Drilling Opponents Target Penn State’s Academic Accreditation

Susan Phillips        StateImpact PA  / NPR         September 18, 2012


Penn State stu­dents play fris­bee in front of Old Main on cam­pus, State Col­leg

A group of gas drilling oppo­nents based in North­east Penn­syl­va­nia is ask­ing author­i­ties to scru­ti­nize the University’s aca­d­e­mic cre­den­tials in light of stud­ies issued by their pro­fes­sors. The Respon­si­ble Drilling Alliance has writ­ten to the Mid­dle States Com­mis­sion on Higher Edu­ca­tion, lodg­ing a com­plaint against Penn State.

In 2009, Penn State’s Col­lege of Earth and Min­eral Sci­ences released a jobs report called “Emerg­ing Giant: Prospects and Eco­nomic Impacts of Devel­op­ing the Mar­cel­lus Shale Nat­ural Gas Play.” The report, authored by Robert Wat­son, a petro­leum engi­neer, and Tim­o­thy Con­si­dine, an eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor who focuses on petro­leum mar­ket analy­sis, pro­jected more than 100,000 direct and indi­rect jobs would be cre­ated by the shale gas boom by 2010, and the job growth would jump to 175,000 by 2020.

“The future of the Penn­syl­va­nia Mar­cel­lus gas shale indus­try is bright. Dur­ing 2009, our esti­mates indi­cate that the Mar­cel­lus indus­try will gen­er­ate $3.8 bil­lion in value added, over 48,000 jobs, and $400 mil­lion in state and local tax rev­enues. Over the next five years, the Mar­cel­lus indus­try will likely trans­form Penn­syl­va­nia into a net exporter of nat­ural gas. In slightly more than 10 years, the Mar­cel­lus indus­try could be gen­er­at­ing nearly 175,000 jobs annu­ally and more than $13 bil­lion in value added. Also, over this time frame, the present value of state and local tax rev­enues earned from Mar­cel­lus devel­op­ment is almost $12 billion.”

But it turned out that the report had been funded by the indus­try group, the Mar­cel­lus Shale Coali­tion, and it gar­nered crit­i­cism from envi­ron­men­tal­ists and some econ­o­mists, who lam­basted the study as biased. The ini­tial report did not dis­close its fund­ing source, an updated ver­sion did. A jobs report issued in August 2011 by a dif­fer­ent Penn State researcher, who had exper­tise in agri­cul­tural eco­nom­ics, cut that num­ber in half. That study was funded by the state, under Gov. Ren­dell. The liberal-leaning Key­stone Research Cen­ter released its own report in June 2011 that says shale drilling cre­ated only about direct 10,000 new jobs. Jobs issue aside, the indus­try gen­er­ated about $206 mil­lion in rev­enue this year, the first year com­pa­nies paid a direct tax on shale gas pro­duc­tion. That’s a far cry from $12 billion.

In the let­ter to the Mid­dle States Com­mis­sion, the Respon­si­ble Drilling Alliance says despite the accu­sa­tions of bias, the orig­i­nal Penn State study con­tin­u­ally gets ref­er­enced by pol­icy makers.

“Emerg­ing Giant and Update pro­foundly influ­enced the leg­isla­tive debate on taxes and reg­u­la­tion in Penn­syl­va­nia in favor of the gas indus­try. The exces­sive pre­dic­tions and claims are still being used to pres­sure leg­is­la­tors into mak­ing concessions.”

“The idea that Penn State, one of the most highly regarded pub­lic research insti­tu­tions in the nation, should have its accred­i­ta­tion stripped, because it released a study RDA doesn’t agree with is absurd,” wrote Krohn in an email.

Bias accu­sa­tions sur­round­ing shale gas research con­tinue to plague acad­e­mia. The Uni­ver­sity of Buffalo’s Shale Insti­tute recently released a frack­ing report by the same pro­fes­sors who wrote “Emerg­ing Giant.” Again, the study was not peer-reviewed, which was revealed after the report was released. Last week, the State Uni­ver­sity of New York Board of Trustees, asked the Uni­ver­sity of Buf­falo to pro­vide it infor­ma­tion about the newly cre­ated Shale Insti­tute, and the source of its fund­ing. And our StateIm­pact part­ners in Texas recently reported on a sim­i­lar con­tro­versy at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas, Austin, where the lead author of an aca­d­e­mic study on hydraulic frac­tur­ing had been sit­ting on the board of a drilling com­pany at the time, earn­ing well over a mil­lion dol­lars in com­pen­sa­tion.


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