Fracking Debate Studies Industry-Funded Research

September 2012, Vol. 239 No. 9

The University of Texas provost will re-examine a report by a UT professor that said fracking was safe for groundwater after the revelation that the professor wad paid hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Texas natural gas developer, according to press reports.

In February a UT professor and former head of the U.S. Geological Survey, Charles Groat, wrote a study finding no evidence of groundwater contamination from fracking; the study didn’t disclose Groat’s seat on the board of Plains Exploration & Production, for which he was reportedly paid $400,000 in 2011 – more than double his university pay. The director of Groat’s UT program said he had “no idea” of Groat’s work for Plains. The UT provost said he would convene a panel to re-examine Groat’s findings.

Meanwhile, a report by The Dallas Morning News says Texas’ recently enacted fracking disclosure law allows companies to avoid detailing the amount of chemicals used, incidental chemicals or trade secrets. Texas enacted its disclosure law Feb. 1, requiring drilling companies to disclose the chemicals used during the hydraulic fracturing process. However, the law had a few caveats to the disclosure, the newspaper reported. According to The News, companies aren’t required to specify the amount of chemicals used on each drill site. The lost detail could mean thousands of pounds of hazardous chemicals could be used in hydraulic fracturing or sitting idle on drilling sites, The News reported.

Overall, more than a billion pounds of chemicals could be pumped underground in North Texas to release trapped natural gas and oil, the article said. The newspaper calculated the number based on percentage of chemicals on a typical site. Environmentalists argued those chemicals could have long-term impacts on the environment and health of nearby residents. Industry officials, however, have consistently said the chemicals pose no health or environmental threat.

According to The News, the disclosure law doesn’t give the public or cities enough information to make an accurate assessment. And a slightly harsher conclusion was the law gives the industry, which backed the law, “cover from accusations of secrecy.”

Elsewhere, In Ohio a public relations campaign by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called “Shale Works for US” is under way to persuade Ohioans that fracking can help pull the state out of recession. The campaign traces many of its statistics to a report written by professors at three Ohio universities and funded by the natural gas industry, according to press reports.