They say you can’t go home again.
Just don’t bother to tell that to Charles “Chip” Groat.
The man who not too long ago was the U.S. government’s highest-ranking geologist recently returned to the University of Texas at Austin, where his continually evolving, high-profile career bridging academic pursuits with public policy was initially launched.
But the plum new appointment at the university effective June of this year is a far cry from Groat’s earlier gig at UT, where he occupied the slots of associate professor and acting director of the Bureau of Economic Geology.
This time around, he’ll serve as founding director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy. He’ll also occupy the Jackson Chair of Energy and Environmental Resources and will lead the university’s Energy and Mineral Resources graduate program within the John A. and Katherine G. Jackson School of Geosciences and the College of Engineering.
And in addition to these considerable responsibilities, he’ll serve on the board of directors at Pogo Producing Co.
Can you say “active”?
The UT folks lured Groat away from the U.S. Geological Survey, where he was ensconced as executive director. He held the top spot at the Survey since November 1998, following a stint as associate vice president for research and sponsored projects at UT-El Paso, where he also was a professor of geological sciences, among a variety of other positions.
A host of earlier prestigious positions include:
- Executive director of the Center for Coastal, Energy and Environmental Resources at Louisiana State University, where he also once served as professor in the department of geology and geophysics.
- Director of the Louisiana Geological Survey, state geologist and assistant to the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.
- Executive director of the American Geological Institute.
In a letter to Groat upon his resignation from the USGS, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Gale Norton noted “I cannot overstate your impact on the USGS and its contributions to science excellence and leadership under your stewardship.”
“We’re extremely lucky to get Dr. Groat,” said Dr. William Fisher, dean of the UT Jackson School of Geosciences. “He is an academic who knows how to get things done at the national level, and who understands public policy in one of the most pressing areas facing the world today -- the crossroads between energy and the environment.”
Groat obviously recognizes the potential, too.
“The USGS is a great organization, and I likely would have stayed longer if this had not come up,” Groat said. “But once I saw what it would allow me to get involved in, it was a pretty easy decision to take the step.
“The Jackson School (which unites the department of geological sciences with the Institute of Geophysics and the Bureau of Economic Geology) wanted to put new life into the program of energy and mineral resources,” he noted. “The university decided it wanted to get involved in not just a fragmented look at energy and environmental stuff but to do so on a policy level.
“That’s something I was given a chance to be a part of,” he said, “and at this point it’s a good thing to be doing.
“The idea for the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy was to get into international policy in energy,” Groat continued, “and to put the geosciences of the Jackson School, the College of Engineering and the LBJ School of Public Affairs together and say that what we do on policy should be based on science and engineering, which is a twist.
“Instead of sociologists and political scientists pontificating on policy, let’s talk about what’s needed and important from a science and engineering point of view in the energy field,” he said, “and use that to inform policy recommendations.”
Finding the Drivers
The Center will support research informing governments and corporations worldwide on the formulation of policies and strategies and the environment.
The university has committed to hiring up to six new faculty members in the Center. The approach being taken to accomplish this is an about-face from the typical method used to staff up a new entity where each involved group independently recruits faculty to come together to try to make the new organization work.
“We’ll pick priorities and issues and then find people who will commit to working on those issues and give substance and a strong foundation to the Center’s activity,” Groat said. “This is unique in that it’s science, engineering and policy working together and working on an international scale.
“It brings expertise from the three partners together to work in concert rather than independently.”
A sampling of the many issues the Center will address include:
- What major issues are facing the kinds of energy things this country has an interest in that have an international aspect, including the supply of natural gas -- which entails LNG -- to meet demands, expectations of the future?
- What are the options to obtain those supplies, and what are the barriers to making it happen?
- What policies can be put forward to overcome those barriers -- and who can make it happen?
“We’ll be looking at what will drive changes in attitude of politicians and the public about the need for these things,” Groat said. “We’ll try to put ideas on the table that come from a place that understands about producing energy and understands about what can be done, so this part of the world is heard from rather than just places far away from an oil well.”
(Much) More to Come
Given his years at the helm of the USGS, Groat understandably has considerable insight when it comes to energy supply.
“The doomsayers say we’re running out of oil,” he noted, “but just from the undiscovered resource assessments the Survey has done nationally and internationally, even with the oil that’s known now the reserve growth has amounted to a lot more than the new discoveries.”
In fact, Groat noted he doesn’t recall we’ve ever actually run out of any resource and had to do something else.
Although the resources may be in place, admittedly there is a chronic problem of access of varying types when it comes to oil and gas deposits, Groat noted. For instance, prospective areas for new natural gas discoveries in the western United States can be inaccessible for a number of reasons, including insufficient numbers of Bureau and Land Management personnel to process the permit applications.
Still, he sees the positive.
“We haven’t even applied reserve growth numbers to some of the big fields in other parts of the world,” Groat said.
“It’s finite, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to run out next year, or 10 years or even in the next 50 years.”