by Molly Cochran
Penn State released three reports about natural gas drilling, “Emerging Giant, Prospects and Economic Impacts of Developing the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play,” in 2009. An update was followed in 2010, and finally “Impacts and Future Potential,” was released in 2011, according to the complaint filed by the Responsible Drilling Alliance.
Of these three reports, the Marcellus Shale Coalition gave funding to at least one that was released.
This caused a stir among advocacy groups, like the Responsible Drilling Alliance, because the majority of members on the Marcellus Shale Coalition are drilling companies.
The Responsible Drilling Alliance, a nonprofit organization located in Williamsport, filed a complaint about these research articles. According to the complaint that was filed to the Middle State Commission on Higher Education, the articles were said to have made “exaggerated projections on economic development, jobs, and tax revenues.”
Head of the Responsible Drilling Alliance Jon Bogle said that Penn State used these reports as a “political weapon,” because these reports were very influential in shaping Tom Corbett’s policy toward hydraulic fracturing.
According to Bogle, Penn State was advocating against the tax for drilling because the severance tax could prohibit economic development.
“[For a] main institution to take sides, it can be very damaging,” said Bogle.
The Responsible Drilling Alliance requests two things: Penn State take its name off of the reports and have true research and advocacy.
“[Penn State] allowed their reputation to be put on the line,” said Bogle.
Middle State Commission on Higher Education is located in Philadelphia and can’t discuss complaints over the phone. There was no comment from them as of press time.
The Earth and Mineral Sciences Dean William Easterling responded to the complaint filed against Penn State.
Easterling contacted the Responsible Drilling Alliance and told them there was a revised report that met the research policies, and the college of Earth and Mineral Sciences stands by the right of all faculty members to do research.
The two faculty members of the Earth and Mineral Science College who released these reports were Robert Watson and Tim Considine. Considine transferred to the University of Wyoming to teach and Watson retired from Penn State after these reports were released.
“I must confess the [original reports could have been] packaged more appropriately. The reports had the Penn State Shield, and it didn’t have a disclaimer,” said Easterling.
The revised report that was released had the disclaimer, and there was only one Penn State shield on the title page, meeting research standards, according to Easterling.
“There is a myth that people think because a particular entity provides support, that researchers will alter their work to favor a sponsor,” said Easterling.
Easterling also said that Penn State’s accreditation was never in jeopardy because of these reports.
Some groups at Penn State, such as Penn State Extension and MCOR (Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research), represent the colleagues at Penn State who strive to find research and assist the community.
MCOR helps community members who are affected by the natural gas industry, according to Dave Yoxtheimer, a hydrogeologist and agent for MCOR.
Yoxtheimer said that MCOR is not in place to say whether natural gas drilling is good or bad.
“Our purpose is to provide people with evidence, and for you to make up your mind,” he said.
Yoxtheimer said that Penn State’s reports showed the university in a “pro-gas,” light. He also said that the economic impact, that was in the report that was released by Penn State “painted a pretty positive picture.”
Despite the reports released by Penn State, there are many researchers that are trying to catch up to the natural gas drilling boom by providing fact-based research on the environment, Yoxtheimer said.
“The number one thing that needs done is to protect the environment,” said Yoxtheimer.