Response from Penn State

Office or the President
The Pennsylvania Stale University
201 Old Main
Universily Park, PA 16802-1589
814-865-7611
Fax: 814-863-8583

November 29, 2011

Marcellus Protest 2011

Dear Concerned Citizens:

Thank you for your letter outlining your concerns about Penn State and its institutional role in the issues surrounding Marcellus Shale gas exploration. This has been a controversial subject, and I appreciate the opportunity to respond directly to you. As a longtime resident of Pennsylvania and the President of Penn State, I share your commitment to seeing that gas exploration is undertaken with consideration of the potential economic, environmental and social impacts.

As you know, reports on the Marcellus play suggest that it could provide enough gas to meet U.S. demand for more than 20 years, while creating thousands of jobs, but there are also important questions about the environment. It is apparent that much more research and education is needed, and Penn State is uniquely positioned to take on these new efforts related to Marcellus Shale. As the state’s land-grant university, we have a broad range of research expertise in such relevant disciplines as energy, geology, hydrology, soil science, forestry, economics, environmental policy and sociology. We also have an established outreach delivery system in every county.

What Penn State does not have is an official stance on the Marcellus Shale development. The role of Penn State research, into the Marcellus and across every department at Penn State, is to illuminate the issues from many points of view as scholars-and not to take one official institutional position or stance on these matters. There has been no effort to suppress any point of view versus another, and I expect this free inquiry and debate to continue. In fact, I encourage it and hope that the inquiry into this important issue remains just as robust and vigorous as it has been over the last two years.

The funding to support research into energy and the environment at Penn State comes primarily from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, along with smaller research grants from private corporations, non-profit groups, and state and local governments. The typical award for industry-sponsored gas research is less than $100,000, with the total amounting to about $750,000, which is less than one tenth of one percent of Penn State’s total research enterprise. Funding from the NSF and DOE into energy and the environment represents the lion’s share of Penn State’s research expenditures in this area. Every dollar is critical to furthering the knowledge that will secure a sustainable energy future for the nation, but Penn State would not jeopardize its more than $800 million research enterprise or its stellar research reputation by doing less-than-rigorous research. It also would not accept money from a group or organization that would allow this to happen.

Penn State has a long and proud tradition of free inquiry and research, and our researchers and the university abide by strict standards and procedures. In addition, Penn State has been central to open discussion about the Marcellus Shale through initiatives including the following:

  • Penn State extension employees have been working for the last five years to provide factual information to landowners, taxpayers, business representatives, legislators, community leaders and others on various aspects of the Marcellus.
  • Penn State has created the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research to bring together the University’s considerable expertise in the energy, policy, and natural resource fields. Leadership of the Center reflects the need for energy research and public outreach. It is co-directed by Michael Arthur, professor of geosciences in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, and Thomas Murphy, a Penn State Cooperative Extension educator. The first staff member in the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research was an extension hydrogeologist so that we could provide expertise on these issues at public meetings. He has been on board for more than a year.
  • Penn State’s internal Marcellus seed grant program focuses on environmental and social science issues, since we deemed that those were underrepresented and critically important areas. Projects funded are listed at: http://www.marcellus.psu.edu/research/seedGrant.php
  • Projects funded by outside sources and currently under way include water quality sampling from water wells near drill sites, and measuring fugitive methane emissions and methane migration during drilling, fracking and production.

 

Thank you for your inquiry, and I hope you find this information helpful. For additional information on current projects and upcoming events, I encourage you to visit: http://marcellus.psu.edu/

 

Sincerely,
Rodney A. Erickson
President