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Texas professor resigns after review finds numerous errors, conflict of interest in fracking study

The long-awaited review of a controversial study on the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” was released today, and it finds numerous errors and flaws with how the study was conducted and released, as well as University of Texas policies for disclosing conflicts of interest.

(Read more on this story in our follow-up: Why the UT Fracking Study Controversy Matters)

The head author of the study, Dr. Charles “Chip” Groat, has retired in the wake of the controversy, and the head of the Energy Institute that released it, Dr. Raymond Orbach, has resigned as head of the Institute, the University announced today. (Update: In a press release Thursday, UT announced that Orbach had “resigned.” It did not say, however, that Orbach will be staying at UT as a tenured professor. In an interview with StateImpact Texas, Provost Steven Leslie didn’t mention it, either, saying ,”the person who oversaw the fracking report has retired from the University, and the Director resigned over this.” Orbach has in fact only resigned as head of the Energy Institute, effective December 31. A UT spokesperson maintains that the exclusion of this information wasn’t intentional. UT has since updated the press release, noting Orbach’s continued employment.)

The original report by UT Austin’s Energy Institute, ‘Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in the Shale Gas Development,’ was released early this year, and claimed that there was no link between fracking and water contamination. But this summer, the Public Accountability Initiative, a watchdog group, reported that the head of the study, UT professor Chip Groat, had been sitting on the board of a drilling company the entire time. His compensation totaled over $1.5 million over the last five years. That prompted the University to announce an independent review of the study a month later, which was released today.

The review finds many problems with the original study, chief among them that Groat did not disclose what it calls a “clear conflict of interest,” which “severely diminished” the study. The study was originally commissioned as a way to correct what it called “controversies” over fracking because of media reports, but ironically ended up as a lightning rod itself for failing to disclose conflicts of interest and for lacking scientific rigor.

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