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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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  • 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]

  • by s.petry (762400) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @01:40PM (#42263411)

    The reason for the post is that there is scientific discussion to be had. Slashdot is not just about computers, but science and technology as well.

    The nature of the article, and corruption of course, increases the amount of discussion. Pointing out corruption is in general a way of beefing up the post count on the thread. I kind of get your point, but, but will counter with the fact that numerous people come here posting information from those corrupted sources and claim fracking is not harmful. In my opinion, those two points wash each other out.

    Just grab some popcorn and watch the show.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @02:40PM (#42264157) Journal

    Unless I've missed a major demographic shift, the people most personally affected by fracking are only slightly more left leaning than the people most personally affected by Appalachian coal mining techniques...

    Liberals do tend to be against this sort of thing at a policy level; but the supply of people who've been personally fucked over is generally drawn from an entirely different geographic and social stratum.

    But don't let me derail your internal narrative or anything.

  • by Nimey (114278) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @03:21PM (#42264735) Homepage Journal

    The point of taking samples beforehand is that you can then say "look, these are exactly the chemicals that your fracking added to this water" and they can't try to worm out of it by claiming those chemicals were already there.

    Obviously.

  • by Itsallmyfault (1015439) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @03:34PM (#42264927)
    There's no "requiring" anyone to do anything, as long as the oil and gas companies are exempt from the Clean Water Act.
  • 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 penix1 (722987) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @05:20PM (#42266247) Homepage

    First,you post an inflammatory statement that is absurd on its face regarding West Viriginia's water. Second, even if you do believe that the water there is substandard, you might want to look at something called 'Coal Mining' as a much more likely source for groundwater contamination. Does that mean that there aren't areas where the water can be screwed up? Of course not, but you can't just declare the latest cause du jour to be the culprit just because it is the latest potential polluter.

    Living in West Virginia, I can answer this... In the southern coalfields where they are doing mountaintop removal (surface mining to use the exact phrasing) there are way higher levels of selenium and other cancer causing agents in the local water:

    http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/category/selenium/ [wvgazette.com]

    http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/category/water-pollution/ [wvgazette.com]

     

That does not compute.

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