Experts to Examine University of Texas Hydraulic Fracturing Study

Three nationally renowned leaders in science, public service and higher education have agreed to review a recent study on hydraulic fracturing of shale gas led by University of Texas at Austin professor Charles Groat.

The report "Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development" was released in February during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, British Columbia, and suggested there is little or no evidence of a direct connection between groundwater contamination and hydraulic fracturing, which involves the injection of water, sand and chemicals to release natural gas from shale formations deep underground. However, Groat failed to disclose ties to the energy industry. That failure to disclose information has generated controversy about the reliability of the report.

Steven Leslie, the university's executive vice president and provost, has convened the panel to review the scientific credibility of the report and to examine any related issues that the panel members believe are relevant.

Collectively, the panel members bring decades of wide-ranging experience from the academic, industry, government and scientific perspectives. The panel members are:

  • Norman Augustine (chair) is the retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., and a former member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Under the Obama administration, he chaired a NASA committee that examined possibilities for human spaceflight after the space shuttle program. At the request of the U.S. Congress, he led the committee that wrote the 2005 report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future." He has been chairman of the National Academy of Engineering and a member of the board of the Ethics Resource Center.
  • James Duderstadt is president emeritus of the University of Michigan and has served on or chaired numerous public and private boards including the National Science Board and committees of the National Academies including its executive committee and the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy.
  • Rita Colwell is former director of the National Science Foundation and former president of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute. She is currently developing an international network to address emerging infectious diseases and water issues and is chair of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, which is distributing $500 million for research in the wake of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The members do not have any direct ties to The University of Texas at Austin.

"Norm Augustine is the man whom U.S. presidents from both parties call to help solve the biggest problems of the day. He understands the issues of scientific integrity from all angles, and his credentials are impeccable," Leslie said. "He has headed Lockheed Martin and served on the board of such companies as Procter and Gamble and Conoco Phillips and Myriant, a renewable chemical company. He has also served in the highest reaches of the public sector including as under secretary of the Army, sat on the boards of trustees of Princeton, Johns Hopkins and MIT and chaired the American Red Cross. He has been awarded the National Medal of Technology by the president of the United States.

"Likewise, Jim Duderstadt and Rita Colwell are among the top minds and most respected scientists in the nation. Their experiences and perspectives will help provide the deep and thoughtful insight we are seeking."

The panel members will determine when to report their findings and recommendations to the university. Leslie has told the panel members that he will follow their recommendations about any action to be taken and has given them free reign in pursuing their assignment.