Glasgow academic denies financial interest in paper on fracking

Energy engineering professor Paul Younger says that the accusations of a conflict of interests are ‘beyond risible’

November 20, 2014

A University of Glasgow academic who criticised the institution’s decision to divest from fossil fuels has dismissed claims that he should have declared his financial interest in an energy company in a recent paper on fracking.

Paul Younger, Rankine chair of engineering and professor of energy engineering at the university, was one of a number of academics who criticised Glasgow for its landmark decision, claiming that it could jeopardise the institution’s credibility.

Earlier this month, he co-authored a paper in the Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology that called for more relaxed regulations on shale gas extraction and claimed that the risks of serious earthquakes being caused were lower than previously feared.

Professor Younger is also co-founder and non-executive director of Five-Quarter, a Newcastle University spin-off company that, while not active in fracking, specialises in the extraction of “unconventional gas” from layers of carbonaceous rocks beneath the North Sea. The position is unpaid, but Professor Younger confirmed that he holds 2 million shares in the company.

Andrew Taylor, Fossil Free campaign manager at pressure group People & Planet, said that when individual researchers stood to “gain financially” from the fossil fuel industry, there was a “clear conflict of interest”.

Professor Younger said the notion that he had been “trying to exert sinister influence on the public debate on fossil fuels whilst hoping no one would notice that I am a non-executive director of a company pioneering a variant of underground coal gasification” was “beyond risible”. Although his board role was not mentioned in his most recent publication, he said that it had been disclosed publicly on numerous occasions.

“I have had no research funding at all from Five-Quarter, but they do part-sponsor one PhD student in my school, whom I co-supervise with a colleague who has no links at all with the company,” he added.

“I cannot for the life of me see why [my co-author] and I ought to have mentioned Five-Quarter in the acknowledgements when they neither funded nor saw any of the work before it was published, and it concerns a technology and onshore locations in which they have absolutely no involvement.”

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