University of Texas Promises Review of Fracking Study in Response to PAI’s Criticism

The publication this week of the Public Accountability Initiative’s report “Contaminated Inquiry”, together with a lengthy article by Jim Efstathiou Jr. for Bloomberg (“Frackers Fund University Research That Proves Their Case”) and further press coverage, has elicited a response from the University of Texas at Austin. The statement below, attributed to provost and executive vice president Steven Leslie, was released late Tuesday:

The most important asset we have as an institution is the public’s trust. If that is in question, then that is something we need to address. We will identify a group of outside experts to review the Energy Institute’s report on the effects of hydraulic fracturing. We hope to have that group identified and the results back within a few weeks. We believe that the research meets our standards, but it is important to let an outside group of experts take an independent look.

Dr. Groat has been reminded of his obligations to report all outside employment per university policy. If the university had known about Dr. Groat’s board involvement, the Energy Institute would have included that information in the report.

It remains to be seen, of course, how the university will follow through on this commitment. Yet the willingness to even acknowledge impropriety, for a start, is to be commended in contrast to the University at Buffalo’s refusal to review or provide greater transparency into the funding of its own fracking research, after PAI had raised important questions in a May report (“The UB Shale Play”).

Meanwhile, Chip Groat of the UT Energy Institute, who directed the fracking study and whose undisclosed financial stake in the oil and gas company Plains Exploration & Production (PXP) was a key aspect of PAI’s report, has brushed off all criticism. Groat told Bloomberg’s Efstathiou that disclosing his position on PXP’s board “would not have served any meaningful purpose relevant to this study,” but otherwise did not address specific critiques made by PAI beyond this blanket dismissal provided to an Austin-based journalist:

The professor would not agree to an interview, but in an email to StateImpact Texas he says the Public Accountability Initiative report is “a mixture of truths, half truths, and unfounded conclusions based [on] incorrect interpretations of information. I don’t want to discuss it.”

One of the most thoughtful responses so far to the issue of Groat’s industry ties and role in the UT study comes from David Wogan, a writer for Scientific American who was once Groat’s student. While acknowledging the need for collaboration between industry and universities in conducting research, as long as ethics and disclosure standards are scrupulously adhered to, Wogan evaluates the UT situation and is forced to conclude that Groat and the university fell short of those standards: “At the very least, Dr. Groat should have removed himself from the study.”

Selected media coverage of the PAI report and its ramifications:

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