Review: UT Study Declaring Fracking Groundwater-Safe Failed To Disclose Conflict of Interest, Should Be Withdrawn

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An independent review of the University of Texas study that famously declared fracking could not be tied to groundwater contamination has recommended that the school retract it.

The well-publicized report released earlier this year by the Energy Institute, "Fact-based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development," purported to bring a dose of reality to an often hysterical debate. Yet it only ended up further muddying the water. Public Accountability Initiative discovered that the report's lead author, Dr. Chip Groat, had not disclosed his well-compensated membership to the board of Plains Exploration and Production, a company with a financial stake in fracking and shale gas development.

Groat, the reviewers found, was guilty of "very poor judgment coupled with inattentiveness to the challenges of conducting research in an environment inevitably fraught with conflict of interest concerns."

It is ironic, they write, that UT's conflict of interest disclosure requirements were so shoddy Groat probably wasn't in violation of them.

At root, though, the report simply wasn't very well-built, and certainly not ready for publication or peer review. Based largely on literature surveys, incident reports and conjecture, "it should be stressed that the term 'fact-based' would not apply to such an analysis...since there was relatively little scientific data presented." It failed to support its own stated conclusions, the reviewers write.

The white papers and press release (neither seem to be online anymore) were "inappropriately selective," implying that public concerns were without merit and the result of media bias.

Even so, the reviewers say they found no evidence of "intentional misrepresentation." UT has accepted the panel's findings and since implemented its recommendations, which include revising its conflict-disclosure policies.

StateImpact Texas reports that Groat has retired,and taken a position with The Water Institute of the Gulf in Louisiana. Dr. Raymond Orback, director of the Energy Institute, has resigned.

It's worth noting that the chair of the independent review panel, Norman R. Augustine, has served on the board for ConocoPhillips and is a former CEO at Lockheed Martin. There was some concern when his appointment was announced that he might, ironically, bring his own conflict of interest to the conflict review.

You can read the panel's report here.

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