Conflicts of interest arise in UT methane emissions study

Several undisclosed conflicts of interest have been discovered in UT’s study on methane emissions at hydraulic fracturing sites across the United States.

The study, led by David Allen, a professor of chemical engineering, measured methane emissions from 190 fracking well sites. 

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) published the study. The organization’s conflict of interest policy states all individuals involved with a study must reveal any associations that pose a potential financial conflict of interest .

The study received backlash from bloggers and public accountability organizations following its publication because it had a number of industry sponsors, including organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund, Chevron and XTO Energy, an ExxonMobil subsidiary. The researchers took their measurements directly from these companies’ natural gas production sites.

An explanation for how the study was able to maintain its independence while taking measurements from their sponsors’ sites was not laid out in the publication. Several persons associated with the study did not return calls for comment and PNAS issued only a brief statement to The Daily Texan.

Additionally, Jennifer Miskimins, one of the study’s fourteen authors, was listed in the study as working in the Engineering Department at the Colorado School of Mines. At the time of the study, she was working as a senior consulting engineer at Barree and Associates, a firm that offers fracking-related services.

This new development was brought to the attention of the University, which reiterated its stance of total transparency it declared when the study was first published. UT spokesman Gary Susswein said the public is encouraged to keep in mind who the contributors and sponsors of the study were while reading it.

“Critics of the study are drawing much of their information from records and documents that UT-Austin has voluntarily released or posted online,” Susswein said. “As we learn of any additional affiliations that should be disclosed, we are doing so.”

Nicholette Zeliadt, a representative from the PNAS news office, said PNAS is working to correct the authors’ disclosure statement, but they do not foresee any other changes being made to the study.  

“We are working with the authors to finalize the text for a revised disclosure statement as quickly as possible,” Zeliadt said. “The statement will be published as a correction to the paper.”

Miskimins did not return emails and a call for comment.