Penn State Faculty Snub of Fracking Study Ends Research by Jim Efstathiou Jr., October 3, 2012, Bloomberg
A natural-gas driller’s group has canceled a Pennsylvania State University study of hydraulic fracturing after some faculty members balked at the project that had drawn criticism for being slanted toward industry. The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which paid more than $146,000 for three previous studies, ended this year’s report after work had started, said Kathryn Klaber, coalition president. The earlier studies were co-written by former Penn State professor Tim Considine, an economist now at the University of Wyoming who has produced research on economic and energy issues under contract to trade associations. The first study, in 2009, initially failed to disclose its industry funding and was used by lawmakers to kill a state tax on gas drillers. It was characterized as advocacy for producers by groups such as the nonprofit Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center in Harrisburg. “It’s been a hot potato,” said Michael Arthur, co- director of the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research at Penn State, who is one of at least two faculty members who declined to take part in this year’s project. “People are a little more thoughtful about hopping in.” Without at least one full-time faculty member, the externally funded study can’t be researched and published under Penn State’s name, said William Easterling, dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.
Drilling companies, amid criticism that producing gas by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, damages the environment, are funding university research that at times reaches conclusions that counter the concerns of critics, Bloomberg News reported in July. At least two schools are examining their external relationships after complaints. … The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Pittsburgh-based drillers group, paid Penn State for the three economic-impact studies beginning in 2009, according to John Hanold, senior associate director of Penn State’s Office of Sponsored Programs. … The 2009 report was first released without acknowledging funding by the shale-gas group. That report and updates bore the logo of Penn State, leading some to conclude the university supported its findings, Arthur said. “It came out with Penn State slapped all over it and it was never reviewed by any of their peers,” Arthur said. “It’s really only the opinion and the results of the research of those three authors.” Subsequent studies by other researchers have found that gas drilling created fewer than half the jobs projected by Considine in 2009. The initial report also said a severance tax proposed by then Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, would drive drillers to other states. Considine’s findings were cited by state lawmakers. Rendell eventually dropped the proposal. Considine has conducted research under contract for industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute and the Wyoming Mining Association. … Considine declined to comment. “Thank you for your inquiry,” he said in an Oct. 1 e-mail. “On further reflection, I have no comment regarding this matter.” In a June 27 interview, he said, “This whole idea of industry funding biasing research is preposterous.” … Considine was still on Penn State’s faculty when the 2009 report was commissioned, Easterling said. Seth Blumsack, assistant professor of energy policy and economics at Penn State, co-wrote the 2010 and 2011 versions. Blumsack said he was asked within the past year to participate in the 2012 report and declined. Arthur said he was approached in August by Terry Engelder, a professor of geosciences at Penn State. Arthur declined, saying that some might question his objectivity were he part of the project. “I think there was rosiness to the report,” Arthur said in an interview. “I think that can be documented.” [Emphasis added]