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Watchdog Group Accuses UT Fracking Study of Being Tainted

August 23rd, 2012

According to an article featured by StateImpact, a sub-organization of NPR, the results of a study done by a University of Texas professor earlier this year on hydraulic fracking may have been tainted by money. StateImpact reports that study conducted by Dr. Charles Groat for the Energy Institute at the University of Texas made headlines after concluding there was no link between hydraulic fracking and water contamination. Hydraulic fracking is a process in which trapped oil and gas is freed by injecting a mixture of chemicals, water and sand into the earth’s crust. However, according to a report released by the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI), the results of the report are not as clear cut as the professor would have the public believe. The watch dog group has also pointed out that Professor Groat did not disclose significant financial ties to the fracking industry.

According to StateImpact, Groat, a former Director of the U.S. Geological Survey and professor at the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin, also sits on the board of Plains Exploration and Production Company, a Houston-based company that conducts drilling and fracking in Texas and other parts of the country. According to the new report (and a review of the company’s financial reports by Bloomberg) Groat received more than $400,000 from the drilling company last year alone, more than double his salary at the University. Further, one of the shales examined in Groat’s fracking study is currently being drilled by the company. According to StateImpact and PAI, since 2007, Groat has received over $1.5 million in cash and stock awards from the company, and he currently holds over $1.6 million in company stock.

Apart from the Professor’s financial ties, StateImpact reports that PAI also found problems with the fracking study itself. While the report’s release was promoted heavily by the University of Texas at Austin, PAI alleges that “two of the report’s main sections are marked as rough drafts.” It also alleges that the study used “industry-friendly” language, made claims of peer review that don’t appear to be substantiated, and that the report’s findings had an “extreme disconnect” with what was in the press release accompanying the study.

Further, according to StateImpact and Bloomberg reports, Groat’s boss at the Energy Institute, Ray Orbach, was unaware of Groat’s ties to the company. Reportedly, he only learned about it when Bloomberg asked him about it, and agreed that it was an issue. “To be honest, we had no idea,” Orbach told the news site. “In the future we should have an asterisk or something that would indicate his presence on the board.” Sources say that in response, Groat sent an email to Bloomburg investigators which stated, “I made no modifications or alterations of their findings, some of which were not particularly pleasing to the shale-gas industry. Disclosing my Plains board position would not have served any meaningful purpose relevant to this study.”

You can read the full story here.

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