Big Oil Goes to College An Analysis of 10 Research Collaboration Contracts Between Leading Energy Companies and Major U.S. Universities

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on October 14, 2010

Big Oil Goes to College – An Analysis of 10 Research Collaboration Contracts between Leading Energy Companies and Major U.S. Universities, Jennifer Washburn, Center for American Progress, October 2010

  • “The world’s largest oil companies are showing surprising interest in financing alternative energy research at U.S. universities. Over the past decade, five of the world’s top 10 oil companies—ExxonMobil Corp., Chevron Corp., BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell Group, and ConocoPhillips Co.—and other large traditional energy companies with a direct commercial stake in future energy markets have forged dozens of multi-year, multi-million-dollar alliances with top U.S. universities and scientists to carry out energy-related research. Much of this funding by “Big Oil” is being used for research into new sources of alternative energy and renewable energy, mostly biofuels. Why are highly profitable oil and other large corporations increasingly turning to U.S. universities to perform their commercial research and development instead of conducting this work in-house? Why, in turn, are U.S. universities opening their doors to Big Oil? And when they do, how well are U.S. universities balancing the needs of their commercial sponsors with their own academic missions and public-interest obligations, given their heavy reliance on government research funding and other forms of taxpayer support? The answers to these three questions are critical to energy-related research and development in our country, given the current global-warming crisis and the role that academic experts have traditionally played in providing the public with impartial research, analysis, and advice. To unpack these questions and help find answers, this report provides a detailed examination of 10 university-industry agreements that together total $833 million in confirmed corporate funding (over 10 years) for energy research funding on campus. Copies of these contractual agreements were obtained largely through state-level public record act requests. Each agreement spells out the precise legal terms, conditions, and intellectual property provisions that govern how this sponsored research is carried out by the faculty and students on campus.”
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