| News |

Lead Researcher of UT Fracking Report Has Substantial Ties To Industry

Keep Dallas Observer Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Dallas and help keep the future of Dallas Observer free.

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?

Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.