The state Department of Environmental Protection has awarded a $150,000 non-competitive grant to an industry-backed nonprofit organization. The money was allocated in last year’s state budget specifically for “independent research regarding natural gas drilling.”
As StateImpact Pennsylvania previously reported, the grant recipient is a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit called the Shale Alliance for Energy Research (SAFER PA). It formed in 2013 as a partnership between industry and academia. Its board has three representatives from Pennsylvania universities and five members from the oil and gas industry.
Other groups were not able to compete for the grant money because the DEP said SAFER PA is “the only known research organization that is comprised of both private and public entities … with a specific focus of conducting scientific research and development of shale related projects.”
SAFER PA has never published any research. The DEP has not responded to repeated inquiries about the grant.
Barry Kauffman, of the nonpartisan government reform group Common Cause PA, finds the deal concerning.
“There are many, many qualified organizations with good research credentials that could produce unbiased research—or certainly more balanced research—than an entity heavily dominated by the industry which it contends to take a look at,” he says.
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’s president, Patrick Findle, heads the Pittsburgh office of the Gas Technology Institute– an Illinois-based nonprofit that conducts research for gas companies. Two years ago Findle was the research committee vice chair of the gas industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
In an email to StateImpact Pennsylvania, Findle said SAFER PA represents a diverse set of interests– not just the industry.
“One of our main differentiators is that we are independent, balanced organization conducting focused research and analysis. We follow the science to generate research and information,” he wrote. “Our Board is a balanced makeup of universities, industry, environmental, engineering and research companies.”
SAFER PA intends to track the waste generated by shale development and create an online training tool for the DEP about erosion and sediment control related to oil and gas activities.