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Good practices

Conflict of interest

The University of Texas, in Austin, summoned a panel of specialists to investigate the accusation of a conflict of interest leveled at one of its most prominent researchers. Charles Groat, who between 1995 and 2005 presided over the U.S. Geological Survey, a century-old government research organization, is accused of failing to mention his link with the Plains Exploration & Production Company in a study published in February about the risks and benefits of a controversial drilling technique for gas exploration. Groat is on the board of the company, which is one of the users of this technique.

A report by the Public Accountability Initiative organization emphasized that if Groat had declared his connection, the perception of the results of his study might have been different. The study says that the technique does not contaminate the water table. Groat told the Bloomberg Agency that he had no way of biasing the results since the study has several authors. “Certain conclusions are unfavorable to the gas exploration industry,” he stated.

The university’s code of ethics says that research in the institution must be “free of real or apparent conflicts of personal or institutional interest.” With an annual salary from the University of US$ 173,000, in 2011 Groat received US$ 413,900 in money and shares from the gas exploration company for his services as a board director.