‘Very poor judg­ment’ cited in find­ings

Frack­ing

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - A Con­tact Asher Price at 4453643.

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.

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