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UT Professor Resigns Over Fracking Conflict of Interest 190

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the drill-baby-drill dept.
eldavojohn writes "Dr. Charles 'Chip' Groat, lead author of a study claiming there was no link between fracking and water contamination, has resigned at the University of Texas along with Dr. Raymond Orbach, the head of UT's Energy Institute. The reason is that Groat served on the board of a drilling company and received compensation totaling over $1.5 million from that entity over the last five years including time he spent writing the study. After the Public Accountability Initiative gave the UT report a thorough beating for failing to mention this it sparked UT to recommend the report's withdrawal. PAI said the original report was 'based on literature surveys, incident reports and conjecture' and criticized UT's press from downplaying the many caveats. PAI also said conclusions of the original report were 'tentative,' that the press coverage was 'inappropriately selective' and 'seemed to suggest that public concerns were without scientific basis and largely resulted from media bias.' This study was also covered by Slashdot via MSNBC quoting Groat and calling fracking safe in theory but not in practice."
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UT Professor Resigns Over Fracking Conflict of Interest

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  • by dmomo (256005) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @01:28PM (#42263247) Homepage

    No need to cuss.

  • Report (Score:5, Informative)

    by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @01:32PM (#42263303) Homepage

    To give this more background, the conflict of interest investigation panel's report is here:
    http://www.utexas.edu/news/PDF/Review-of-report.pdf [utexas.edu]
    My quick summary is that the white papers produced by the study were not criticized, but mostly said "this hasn't been well studied, and we can't draw conclusions", but the summary presentation by Groat, who did not actually participate in the study, modified this to "there's no evidence of a link between health effects and fracking"

    The (almost content free) press release from UT is here: http://www.utexas.edu/news/2012/12/06/university-accepts-shale-gas-development-report/ [utexas.edu]
    It's discussed on the NYTimes blog here:
    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/06/damning-review-of-gas-study-prompts-a-shakeup-at-the-university-of-texas/ [nytimes.com]

  • so it seems (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nimbius (983462) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @01:38PM (#42263373) Homepage
    we're in for a repeat of the smoking and cancer studies. If at first the science doesnt work out in the shareholders interests, change your studies to "controversies" and buy some airtime on Fox News.

    or simply revise the outcome to "fracking safe for multi-billionaires because drilling is illegal in marthas vinyard"
  • by JBMcB (73720) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @01:46PM (#42263489)

    Looks like PAI basically publishes research that attacks papers that deem fracking safe. They might very well be accurate, but something tells me if a well researched and accurate study showing that fracking is indeed safe, it isn't going to make the front page of this site.

    • Well if you read the PAI's report, it was stated that the University of Texas requested the investigation and report.
    • They might very well be accurate

      Given that they are the ones who got UT to review this study...AND it's now been thoroughly debunked and the author resigned...

      I'd say they were pretty 'accurate'.

  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @01:51PM (#42263525)

    I just took my ethics final this morning and one of the questions was like this scenario. The professor has a history of incorporating current events; I wonder if this was one and the same.

  • anti-fracking movie released later this month. Matt Damon and Gus Van Sant.
  • Its in most broad-based index stocks in a small amount. Major oil companies are in the top 20 components of the S&P etc.
    • by gagol (583737)
      A larger portion of population (100%) requires water to live, including you. Go ahead, frack baby frack, we will sell you water at indecent price once you have none left that is drinkable.
  • "Inside Job" [theothersc...nomics.org] alleges that Frederic Mishkin was paid $135,000 by the previous Icelandic regime to lie in a report about how sound the Icelandic economy was. It is interesting to see how defensive he becomes while being interviewed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5msVl3oZl4U [youtube.com]

    "Mishkin was confirmed as a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve on September 5, 2006 to fill an unexpired term ending January 31, 2014. On May 28, 2008, he submitted his resignation from the Board of Governors, effective August 31, 2008, in order to revise his textbook and resume his teaching duties at Columbia Business School." from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederic_Mishkin#Career [wikipedia.org]

    I really like the part where his textbook is more important than his job at the Federal Reserve. I trust this guy. Really.

    Now it looks like other Universities are taking disclosure seriously: http://www.columbiaspectator.com/2011/04/13/ [columbiaspectator.com]

  • by edi_guy (2225738) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @03:02PM (#42264483)
    So once again he is asked to resign due to a controversy but maintains he was leaving anyway....want to bet that there will be a scandal at the "Water Institute of the Gulf" (his new gig) in a year or two? Below from a posting on stateimpact.npr.org by 'DoryHippauf ' Charles Groat Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS ) resigned as Director on June 17, 2005. WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Geological Survey chief resigned Thursday, but a spokeswoman said his departure has nothing to do with the ongoing investigation into e-mails that indicate his agency's employees may have falsified data on the Yucca Mountain project. Between 1998 and 2000, three USGS scientists working on water infiltration projects for the proposed Yucca Mountain facility exchanged emails revealing that they had altered or outright falsified the results of their research to produce desired outcomes. At the hearing, Groat declined to discuss the e-mails in detail pending inspector general investigations. 'We have a 125-year reputation for sound, unbiased science," Groat said in written testimony submitted to the panel. "Anything that casts aspersions on that reputation disturbs us greatly. We, as do you, look forward the to completion of the ongoing investigations to fully determine the impacts and appropriate responses."
    • Huh, I wonder which way this guy who's now in bed with the NG industry affected the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage project, which is now dead...

    • by cdrguru (88047)

      Interesting, especially since the "desired outcome" for Yucca Mountain was always to never implement it. It was a pipe dream that some folks thought up in the 1970s that would have made quite a difference in the handling of nuclear fuel rods. Contrast this with today where there is a multibillion dollar industry in keeping fuel rods safe from politicians and scientists.

      We could start recycling fuel rods but with the current thinking (or lack thereof) we are going to be storing these things indefinately -

  • Stop calling it fracking, and start calling it undermining.
    • No, no. That sounds far too negative. Pumping hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into public aquifers should be called "subsoil refinement," or "natural resource enhancement," or "energy availability augmentation," or "Fueling for America," or "Mom-Baseball-Apple-Pie-ing" or "free-stuff-and-beer-for-everyone-ing," or "happy-great-wonderful-and-in-god's-name-ing." You know, something that emphasizes the positives.
  • What gets me is that the lead author has claimed (and UT seems to believe) that his conflict of interest had no impact on the quality or findings of the report. This is unlikely, but possible. I won't belabor that point. But the the only other explanation for allowing his name at the top of this nonsense is gross negligence and/or extreme incompetence, either of which should disqualify him from any academic position ever. At this point he is at best a corporate shill, and at worst an unethical idiotic co
    • Not publishing your fundings and affiliations is a pretty big no-no in proper science. For that alone I do not care whether it had an impact. That's not how you do it.
  • by Jawnn (445279) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @03:23PM (#42264759)
    Oil money touches everything in the Great State of Texas. What we can't get by scaring superstitious yokels into voting for it, we just buy. That's the way it's always been done. Always will be. So just relax and go for a drive in yer Hummer. We'll tell you what's good for the environment and what isn't. And if we're wrong, we've got money to buy back the public's good will too. Just ask BP.
  • by bradorsomething (527297) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @04:25PM (#42265555)
    I've been out of the industry for many (many) years, but here's a bit on how problems can creep in with well fracing. Background: I was in well testing, and have been to many a fracked well during/before/after the frac was performed.

    We'll start with a well that is drilled, cased (casing is a solid-steel pipe all or some of the depth of the well, used to keep "stuff from coming in, or stuff from coming out"), and perforated (holes shot through the casing with explosives). Typically all of this work is done by contractors. The oil company leases the ground being drilled on. Everything else... the oil rig, the drill pipe, the workers... all of it belongs to other subcontractors. One "company man" from the actual oil company sits in a trailer on site to monitor the work. This involves a lot of waiting for someone to ask a question, and playing solitaire.

    The oil company now has an outside contractor come in to frac the well. Literally, this is the next morning after the perf job if possible, because a rig costs tens of thousands of dollars a day to sit there and wait. Over a dozen big trucks come in at the crack of dawn, and link up so that over over the day, viscous, proprietary-formula fluids can be pumpted into the well to induce cracks in the formation from the overpressure of the pumping. Then a proprietary "breaker" fluid is injected to make the original goop less viscous, and to make it drop the sand embedded in it to hold these cracks open. The former goop, now runny (fingers crossed), will flow out as the well produces. The trucks are out of there the second they're done; *they* cost money sitting around too, and they're probably off to another job the next day.

    -inc soapbox
    My personal, biased opinion of the disconnect with fracking, the industry, and its effects, is that there is a science problem, and an accountability problem.

    Scientifically, there are a number of wonderful calculations that tell us how we're effecting events inside the well. These models tend to assume an understanding of the various strata and depositions drilled through, and can easily confuse the ability to make a model match an event, with the ability to understand the mechanics of an event. This leads to an environment where current perceptions of the industry and the confidence/ego of the simulation's creator are the deciding factors. Since much of this science has migrated out of the oil companies and into the contractors over the years (or to contractor-supported academics), the operators now base their knowledge on what the contractors say is correct (this is an oversimplification, but overall I feel it is correct).

    On accountability: trade secret formulas mean we have no idea what is pumped in the well. The "in and out" nature of the fracking process means that crews who perform the work have little exposure to the site, and no connection to followup on the effects of their work. Oil companies serve as the face of the project to the land owner, but have outsourced all the science to the contractors, and are defending work they understand based on the explanation of a salesperson to a client.

    -rem soapbox

    The above problems do not at all prove that fracking is bad, or good. They do, however, create a disconnect, making it hard to develop a cohesive picture of what is going on, good or bad.

    To put it into (hopefully?) a useful tech metaphor, the contractors make the computers, and the oil company sells them to people. People complain to the oil companies that some of these computers are terrible. The oil company naturally says "oh no, we only sell good computers," and runs to the contractor. The contractor tells the oil company, "No, they're great, look at these schematics. Those people are outliers due to blah blah blah." So the oil company gives those people their money back, and makes them promise not to bad mouth the computers they're selling. Repeat as needed, until the evidence of problems with the computers is so great that the oil company cannot ignore the truth any longer, and starts selling someone else's computers at great cost and effort. Because... those computers will have *great* schematics.
    • by tqk (413719)

      Background: I was in well testing, and have been to many a fracked well during/before/after the frac was performed.

      I was in geophysics.

      We'll start with a well that is drilled, cased (casing is a solid-steel pipe all or some of the depth of the well, used to keep "stuff from coming in, or stuff from coming out"), and perforated (holes shot through the casing with explosives).

      Where? That's the question that's been screaming at me all through this.

      Ottawa, Canada's basically on the sheild. In Manitoba, you're lucky to see 300 milliseconds of stratigraphy. Saskatchewan, 500 ms. On the East side of the Rockies, up to 5 seconds of data.

      Consequently, if you're drilling a deep play in Alberta, you're very unlikely to be affecting the water table in any significant way by fracking. In Eastern Ontario, you'll be lucky to find stratigraphic geology.

      If you're again

  • by Quila (201335) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @05:20PM (#42266243)

    Are anti-fracking studies from members of Greenpeace or the Sierra Club suddenly invalid too?

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