Tainted Fracking Research: Three Strikes And Yer Out

The oil and gas industry frequently claims there has never been a proven case of hydraulic fracturing contaminating ground water. But not even the fossil fuel barons can claim it hasn’t contaminated academia.

Last week, an independent investigation found that a University of Texas study concluding hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, poses no threat to underground water supplies was tainted by a conflict of interest by the study’s lead author.

That author, Charles Groat, was on the board of Plains Exploration & Production Co. and received an annual fee of $58,500 in 2011 while holding more than 40,000 shares of the energy firm worth more than $1.7 million. Groat has left the university.

The incident has also claimed the head of the university’s Energy Institute, Raymond Orbach, who assumed responsibility and resigned. He remains on the University of Texas faculty.


The panel that investigated the case concluded that “the study falls short of the generally accepted rigor required for the publication of scientific work,” citing Groat’s failure to disclose his conflict of interest as the main lapse.

No doubt the oil and gas industry wishes that this was an isolated case. Not quite. Other research into fracking, a controversial drilling technique that injects a combination of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to fracture rock and release fossil fuels, has been tainted as well.

A shale oil and gas institute at the State University of New York at Buffalo was recently shut down after conflicts of interest created what the university president described as a “cloud of uncertainty” hanging over its research. And Pennsylvania State University professors rebelled over a study that had been criticized as tilted toward industry, prompting its sponsor, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, to cancel the research.

Tom Kenworthy is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.