Energy. Environment. Economy.

State plans to give industry group $150K grant to study effects of gas drilling


Joe Ulrich/WITF

Natural gas wells in Lycoming County.The state Department of Environmental Protection has approved a $150,000 grant for "independent research" to an industry-backed nonprofit organization.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has approved a $150,000 grant earmarked in the state budget for “independent research regarding natural gas drilling” to an industry-backed nonprofit organization.

The funding was approved on a non-competitive basis– other groups were not able to apply for the money.

The Pittsburgh-based Shale Alliance for Energy Research (SAFER PA) was formed as a partnership between industry and academia. Its board includes two representatives from Pennsylvania universities and five members from the oil and gas industry. SAFER PA’s president, Patrick Findle, heads the Pittsburgh office of the Gas Technology Institute– an Illinois nonprofit that conducts research for gas companies. In 2012 Findle also served as the research committee vice chair of the industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Reached by phone, Findle declined to comment and refused to even confirm that SAFER PA was working with DEP. He asked that all questions for this story be emailed to him and did not respond to the email.

The DEP did not respond to repeated requests to comment.

“We frequently see this in the budget– line-items designed so only one entity is able to acquire it.” says Barry Kauffman of the government reform group, Common Cause PA. “Hopefully that’s not the situation here because we need unbiased research. One would hope this group was not selected because it would produce a predetermined outcome.”

“Independent science”

SAFER PA describes itself as a way to, “proactively engage stakeholders and generate independent science to help fill the gap between environmental and industry constituents.” In 2011 the organization was mentioned in a report by Governor Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission as an academic effort that should be supported.

None of the university professors from the SAFER PA board– representing Penn State, Drexel, and the University of Pittsburgh– would comment for this story.

A Penn State spokeswoman says Dr. John Hellman, an engineering professor who is listed as the vice chair of SAFER PA’s board, left the group due to his busy schedule.

To date, SAFER PA has published one report on its website– a handbook for homeowners with private water wells. The booklet was written by Groundwater and Environmental Services, Inc. — an engineering company that does the majority of its business with oil and gas companies.

SAFER PA has a strategic advisory committee with several government and environmental groups. Davitt Woodwell heads the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, which is part of the committee. He describes his organization’s role as a sounding board, and says he was not involved in obtaining the DEP grant but adds he supports SAFER’s mission.

“The idea of pushing technology is a laudable goal and definitely worth it for us to be in this outer advisory capacity,” says Woodwell. “We are not involved in the day-to-day or decision-making part.”

Scott Anderson of the Environmental Defense Fund, which is also part of the committee, agrees.

“We thought it was a good project,” he says. “We just told them we wouldn’t be able to devote more than a day or two a year to advising them.”

In a 2013 PowerPoint presentation, Findle described SAFER PA as having a “seasoned team conducting PA appropriations efforts,” with plans to raise $8-$10 million per year for shale research– to be funded by the state and other sources.

Last year the DEP received $150,000 in the state budget specifically for “independent research regarding natural gas drilling.” The agency awarded the entire sum in a sole source grant to SAFER PA.

“The only known research organization”

Although the grant was approved by the DEP in May 2014, the organization has still not received the money, according to the state Treasury. As part of the approval process, DEP staff explained why the grant would not be awarded on a competitive basis:

“[SAFER PA] is the only known research organization that is comprised of both private and public entities, including three separate Pennsylvania-based research universities as well as industry organizations with a specific focus of conducting scientific research and development of shale related projects associated with Pennsylvania’s oil and gas resources.”

Emails obtained by StateImpact Pennsylvania through an open records request show the DEP appears to be on the verge of signing a contract, but at this point it’s not entirely clear what SAFER PA will do for the agency.

The group says it intends to track the waste generated by shale development and study potential human health impacts. It also plans to create an online training tool about erosion and sediment control related to oil and gas activities.

The emails also show the governor’s office checking in with DEP on the status of the grant– once in March and again last month. Governor Corbett’s press secretary did not respond to requests to comment.






  • JimBarth

    $150,000 of taxpayer money given to Shale Alliance for Energy Research, with seemingly no restrictions on what that SAFER organization will spend it on, instead of giving taxpayer funds to an independent medical group to study the health impacts of shale gas extraction in the extraction zones? The SAFER members are mostly industry people. Why are public funds being given to a group whose members are mostly shale gas extraction representatives. Doesn’t the shale gas extraction industry have enough private money to fund studies that in the end will support the shale gas extraction industry’s PR points? This is a Corbett Administration insult on top of injury.

  • Victoria Switzer

    you can’t make this stuff up! More FOX IN THE HENHOUSE! Counting the days until the WOLF clears out the henhouse!

    • Maggie Henry

      Unfortunately, the Wolf will saddle us with shale gas by making education funding dependant on gas tax revenues. Why do we have democratic candidate that doesn’t adhere to the platform? Vote green!

      • NorthernTier

        Florida Results – Bush vs Gore – Presidential Election – 2000
        Presidential candidate Vote total % Party
        George W. Bush (W) 2,912,790 48.847 Republican
        Al Gore 2,912,253 48.838 Democratic
        Ralph Nader 97,488 1.635 Green

        • Maggie Henry

          So you know for a fact that all those Nadar votes would have gone to Al Gore?!? The Supreme court gave the election to Bush…let’s not forget how that played out! His brother was governor of the state in question… You ever doubted the outcome??? Suppose you think we live in a democracy, too and voting really matters? Really.?!? You must not be paying attention to all the WASP men in power in all the republican states doing backflips to prevent people from voting. One moron from Pa actually had the audacity to brag about it saying, “it will give Pa to governor Romney, done!”

          • Steve Todd

            No Nadar votes would have went to Bush.

          • NorthernTier

            I fault Nader for not releasing his supporters when it became clear the election would be close. Instead, he chose to be a spoiler. Not unlike some Tea Party candidates with more interest in defeating a moderate Republican in the primary than in winning the general election. That’s ego, not principle.

    • Jack Wolf

      Wolf won’t clear out the henhouse. The democratic platform favors fracking, cloaked in words like “responsible development”. They are totally ignoring climate change and the fact that this is a fossil fuel. And, fracking leaks prodigious amounts of methane, a ghg 200 times more powerful than CO2 when emitted. Wolf somehow expects fees to cause all the pollution to just “magically disappear”.
      So, given that both sides are not acting in our best interest, I’m voting green too. My one vote may not make a bit of difference, but at least my conscience is clean and I can sleep better at night.

      • Victoria Switzer

        I just hope all the green votes do not re-elect Corbett!!

        • Jack Wolf

          That’s a common ploy, and one I longer accept as the reason not to vote for someone. Do you really think Wolf will do anything about fracking? Look at Obama. He has done nothing, absolutely nothing about climate change other than introduce and expand fracking, a process that emits prodigious amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 200 times more powerful than CO2 when emitted. We are at record levels of fossil fuel production in the US. So, no, I don’t accept this argument at all and with your suggestion nothing will change.

  • kenneth weir

    you could not make this stuff up.

  • Patrick Henderson

    Despite the efforts of StateImpact to categorize SAFER as an “industry” group as part of its continuing efforts to suggest that something is amiss, it is actually a collaboration between environmental, industry and academia organizations. The headline and lead-ins continue to show a bias that is transparent, unprofessional and a disservice to readers. The General Appropriations Act of 2013 included this funding, which can only be spent on this research. DEP is merely fulfilling its statutory obligation.

    Patrick Henderson
    Office of Governor Tom Corbett

    • JimBarth

      Yes, but funding it to whom? SAFER. Mr. Henderson disagrees with the description that it is an industry group, but, if the vast majority of the members are from the industry, and if the environmental portion is represented by the likes of EDF, which has been supportive of shale gas extraction, this group walks like the duck of the extractive industry. Also, the extraction PR folks, and industry people, have been blaming the poor quality of private water well construction (since Dimock went bad as a result of the drilling), for the contamination of the people’s water. and by stressing that methane is in on the general ground water…”It’s naturally occurring”.

      The contamination is the direct result of drilling, and the constant PR spin by the industry groups, and government officials, current and former, is a sickening example of blaming the victims, and laying responsibility on everyone and everything else OTHER than the shale gas extraction process.

      Finally, this quote from the article certainly doesn’t sound good to me. “To date, SAFER PA has published one report on its website– a handbook for homeowners with private water wells. The booklet was written by Groundwater and Environmental Services, Inc. — an engineering company that does the majority of its business with oil and gas companies.”

      • JimBarth

        Who deleted the comment by Patrick Henderson? Was it self deleted?
        Does he not serve in the Corbett Administration? This seems weird to me.

        • Victoria Switzer

          I was wondering the same and also where Patrick will land after the November election?

          • JimBarth

            He will be a PR spokesperson for Blank Rome, litigators for the O & G industry. He’ll join Krancer. Perhaps Corbett will go there too?

          • Steve Todd

            As good a guess as any.

        • mariecusick

          This is from WITF Multimedia News Director, Tim Lambert:


          You are correct. Mr. Henderson is Governor Corbett’s energy executive. Members of the Corbett administration did not respond to repeated requests to comment to explain the grant, the organization awarded the money, or the process of how this group was selected before the story was published. As public officials, if they are not willing to respond to questions about the policies they engage in and how public money is spent, we will not allow them to simply post attacks on our work or their unfiltered views in our comments section.

          Tim Lambert

          • JimBarth

            Thank you Tim. Thank you Marie. I very much appreciate the fact that you take the time to respond to such a question.

          • Steve Todd

            Bravo, WITF and Mr Lambert. The arrogance with which this administration addresses concerns of it employers (that’s us, for those unclear) is insulting.

            Steve Todd

        • Maggie Henry

          Hope someone did a screen grab, I miss it. He sent some STUPID letter into a Pittsburgh newspaper and they published it.

  • D

    Penn State, please stop your corruption and your exploitation of our state.

  • Jack Wolf

    Independent??? LOL.

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »