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Outside Review for Controversial Fracking Study

University of Texas Energy Institute

A University of Texas study disputing connections between the oil and gas industry practice of fracking and groundwater contamination is receiving new scrutiny, with the revelation the study’s leader failed to disclose significant financial ties to a drilling company that engages in the practice.

As KUT News reported in February, the report from the UT Energy Institute, “Separating Fact From Fiction in Shale Gas Development,” stated that fracking, when executed properly, doesn’t contaminate groundwater. However, contamination may occur as the result of above ground spills or mishandling of wastewater.

StateImpact Texas, a joint reporting partnership of KUT News and NPR, has followed the story. On Monday, highlighting a report from watchdog group  Public Accountablitiy Initiative, it reported study leader Charles “Chip” Groat had extensive industry ties:

Groat, a former Director of the U.S. Geological Survey and professor at the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin, also sits on the board of Plains Exploration and Production Company, a Houston-based company that conducts drilling and fracking in Texas and other parts of the country. According to the new report (and a review of the company’s financial reports by Bloomberg) Groat received more than $400,000 from the drilling company last year alone, more than double his salary at the University. And one of the shales examined in Groat’s fracking study is currently being drilled by the company, the report says.

In a follow-up report yesterday, StateImpact Texas heard back from Groat, who characterized the initial Public Accountability Initiative report as “a mixture of truths, half truths, and unfounded conclusions based [on] incorrect interpretations of information.” However, the university is planning an outside review of the study:   

Steven Leslie, Provost and Executive Vice President at the University of Texas at Austin released a statement late today saying that “the most important asset we have as an institution is the public’s trust. If that is in question, then that is something we need to address.” Leslie said the University will find a “group of outside experts” to review the original study. “We believe that the research meets our standards, but it is important to let an outside group of experts take an independent look,” Leslie says.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves pumping chemically-infused fluids into wells to break up and extract oil shale and natural gas deposits – a practice that has some observers positing connections not only to groundwater contamination, but earthquakes as well.  

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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