UT Austin Chooses Oil & Gas Industry Insider to Review Fracking Report

The University of Texas at Austin named a panel of three experts to review its troubled fracking report today. There’s a problem with the panel: it’s being chaired by a longtime oil and gas industry insider. This is the statement we released today in response:

The University of Texas at Austin has taken an important step in initiating a review of its fracking report. The report misled the public about the environmental risks associated with fracking and was led by a professor who failed to disclose his energy industry ties. The university’s proactive approach to addressing this breach of the public trust should be commended.

There are, however, serious questions about the independence of the expert panel the university has named. Given the conflict of interest at the root of this report’s problems, it is extremely troubling that the university chose an energy industry insider to chair the panel. Norman Augustine served for nearly 20 years on the board of oil and gas company ConocoPhillips and its predecessor company, Phillips Petroleum. During that time, he was awarded millions of dollars in stock and cash compensation, some of which he continues to receive in retirement in the form of annual payments of deferred compensation.* Mr. Augustine’s relationship to the gas industry is strikingly similar to that of the original study’s author, Chip Groat, who has earned close to $2 million as a director of drilling company Plains Exploration and Production (PXP).

ConocoPhillips is also one of the University of Texas Energy Institute’s top publicly-named named donors, having given a five-year, $1.5 million grant for energy research in 2010.

Unfortunately, the university’s choice of Mr. Augustine throws the independence of this review into question before it has even begun.

* Note: it appears that Augustine continues to receive annual deferred stock awards from ConocoPhillips to this day. ConocoPhillips’s 2009 proxy states that Mr. Augustine elected to defer $3.1 million in stock awards to a Vanguard account, which was to be paid out in ten annual installments beginning in July 2009 – meaning that he is still receiving these payments. See the footnote on page 62 of ConocoPhillips’ 2009 proxy.

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