Acadiana Business

Author of controversial fracking report retires

by Leslie Turk

Amid conflict of interest charges, Chip Groat, the lead author of a report that found no link between hydraulic fracturing and water contamination retires from the University of Texas. The University of Texas announced in July that it would independently review a study that found no link between hydraulic fracturing and water contamination after learning that its professor who was the lead investigator on the report was also a paid board member of Plains Exploration and Production. Plains uses hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from rock formations.

UT announced in a press release last week that Charles "Chip" Groat, the lead author of the report, "Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development," released in February, retired Nov. 30. Groat was a professor of geologic sciences and associate director of the university's Energy Institute.

Groat's conflict of interest was brought to light by the Public Accountability Initiative, a public interest research organization that investigates the relationship between corporations and academic research. Groat did not disclose his relationship to Plains in the study, nor did he disclose it to those who supervised the study. The Austin American-Statesman's review of Securities and Exchange Commissions records found that Groat, who has been on Houston-based Plains Exploration & Production Co.'s board for years, was paid $413,900 in cash and stock by the company in 2011, more than twice his salary from the university. The paper noted that Groat owns more than $1.7 million of the company's stock.

UT also announced that Raymond Orbach resigned as the Energy Institute's head effective Dec. 31. Orbach, who had no direct role in overseeing Groat's report, will remain at the university as a tenured faculty member.

The independent panel criticized the university and Groat for conflicts of interest and recommended that the report be withdrawn from the university, saying Groat's conflict "severely diminished" the study.

Read the panel's full report and more on its recommendations here.