Fact check - Fracking Reports

During 2011 and 2012, the Energy Institute of the University of Texas at Austin conducted a study that led to the preparation and release of a report entitled, "Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development." The tendency to ignore the caveats of the white papers regarding potential environmental and public health impacts of shale gas hydraulic fracturing characterizing the draft summary of findings was intensified in the media effort launched by the Energy Institute to disseminate the study. The media brochure was replete with overstated "leads" such as "Scientific investigation into groundwater contamination and other environmental impacts", "Separating fact from fiction in shale gas development", "Assessing the real and perceived consequences of shale gas development". The media releases of the Energy Institute were similarly unsuitably qualified "New study shows no evidence of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing".

The basic message of the media campaign, at least as portrayed by the media who reported on it, seemed to be, "This study has demonstrated that there is no evidence that shale gas hydraulic fracturing damages the environment or threatens public health." The Summary of Findings fails to reflect accurately the magnitude of concerns and caveats contained in the white papers drafted by the Senior Contributors. It uses statements such as "there is no evidence" to counter public concerns, when, in fact, the white papers themselves stressed quite the opposite viewpoint that the absence of adequate scientific research and data demanded serious consideration and that regulation would be needed to address concerns over hydraulic fracturing's impact on public health and the environment,

The UT report's principal investigator, Charles "Chip" Groat, failed to disclose in his report bio or in his presentations on the report that he is a board member of Plains Exploration and Production (PXP), an oil and gas company that is heavily involved in fracking. Groat earned more than double his University of Texas salary as a PXP board member in 2011 - $413,900 as opposed to $173,273 - and he has amassed over $1.6 million in stock during his tenure there. Due to the above revelations, the UT commissioned a review of the above report. Their recommendations included: R-1. "The University of Texas should adopt and implement rigorous policies governing conflict of interest, conflict of commitment, and financial and relationship disclosure for all university personnel that publish . R-4. The UT Energy Institute should develop and implement a rigorous quality control framework for all public relations and media activities, with strong oversight responsibility and accountability for the accuracy of such releases ...R-6. Because of the inadequacy of project definition, management and review of the current project on shale gas fracturing and the damage to the credibility of the project caused by inadequate disclosure of potential conflict of interest on the part of the Principal Investigator, the publication resulting from Energy Institute's project on shale gas fracturing should be withdrawn from the Institute's website and the document "Separating Fact from Fiction in Shale Gas Development," given its basis in the above, should not be further distributed at this time."

After receipt of this report, Doctor Groat retired. The Director of the UT Energy Institute resigned. In another case, SUNY (State University of New York) Buffalo closed the Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI). A letter from SUNY Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi said "The May 15, 2012 report...led to allegations questioning whether historical financial interests influenced the authors' conclusions. The fundamental source of controversy revolves around clarity and substantiation of conclusions." All of the co-authors of this paper had direct ties to the oil and gas industry, as did four out of five of its peer reviewers.