UT professor Groat’s controversial study to be reviewed

Bobby Blanchard

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.