Monday, May 17, 2010

The Science Underneath the Marcellus Shale...

PRI Receives National Science Foundation Award
to do Public Outreach on Marcellus Gas Drilling

The Paleontological Research Institution and its Museum of the Earth (PRI), along with colleagues in the department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS) at Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), have been awarded nearly $100K from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The award will provide resources to promote public understanding of science and the relative risk associated with natural gas drilling, and to help stakeholders who might consider leasing their land for drilling make informed decisions based on existing scientific evidence.

This award from NSF will allow PRI and its partners to continue the work started by CCE and to expand on them in order to reach a much broader audience across New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Over the past year, CCE initiated an outreach campaign that has included a website, "Natural Gas Resource Development Center" (, webinar presentations, and workforce investment and regional planning workshops. PRI is a partner within this outreach team, providing outreach on the earth science aspects of the issues. CCE also provides information about potential water and land use impacts, leasing, local and state regulations, workforce development, municipal officer leadership training, and rural development strategies.

"Our outreach campaign has strived to provide objective information, not for or against gas development, but rather aiming to help stakeholders make scientifically informed decisions about their land and communities," stated Dr. Robert Ross, associate director for outreach at PRI. "Part of our outreach effort has been and will continue to make the distinction between a neutral and advocacy role. It became very clear in 2008 that this was going to become a 'hot-button' issue for our communities. When we began talking to the public in 2009 we knew that we needed more resources to make this outreach initiative effective and to provide the guidance and scientific background these stakeholders needed. This award allows us to provide the much-needed information for these stakeholders to make the best informed decisions for themselves, their properties and their communities"

The outreach effort will be coordinated by a project team comprised of Dr. Robert Ross, associate director for outreach at PRI and an adjunct assistant professor in the department of EAS, Cornell University; Trisha Smrecak, evolution and climate change projects manager, PRI; Dr. Terry Jordan, professor of Geology in the department of EAS, Cornell University; and Dr. Larry Brown, chair and the Sidney Kaufman professor of Geophysics chair in the department of EAS, Cornell University. The CCE Marcellus Team is led by Dr. Rod Howe, assistant director for community and economic vitality at Cornell Cooperative Extension. Outreach efforts planned include:

A user-friendly guide to drilling in the Marcellus Shale with clear explanations of the multitude of issues surrounding the debate. Information will be available in print as a booklet and pamphlets summarizing content of individual chapters, and online (at, with chapters available to download.

A network providing a comprehensive, cohesive source for the scientific information surrounding the Marcellus Shale, including geology, water resources, energy, and technology, through establishing relationships with researchers doing work in the Marcellus Shale and other tight shale deposits throughout the U.S. Particular emphasis will be placed on integrating geology and hydrology (water) research, as these comprise the largest environmental concerns.

Forums to selected communities in NY and in PA, WV, and OH, about the economic and environmental impacts of drilling in “tight shales” like the Marcellus Shale. It will include communication with government officials in affected states, including where research is still being undertaken to examine potential impacts.

Dr. Howe believes, "working with local government officials and community task forces has identified the need for ongoing education focused on different energy development scenarios and the potential impacts on communities."

During this past year the outreach team held a series of public sessions broadly covering gas drilling in communities around the Southern Tier of New York state. They focused on the Marcellus Shale geology, the regional environmental impacts of this type of drilling, the potential positive and negative socio-economic impacts of drilling, and information concerning property leasing.

The issue of gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale is an extremely complex one. There are a number of interdisciplinary and competing interests. These include producing natural resources while balancing environmental concerns, global and regional interest in a relatively clean energy source compared to local concerns for the socioeconomic fabric of communities, and degradation of regional landscapes. Quality-of-life concerns about noise, air, and water pollution balanced against economic growth from increased business, and even concerns of limited energy resources vs. limited water resources must be considered by people in the region affected by Marcellus Shale drilling.

For further information or to learn about PRI's position on the Marcellus shale gas drilling visit

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