Acadiana Business

Lead fracking researcher's pockets lined by energy industry

by Heather Miller

Charles Chip' Groat, the former head of the U.S. Geological Survey who led a UT fracking study released in February, has received $1.6 million since 2007 from an exploration company.
The lead researcher on a fracking study that concludes the process used to extract natural gas from the ground is harmless has been paid $1.6 million by an energy company for which he served on the board.

According to Times-Picayune columnist James Gill, Charles "Chip" Groat, head of the Water Institute of the Gulf in Baton Rouge and lead researcher on a University of Texas-funded study on the effects of hydraulic fracturing, failed to disclose to the public that he has deep financial ties to the oil and gas industry.

The study he led was discussed in detail at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting this year. As Gill points out in his latest column, fracking is suspected of causing seismic activity and groundwater contamination:

The Public Accountability Initiative duly revealed that Groat is on the board of Plains Exploration and Production, which paid him $413,000 in cash and stock last year. Since 2007 Groat has received $1.6 million in stock alone from the company, according to SEC reports.

So the frackers' clean bill of health is highly suspect, UT research money is down the drain and the Water Institute is dragged collaterally into the mud. Groat himself has paid no price, unless, contrary to the evidence here, he has a sense of shame. The Energy Institute's director, Raymond Orbach, who didn't know about Groat's conflict, now blows it off, claiming that, although it should have been disclosed, it made no difference to the study's conclusions.

Perhaps Orbach is embarrassed by his own failure to check out Groat's background. Orbach also may have failed to read UT's ethics policy, which includes the standard warning against real or apparent impropriety.

Such written instructions should be superfluous, for a rudimentary sense of decency would have persuaded Groat to remove himself from the study. But, once found out, he maintained he was under no obligation even to mention that he was making a fracking fortune on the side.
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