University of Texas Withdraws Study on Hydraulic Fracturing

December 7, 2012

The University of Texas withdrew a study published earlier this year by UT Austin's Energy Institute, "Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development," after review by an independent commission appointed by the University. That review was prompted by a report of the Public Accountability Initiative, a non-profit watchdog group, which revealed that Dr. Charles Groat, professor at the Jackson School of Geosciences at UT and director of the study, sits on the board of Plains Exploration and Production Company and received cash and stock compensation from Plains of more than $1.5 million since 2007, but did not reveal that relationship in connection with the report. Dr. Groat has since retired, and the Head of the Energy Institute, Dr. Raymond Orbach, has resigned as head of the institute.

The independent review commission found that Dr. Groat's failure to disclose his ties with Plains was "very poor judgment," and that UT's conflict of interest policy should be strengthened (UT has done so). The commission also found several other faults with the report:

  • The report was presented as having scientific findings, but most of it was based on "literature surveys, incident reports and conjecture," and was not in fact "fact-based".
  • The summary of the report issued in a UT press release was misleading and "seemed to suggest that public concerns were without scientific basis and largely resulted from media bias."
  • The study was "not subject to serious peer review and therefore [was] not ready to be considered for public release as fact-based work." The commission recommended that the study be withdrawn (which UT has done):

Because of the inadequacies herein cited, publications resulting from the Energy Institute's project on shale gas fracturing currently displayed on the Energy Institute's website should be withdrawn and the document "Separating Fact from Fiction in Shale Gas Development," given its basis in the above, should not be further distributed at this time. Authors of the white papers should be allowed sufficient time and opportunity to finish their work, preparing their papers for submission for independent review by a broad panel of independent scientists and policy experts. Even if not published in a professional journal this approach is deemed appropriate when dealing with highly contentious issues. The summary paper should be redrafted to accurately reflect these revised white papers, with strong involvement from the Senior Contributors.

 UT's press release yesterday can be found here.

The report of the independent review commission can be found here.

Public Accountability Initiative's critique of the study can be found here.

State Impact Texas' report on the controversy is here, and the New York Times' article on the controversy is here.

Clearly a black eye for UT.