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Author of pro-fracking study failed to disclose gas interests - watchdog

Charles ‘Chip’ Groat of the University of Texas never told reporters that he holds $1.6m of shares in a gas explorer.

Image: Mike Groll/AP

AN AMERICAN university study that claimed ‘fracking’ for gas deep beneath the Earth’s surface did not cause water contamination was led by a US professor with financial ties to the gas industry, a watchdog group claimed today.

Lead author Charles ‘Chip’ Groat, of the University of Texas, told reporters that the university had turned down all industry funds for the study, when the research on hydraulic fracturing was presented at a major science conference in Canada in February.

However, an investigation by the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) found that Groat himself has been on the board of the Houston-based Plains Exploration and Production Company for several years.

Groat was paid more than $400,000 in cash and stock by the company in 2011, and holds a near $1.6 million stake in the company’s stock, it said.

Kevin Connor, the director of the nonprofit PAI, told AFP the report was presented as if it were an independent study on fracking, when it actually represented a “conflict of interest” that should have been disclosed.

A University of Texas spokeswoman told AFP that an investigation has been launched and an independent panel was being convened to review the study, with its findings expected in a few weeks.

She also sent AFP a statement by Steven Leslie, provost and executive vice president of the University of Texas at Austin, which said:

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.

We believe that the research meets our standards, but it is important to let an outside group of experts take an independent look.

Dr. Groat has been reminded of his obligations to report all outside employment per university policy. If the university had known about Dr. Groat’s board involvement, the Energy Institute would have included that information in the report.

Groat also failed to disclose his gas industry ties to the peer-reviewers, the university, or the organisers of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which hosted the conference in Vancouver where it was released.

Groat did not respond to an AFP request for comment on the watchdog’s report.

In February, Groat said the report, called “Fact-based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development,” aimed to “separate fact from fiction” and give policy makers a tool going forward as the US experiences a major natural gas boom.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a process by which high-pressure injections of water, sand and chemicals are used to blast through rock to release oil and gas trapped inside.

The US Energy Information Administration has said natural gas reserves could supply US needs for 110 years. Ireland has agreed not to grant any licences for fracking until the Environmental Protection Agency completes a wider study into the subject.

Read: EPA fracking study reveals potential impact on groundwater and earthquakes

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