S. universities and global oil companies.

According to the 212-page study, released by the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank, such companies as BP, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips have funded more than $800 million in potentially compromised research with few protections for academic independence.

For example, since 2002, Stanford has received $225 million from a consortium led by ExxonMobil  to study technology to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The company operates refineries, oil drilling facilities, tankers and gas stations, making it a major emitter of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases globally.

As part of the Stanford contract, the industry controls all four voting seats on the research alliance's governing body, and peer review of faculty research proposals is done "at the discretion of industry sponsors," the report says.

However, the report notes, ExxonMobil and other major oil companies are currently investing little of their considerable profits in clean-energy research and development within their companies, suggesting that grants to Stanford and and other prestigious universities may be largely a public relations effort designed to  "green" company images.

Stanford strongly disputed the characterization of the research at its Global Climate and Energy Project as compromised or controlled by corporate interests.

Washburn is the author of the book "University Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education." In a 2007 op-ed piece for the The Times, "Big Oil Buys Berkeley," she examined BP's $500-million deal with UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to fund the Energy Biosciences Institute, devoted to biofuels research. "For a mere $50 million a year, an oil company worth $250 billion would buy a chunk of America's premier public research institutions, all but turning them into its own profit-making subsidiary," she wrote.

After the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, BP has come under increasing public scrutiny for limiting the academic freedom of scientists it is funding to study the environmental consequences of the spill.

Read Tribune Washington reporter Neela Banerjee's account of the Center for American Progress report on oil company contracts with universities.

-- Margot Roosevelt


Planned distribution of BP funds worries some scientists

Why no campus protest over Berkeley-BP connection?

Big Oil Buys Berkeley

 Photo: Stanford University. Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (10)

The comments to this entry are closed.

" We, the public, depend on U.S. universities (which still receive 60 percent of their research support from the federal government) to produce reliable knowledge that the public can trust. "

Or, Ms Washburn, 'knowledge' that is beholden to the party in power; at this moment the Obama Administration. I don't trust this administration to produce any more reliable info than the oil companies. This administration is top heavy with environmental extremists who have forgotten that we need a healthy vibrant economy to fund the programs that Obama himself wants to push.

Im OK with the oil companies investing in their own university research to counterbalance the over reliance on Green 'knowledge'.

As the author of the "Big Oil Goes to College" I would like to applaud and thank the medical student who wrote about AMSA's campaign to get drug and medical device companies off campus. This med student wrote that AMSA successfully got "nearly all schools to adopt strict ethics codes to eliminate drug company money and influence. Now university students can mobilize against the prostitution of "green fuel" so-called research and boot it off campus!" Here, here! I encourage students on campus to rise up and do just that. In my report I emphasize that I am not against university-industry relationships; information exchange between university and academic scientists is critical to the advancement of science and the commercialization of academic inventions. However, universities need to develop far more strict "academic principles and standards" for their industry-research and -consulting contracts, and stronger conflict of interest rules, to protect the universities' core academic independence and their commitment to reliable, unbiased, scientific research. We, the public, depend on U.S. universities (which still receive 60 percent of their research support from the federal government) to produce reliable knowledge that the public can trust. Who can we trust to investigate solutions to the global warming crisis, or the longterm environmental damage from the BP oil spill in the Gulf, or the safety and effectiveness of new drugs and medical treatments, if we can't rely upon independent academic scientists to produce this critical public-good research??

Compromised Research??? Like the scientific community hasn't already sold their souls to push the scam "global warming". Its one thing for government and science to work on cleaner air and water issues but to lie to the American public with false data about a "coming disaster" is evil. This country depends on oil production. Jennifer Washburn is a SMALL MINDED human being who should be fired from her job.


Well, it would explain why Berkeley and Stanford constantly support Big Energy (ahem) "solutions" to GHG emissions and disparage the real threat to pollution, high energy bills and monopoly power - rooftop solar and efficiency upgrades.

At first, I was shocked at how wrong their "white papers" were, how they twisted the stats and intentionally ignored HUGE issues to come to their distorted, misguided Big Energy conclusions, but once I realized they were completely owned by Big Energy, like our legislators are, it all made perfect sense.

I can't help but wonder if Luskin Center at UCLA is going to be a target of Big Energy largesse now that they proved that a feed in tariff program for LA would be so much faster, cheaper and cleaner than a Big Solar and Big Transmission program, and would actually SAVE ratepayers money after the first 10 years.

Arctic Fox, Big Oil can afford their own labs and scientists. That is not what they are buying. They are buying the facade of integrity that non-profit university labs had until recently. They will chew that up, spit it out, and move on and the institution will be permanently destroyed. You should care because the UC system is a gem owned by CA taxpayers and should remain un-tainted by biased research...

George Soros' "Center for American Progress" and its affiliates elected Obama, and subsequently have drafted most of his very unpopular policy initiatives -- including green initiatives.

Environmental groups take tax deductible donations from you and industry to operate global fear-mongering campaigns about the problems of pollution, species extinction and climate change. These eco-groups also lobby intensely for costly government regulations to fix environmental problems. Elite green groups have traded their green “seals of approval” for donations as marketing tools to industry – including to corporate oil companies. The green lobbies have grown to some $1.5 billion in annual tax-exempt assets with the advent of selling “green street cred” to industry.

The Washington Post and The Economist have recently reported on the cozy relationships between eco-groups and corporate interests such as BP (British Petroleum). BP was responsible for one of the largest and most ecologically-destructive pollution incidents in history. Some of the most politically-influential and wealthy eco-groups have taken tens of millions of dollars from BP, and formed “donor alliances” with other big oil operators to assure continuing corporate cash donations. At some point, these sales of green group endorsements to corporations become a clear conflict of environmental interests.

As a matter of good faith dealing and integrity, green groups should return the millions of dollars in donations from BP and other oil companies. Here are a few of the reported BP money and other corporate entanglements that directly benefitted big eco-groups:

· The Nature Conservancy has taken about $10 million in cash and land from BP;
· Conservation International took over $2 million from BP;
· The Environmental Defense Fund (Environmental Defense) campaigned with BP for government carbon cap-and-trade regulations through the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), an alliance of eco-groups and corporate carbon trading ventures;
· USCAP involvements include the Nature Conservancy, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute;
· BP had energy business relationships with the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society.

In addition, President Obama was the top recipient of BP campaign money during the 2008 presidential election. Obama collected $71,000, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The Obama campaign should return all of its BP money.

Considering that the 212 page report that this article is based on comes from the Center for American Progress which is a uber left think tank funded primarily by the likes of George Soros & mortgage billionaires Herbert and Marion Sandler one needs to take this articles conclusions with thoughtful skepticism. Also note that Air America relied heavily on the reports & analysis provided by the Center for American Progress.

If I were running an energy company of any kind be it oil, natural gas, ethanol, coal, etcetera, I would want to be funding research into any & all possible alternatives to my primary product or products so that my company could be in on the ground floor of the shift from my current products to the new products that will replace my current products.

Secondly, I would want my energy company to be funding research into how my company could be improved in its product production processes to become as efficient & benign as economically possible in terms of environmental impact.

I do not see a conflict of interest in university research being funded by energy companies but I do see very savy application of company research funds to help energy companies improve their future prospects for continued business success. This would seem to be research funding in the best interest of the oil company stock holders, the general public & the US strategic energy position.

The Center for American Progress is a leftist organization, which says a lot about
Margot Roosevelt. I would not worry in the slightest about their "report".

The "Big Pharma" (drug industry) has long perpetrated this same kind of bastardization of medical research -- and corrupted the continuing medical education of physicians and medical students by "sponsoring" research grants and required doctor seminars for which the drug manufacturers hold the control and determine the content.
But the nation's medical students, through their national professional organization, American Medical Student Association ( advocated, university by university successfully getting nearly all schools to adopt strict ethics codes to eliminate drug company money and influence.
Now university students can mobilize against the prostitution of "green fuel" so-called research and boot it off campus!

Give me enough money and I'll tell you what you want to hear. Big Earl knows how to buy the support for their point. It is just propaganda.

Oil companies give money to famous US universities for research? Shocking! We should FORBID that kind of donation.

American universities should only receive money from the federal and state governments. Then the research will never show any bias in the outcome.

Yes, US federal and state government money is clean, pure, untainted, incontrovertible, and overall white as new snow. That, and there's just so MUCH government money lying around, waiting for worthy projects to fund.

Those American researchers and grad students should GIVE BACK that oil money! And the universities should REFUND the overhead charges they take from the oil company donations.

Yes, give it ALL back! Every penny!

Really, if oil companies want research, they should give their money to universities in China and Korea, or India, or the Middle East, or Brazil. Or even Serbia -- U. of Belgrade is actually pretty good, y'know?

But don't taint American academe with hydrocarbon dollars! We must band together and STOP this ongoing atrocity.


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


Recent News
Invitation to connect on LinkedIn |  December 12, 2013, 9:58 am »
New Cook Islands Shark Sanctuary proposed |  December 8, 2011, 8:00 am »