Lead Researcher of UT Fracking Report Has Substantial Ties To Industry

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ChipGroat.jpeg
Dr. Chip Groat
Back in February, I wrote about a heavily publicized report released by the University of Texas Energy Institute that billed itself as the authoritative guide for regulators wrestling with the extraction of natural gas from shale formations and the novel combination of directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Injecting sand, water and often hazardous chemicals deep underground into shale at pressures of thousands of pounds per square inch to crack it and free gas, the report concluded, was unlikely to contaminate drinking water sources. In fact, a press release, stripped of nuance, stated, "New Study Shows No Evidence of Groundwater Contamination from Hydraulic Fracturing." After reading through the entirety of the report, however, I found the distinction was much more semantical. Fracking was an unlikely culprit, lead researcher Chip Groat claimed, but surface spills and underground blowouts pose a widespread risk.

A reader can hardly be blamed for seeing a distinction without a difference. Contamination is contamination. Yet the press release issued by UT could be read that fracking is no threat to water sources. In light of Monday's revelations, the pro-industry tenor of the report doesn't seem so strange.

Groat neglected to mention his extensive financial ties to the industry. A report from the Public Accountability Initiative found out Groat is a board member of Plains Exploration and Production. His salary as a board member is more than double his salary at UT. The professor has some $1.6 million in company stock. What's more, Plains, along with partner Chesapeake Energy, is drilling in the Haynesville Shale in Louisiana, a play examined in Groat's report. UT's Energy Institute isn't without strong fossil-fuel interests. Its advisory board has ties to big oil and gas -- ConocoPhillips and Hess, for example.

That none of this is mentioned in Groat's CV or in a report that claims "to inject science" into an emotional debate is stunning. In medical research, disclosure of industry connections is the rule, not the exception. Imagine a researcher who authors a paper on the impressive efficacy of GlaxoSmithKline's diabetes drug Avandia -- now found to pose substantial risks to the heart -- without disclosing membership to its board.

Sharon Wilson, an anti-fracking blogger known as Texas Sharon, recorded industry representatives last year at a Houston conference bragging about how they employ former military psy-ops personnel to deal with what they called an "insurgency." Dennis Holbrook of Norse Energy said the industry should "seek out" academics and universities for their "tremendous credibility."

He said his company had aligned with the University of Buffalo, whose research into fracking has been called into question by its industry ties. Monday, I responded to an AP report that insinuated the fear of health problems associated with fracking is irrational, without a foundation in good science. I asked, "What science?" So little of it exists on the human toll.

But if the industry's detractors are anchored in misunderstanding, in light of Groat's disturbing omission, how will it ever be otherwise?

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16 comments
pak152
pak152

I note that the attack is not on the science but rather his associations. but that is not unusual. ad hominem attacks are the main weapon of the left. Can't wait for the in-depth story about who supports TxSharon and the other anti-frackers

Chiggers
Chiggers

Wow. Horrible hairpiece, Chip.

 

Take some of your ill-gotten millions and get a transplant.

NickGrealy
NickGrealy

And this makea Texas Sharon Albert Einstein? But she has her groups who pay her, as I do mine. Speaking of which what's you skin in the game? Just because someone is paid one way or the other doesn't make every thing they say untrue. You seem to carry ads here. Does that mean you would only push their views?

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

Great job showing your source for this story.   Aren't you legally and according to standard style guides supposed to credit the Austin American Statesman for their story?   Ever heard of plaigarism?   Ever heard of reporting?   Or, is this your editorial?   Again, you owe it to the Statesman to credit them.  for shame

claytonauger
claytonauger

Overlooked in all this is the fact that the report's conclusions about surface spills happening much more often during fracking vs traditional drilling actually is much worse news for a place like Dallas that gets its water from surface sources.

Texaspainter
Texaspainter

The gas industry has so many paid whore spokespeople, you never now whose who until after the fact. This is just another one of them who has been exposed. Don't forget the big smack down happens at City Hall next Wednesday, August 1 at 1 pm.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

I guess it's like saying jumping from a plane without a parachute won't kill you, but hitting the ground will.

Edgar
Edgar

But if Groat's connections were anti-industry or neutral, the anti-industry groups would label him a defector and an opportunist seeking to curry favor for a high-paying job spnsored by industry.  In any case, failure to dosclose is a far step from concealing.  If he had disclosed his connections, how much more quickly would people have dismissed its findings as biased?  It's time we start evaluating research by evaluating the research itself rather than sizing up the research by sizing up the researcher.

Chiggers
Chiggers

$$$$$

 

Money trumps morals, everytime.

reedtango
reedtango

Nice article.  Their definitely needs to be more exposure to these kinds of behaviors.  There is just  too much weight on paper that has no use outside of this country (and Canada).  I just get disgusted with how dishonest money makes people.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

"In medical research, disclosure of industry connections is the rule, not the exception." 

 

I'm not sure this is correct.  It's suppose to be the standard, but there's as much evidence of malfeasance in medicine as there is here. 

Chiggers
Chiggers

 @NickGrealy Groat's gross infraction here is what he chooses NOT to say. All things being equal, do you suppose his report may have been more clear and comprehensive about fracking related dangers if he were an independent operator *Not* receiving a handsome paycheck from the industry? He is paid by them to obfuscate.

 

How does this compare to newspaper advertising?

 

(Hint: It doesn't)

brantley.hargrove1
brantley.hargrove1

 @scottindallas First of all, I hadn't read the Statesman story. Second, these revelations are the work of a nonprofit called Public Accountability Initiative. Before you fire off the P word, you might want to make sure you're not half-cocked.

mdcunningham
mdcunningham

 @Edgar It should have been dismissed as biased. When you make twice as much as your day job from energy, that's a significant conflict of interest. 

pak152
pak152

 @mdcunningham dismiss it because the science is bad not because of alleged bias. but it easier for the left and the detractors  of hydraulic fracturing to attack the individual and his associations than it is to see if the science is valid or not.

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