University of Texas prof Chip Groat's ties to the natural gas industry raised a few eyebrows last month after a report he served as lead researcher on gave the hydraulic fracturing process a clean bill of health. "New Study Shows No Evidence of Groundwater Contamination from Hydraulic Fracturing," the accompanying press release read.
Read the find print, however, and you find the report's other researchers warn of the danger posed to groundwater by surface spills of fracking chemicals, subsurface well blowouts and state regulation that leaves much to be desired. More troublesome than the UT Energy Institute's spin on the findings was the compensation in stock and cash Groat has received as board member of Plains Exploration, a natural gas company, according to the Public Accountability Initiative.
"To be honest, we had no idea," institute director Raymond Orbach told Bloomberg. "In the future we should have an asterisk or something that would indicate his presence on the board."
The university vowed to convene an expert panel to determine whether the report's conclusions were valid. On Monday, it announced the names of the three examiners who would review the report. One of them, Norman Augustine, the retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, raises the same questions of conflict. Augustine served some 20 years on the board of ConocoPhillips, a major natural gas producer, and continues to receive millions in stock and cash compensation, PAI found. ConocoPhillips also happens to be one of the Energy Institute's biggest named donors. The company donated $1.5 million in 2010 for energy research.
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"Unfortunately, the university's choice of Mr. Augustine throws the independence of this review into question before it has even begun," PAI says in a release.