University of Texas Researcher Quits After Fracking Conflict of Interest Revealed

CREDO.fracking/CC BY 2.0

When Joel Kotkin describes a potentially disastrous false choice between economic growth or stopping new fossil fuel exploration, it's important to remember that a lot of money is being spent trying to shape our understanding of what is possible.

From Susan Rice's investments in the Keystone Pipeline to the natural gas industry funding favorable pro-fracking research, we must never allow ourselves to forget the economic and political context within which the debate over what is "realistic" is being held.

So when we hear that a leading researcher has retired from his faculty position at the University of Texas, alongside the earlier retirement of the director of the university's Energy Institute, we should be paying attention. The departures come in the wake of an independent review that found significant financial conflicts of interest in a study that claimed fracking for natural gas posed no significant risk of groundwater contamination. The study has since been withdrawn. Bloomberg has more on the academic scandal:

Raymond Orbach, 78, resigned as director of the institute last month, the university said in a statement released today. The study’s lead investigator, Charles Groat, 72, also retired from his faculty position, according to the statement.

The outside panel, which included academics and was headed by the former chairman of Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT), Norman R. Augustine, also determined that the institute study represented a conflict of interest.
“Primary among the shortcomings was the failure of the principal investigator to disclose a conflict of interest that could have had a bearing on the credibility a reader wished to assign to the resulting work,” the panel said in its report released today.

The review found that Groat sits on the board of Plains Exploration and Production Company, receives 10,000 shares of restricted stock each year, and also an annual fee of $58,500. None of this was disclosed in Groats' study.

The review also found that the University's PR efforts depicted the study in a false light, failing to clarify the tentative nature of many of the conclusions.

Tags: Activism | Fracking | Natural Gas | Texas | United States