Public Accountability Initiative

While the independent review of UT’s fracking study is still ongoing, University officials said they do not intend to update the study with an acknowledgment that geology professor Charles Groat is a paid board member of Plains Exploration & Production Co., a company that performs hydraulic fracturing.

UT encountered criticism last week after the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit watchdog group, reported Groat, the fracking study’s lead author, and his involvement with the company. University officials said they do not plan to amend the study online.

“It would raise more questions if we began to edit the report that exists online before that review is complete,” UT spokeswoman Tara Doolittle said. “It would also be inappropriate to remove a published report from the public view, particularly given the questions that have been raised about it.”

According to the watchdog group’s report released last Tuesday, Groat made $413,900 through Plains Exploration & Production Co. in 2011. Since then, the University has by criticized by the Public Accountability Initiative and various Internet blogs for not including Groat’s board position on his fracking report. The study concluded that fracking does not impose an environmental threat to groundwater.

Provost and executive vice president Steven Leslie announced Wednesday that the University would hire an external, independent team of experts to review the report. Doolittle said the panel has not yet been selected.

“We are still working on the panel,” Doolittle said. “Once the members are identified, I’m sure we’ll note that in some way on the Energy Institute site, but we will not alter the content of the report while the review is being conducted.”

Despite the plans to review, Doolittle said the University and Energy Institution do not think the report is flawed.

“Aside from the issue of disclosure, which has been widely reported, we have received no evidence that the research itself is flawed,” Doolittle said. “That will be for the independent review to decide.”

Groat has not returned The Daily Texan’s requests for comment.

The University will hire an outside group of experts to review a UT professor’s now controversial study regarding the effects of fracking, a method used by many companies to extract natural gas, on the environment.

Provost and Executive Vice President Steven Leslie announced UT’s intent to review geology professor Charles Groat’s fracking study Tuesday after media reports surfaced that Groat received compensation from an oil company during his research, which turned out to be false. Last week, the Public Accountability Initiative, a non-profit public interest research watchdog group, reported Groat has been a member of the Plains Exploration & Production Company’s board for several years. The company does hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Texas and other places around the country. Since the report came out, critics have claimed Groat’s financial ties to the company present a conflict of interest.

Environmentalists have opposed fracking because of concerns to its impact on groundwater. Groat’s report on fracking, which was published by UT’s Energy Institute, claims that fracking has a minimal effect on groundwater contamination.

“The most important asset we have as an institution is the public’s trust,” Leslie said in his statement. “If that is in question, then that is something we need to address.”

UT spokeswoman Tara Doolittle said the team of experts to review Groat’s research has not been selected yet.

“We are working on that now, but we have not identified who they will be yet,” Doolittle said. “We hope it will be soon.”

Doolittle said she did not have an exact timeline for the selection of the team of experts. In his statement, Leslie said UT hopes to have an evaluation on Groat’s study within a few weeks.

Since the Public Accountability Initiative’s report on Groat’s ties came out last week, critics have said Groat should have disclosed his position on the Plains’ board in the study. Doolittle said employees are required to annually make requests for employment outside the University, and while Groat had done so in the past, he did not do so this year.

Leslie said in his statement that Groat was reminded of his obligations to report all outside employment.

“If the University had known about Dr. Groat’s board involvement, the Energy Institute would have included that information in the report,” Leslie said.

Groat did not immediately return The Daily Texan’s request for comment. He told the Austin American-Statesman Tuesday that he did not think revealing his role with the Plains Exploration & Production Company was necessary because he did not write the final report. Groat said he merely coordinated the work of other researchers who wrote the report.