Pennsylvania

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Drilling Opponents Target Penn State’s Academic Accreditation

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Penn State students play frisbee in front of Old Main on campus, State College, Pa.

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.”

Industry defends the scholarship of the study. John Krohn is a spokesperson for Energy In Depth.

“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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