Penn State won't work on Marcellus gas report

PITTSBURGH -- Penn State University professors won't be part of an industry-funded study this year on the economic impact of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, an undertaking the school was criticized for in the past.

Michael Arthur, a professor in the Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, said the school can't have its name on the project now because no active Penn State faculty member is involved with the research.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a natural gas industry group, said in a statement that there's less need for such reports now, given the "wide-ranging, readily available government data related to Marcellus Shale production rates and the industry's economic impact."

The report was first released in 2009, and then updated in each of the next two years. The first publication didn't disclose the industry funding. After criticism for the omission, the school corrected it. Many major universities across the country accept industry funds for research projects, but the accepted practice is to disclose all funding sources.

One researcher on the report has moved to the University of Wyoming; another is too busy with other projects to work on a report this year, Arthur said. He suggested that some in the department also have grown weary of the controversy that surrounds the project.

Also, the Shale Coalition said one potential Penn State researcher wanted a five-year funding commitment that the group was not willing to make.

Outside pressure also may have played a role.

In early September, a nonprofit group opposed to gas drilling filed an official academic complaint over Penn State's past role in the studies. The Responsible Drilling Alliance, based in Williamsport, filed the complaint with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, claiming the reports exaggerated economic benefits

But Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said in an email to The Associated Press that differing opinions about the worth of the reports don't mean Penn State did anything wrong.

Powers also noted that the complaint is about something that happened three years ago and that Penn State revised the first report to show the funding source just eight days after it was published.

"Any study produced by faculty is likely to draw a number of conclusions, which others may disagree with or consider unsupportable. This too is all part of the scientific process that helps society determine the most useful, reliable, data-driven solutions," Powers said.

Penn State professor Seth Blumsack, who worked on last year's report, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.