Fossil fuel companies gave over $700 million in research funding to 27 colleges and universities from 2010 to 2020, according to a new study from the left-leaning think tank Data for Progress.
The top recipients of fossil fuel research money included the University of California, Berkeley ($154 million); the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ($108 million); Stanford University ($56 million); and the University of Texas at Austin ($40 million). Six fossil fuel companies—including BP, ExxonMobil and Shell—were found to have given the bulk of the funding to higher ed.
The study, which was constructed from publicly available data—including fossil fuel companies’ 990 tax forms, universities’ annual financial reports and press releases about donations—may not give a full picture of the industry’s investment in higher ed, since there are no reporting requirements for private gifts or research funding.
Seven hundred million dollars “is probably an absolute bare minimum,” Grace Adcox, polling analyst for Data for Progress, told The Guardian. “There’s so little transparency around these gifts.”
Many of the universities listed in the report have touted their commitment to climate change research. Some, like Berkeley and Princeton University, have since divested their endowments from fossil fuel companies; others, like MIT and Stanford, have repeatedly refused calls for divestment.
Concerns about the influence of fossil fuel money on research, and climate research in particular, were reignited a year ago after a study in Nature found evidence suggesting centers and labs funded by those companies produced more favorable research on methane and natural gas as alternatives, rather than renewable energy sources like solar or wind power. Those concerns also sparked a debate at Stanford over whether its new School of Sustainability should accept funding from fossil fuel companies.