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Credibility Of UT Fracking Study & Review Panel Questioned

Fracking - hydraulic fracturing site
File photo of earth moving equipment and natural gas containers are viewed at a hydraulic fracturing site. (credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - First, the scientific credibility of a recent University of Texas study on fracking was questioned. Now, there are concerns centered on the special panel convened to review the study's findings.

The controversial UT study, "Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development", came into question when it was revealed the lead investigator, Chip Groat, was actually a board member of a natural gas exploration company.

"And not only is he a board member but he has received close to $2 million in cash and stock compensation as a board member, including over $400,000 last year," explained Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) Director Kevin Conner. "So this is a major conflict of interest."

While many applaud the convening of the review panel, organizations like PAI are also questioning the appointment of review panel chair, Norm Augustine.

Augustine is a former ConocoPhillips board member and a donor to the UT Energy Department that published the study.

Speaking on Augustine's current status, Conner said, "He continues to have a major stake in this industry and it seems really inappropriate to name him as the chair of this review panel. The independence of the panel, in our minds, is really in question given the connection."

Conner went on to further ask, "Could they really not find someone who isn't making millions of dollars off of the practice of fracking to chair an independent review panel of this report? It doesn't pass the "smell test"; the credibility of this review is really compromised."

Officials at UT Austin sent a press release in response to questions about the study and study review. In reference to the panel members chosen to review the report the statement said that, "Collectively, the panel members bring decades of wide-ranging experience from the academic, industry, government and scientific perspectives" and that no member of the panel has any "direct ties to The University of Texas at Austin."

UT Austin officials went on to list a number of accomplishments by panel members, including the fact that Augustine is "a former member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush."

The three-person panel is scheduled with the task of reviewing findings from the UT study that concluded there was little to no connection between fracking and groundwater contamination.

Fracking involves pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to open fissures and improve the flow of oil and gas to the surface. It's used to improve productivity in gas reserves all over the U.S., including the Barnett Shale in North Texas.

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