Penn State launches Marcellus Shale education, research center

Source: Penn State University

Penn State announced the formation of an education and research initiative on the Marcellus Shale to work with state agencies, elected officials, communities, landowners, industry and environmental groups to protect the Commonwealth’s water resources, forests and transportation infrastructure while advocating for a science-based and responsible approach to handling the state’s natural gas deposits

“With the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research we are bringing together the University’s considerable expertise in a number of areas to provide fact-based information on the Marcellus Shale, one of the largest gas fields in the world,” said Penn State President Graham Spanier. "It has become apparent that much more research and education is needed on the Marcellus." 

Reports on the development of the natural gas deposits of the Marcellus Shale predict a boost to both Pennsylvania's economy and the energy reserves of the state and nation. At the same time, there are potential environmental and social impacts that must be researched and considered, Spanier said. 

"Penn State has the capabilities and resources to examine all sides of this complex issue—and to do that well,” he said. 

Leadership of Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR) reflects the need for energy research and public outreach with Michael A. Arthur, professor of geosciences in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, and Thomas B. Murphy, extension educator, Penn State Cooperative Extension, serving as co-directors. 

In establishing the Marcellus Center, the University aims to coordinate ongoing outreach and research initiatives as well as develop additional resources for stakeholders on Marcellus geology, legal issues, environmentally appropriate technologies, and impacts on infrastructure such as roadways and bridges.
Because water availability and protection are key issues, MCOR has hired a hydrogeologist to lead these related outreach and research efforts. This position will complement ongoing research into water supply and quality issues funded by state and federal agencies. 

The University has been a key player in Marcellus development since its beginning. It was Penn State research that first called attention to the potential for tapping this vast energy reserve using horizontal drilling technology. In addition, for the past five years, Penn State extension staff has provided Marcellus-focused programming to landowners, local governments and state legislators, reaching more than 50,000 people in Pennsylvania and surrounding states. Cooperative Extension staff also has collaborated with environmental and business organizations as well as state agencies on issues from gas rights to water impacts. 

Workforce development programs to train Pennsylvania residents for jobs within the natural gas industry also are being initiated by the Marcellus Shale Education and Training Center (MSETC) a separate collaboration between Cooperative Extension and Penn College of Technology. 

“This center (MCOR) enables Penn State to further our outreach efforts to counter misinformation and provide reliable knowledge to the residents of Pennsylvania and surrounding states about the opportunities and challenges of natural gas development,” Murphy said. 

While the expertise of faculty across the University will be tapped through the center, faculty in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences are already engaged in research projects to investigate geologic aspects of the Marcellus Shale and to determine more efficient methods for "fracing" the formation to enhance natural gas recovery and minimize the number of wells to be drilled. Fracing is short for hydraulic fracturing, a process that fractures rock formations to extract the gas below. These projects are being funded by the Department of Energy and industry affiliate groups. 

“Other key research examines impacts of increased truck traffic on Pennsylvania's extensive dirt and gravel road network, the effects of well siting and pipeline construction on forest ecology and the spread of invasive species,” Arthur said. 

Penn State researchers also are examining the economic and social consequences of rapid development of the communities with significant Marcellus Shale drilling. 

Penn State has committed major resources to establish and staff the Marcellus Center (MCOR) with support from the colleges of Agricultural Sciences and Earth and Mineral Sciences, the Penn State Institutes for Energy and the Environment (PSIEE) and Penn State Outreach, Spanier said. 

Additional funding from PSIEE and the Social Sciences Research Institute (SSRI) at Penn State is underwriting investigation of human/social impacts and environmental issues related to Marcellus development by teams of cross-disciplinary collaborators. The goal of these research seed grants is to develop proposals for external funding agencies.

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