‘Very poor judgment’ cited in findings
UT faculty as a tenured professor.
Groat declined to comment on the matter Thursday; Orbach couldn’t be reached immediately.
Groat told the panelists that he believed he didn’t need to disclose his conflicts because the report was paid for by university funds and because he had neither contributed original work nor changed the body of the document, the panel said.
The panelists acknowledged that Orbach had delegated responsibility to Groat, but they said the study “was hampered by the absence of knowledgeable senior leadership that should have been provided by the principal investigator.”
In a statement, the university said it agreed with the panel’s findings.
The original report’s summary declared that there was little or no evidence of a direct connection between groundwater contamination and hydraulic fracturing, which involves the injection of water, sand and chemicals to release natural gas from shale formations deep underground.
But those findings had been tainted since revelations that Groat hadn’t disclosed his hundreds of thousands of dollars in income as a board member of a natural gas company that uses the socalled fracking technique.
Groat has been on Houston-based Plains Exploration & Production Co.’s board for years. He was paid $413,900 in cash and stock by the company in 2011, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings reviewed by the AmericanStatesman, more than twice his salary from the university. Groat holds more than $1.7 million in the company’s stock.
The revelations this summer of the conflict of interest over the report, which was the institute’s first project, had given the university a black eye.
The three-member panel — which included a scientist, former academic administrator and businessman — said the report’s lack of disclosures “fell short of contemporary standards for scientific work” and showed “very poor judgment.” Exacerbating matters: UT’s policy on disclosure at the time “was poorly crafted and even less well enforced.” That policy has since been revised. UTalso said it would improve internal procedures involving conflict of interest, conflict of commitment, and financial and relationship disclosures.
The panelists “found no evidence of intentional misrepresentation” by Groat, but it did find that the report’s summary gave a more positive spin on fracking than the bundled-together white papers written by other researchers that formed the bulk of the report. The summary “failed to reflect either the tentative nature of the conclusions reached in the white papers or the often strong caveats conveyed by their individual authors.”
The summary and press releases to promote the report were “inappropriately selective” and a distortion of the white papers, the panel said.
Kevin Connor — director of the Public Accountability Initiative, which tracks the relationship between corporations and academic research and which first called into question Groat’s role in July — called the independent review a “damning critique.”
“It’s a significant stand for transparency and integrity in academia and quite revealing about what goes on behind the curtain,” he said.