Environment
11:16 am
Thu January 24, 2013

Coastal Group Leader's Interest Questioned

The state-affiliated Water Institute, founded in 2011, touts itself as an independent organization that’s bringing the best scientists in the nation together to conduct research and recommend policies to the state on how to preserve the eroding coast.

Dr. Charles Groat came to the Water Institute after he resigned from the University of Texas at Austin when his conflict of interest breached institutional guidelines. He also sits on the board of Plains Exploration and Production Company, which drills for oil and natural gas in Louisiana. Groat led a study that found hydraulic fracturing doesn’t damage groundwater resources. When a watchdog group exposed his ties to the oil and gas industry, UT commissioned a review of the study that found it to be not scientifically sound.

Nick Speyrer is a spokesperson for the Water Institute. He says the Institute has sound internal conflict procedures, and that Dr. Groat is well-qualified.

“We have world class experts in a number of fields, including Dr. Groat, who was a former presidential appointee under President Clinton and again under Bush. He led a multi-billion dollar agency, the USGS,” Speyrer said.

Groat also spent 12 years in Louisiana, as faculty at LSU before working for the Department of Natural Resources.

Update, Friday January 25, 1:27pm:

Plains Exploration was recently bought out by Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold. When the deal is finalized, the board that Dr. Groat sits on will be dissolved.

Dr. Groat joined the Water Institute in February, resigning from a part-time post at UT amidst the controversy this summer to join the Institute full-time.