Penn State

News Flash! Marcellus Shale Coalition Takes on PA Charities

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

Thanks to Citizens United, we are all the beneficiaries of unlimited corporate money in our elections — witness the onslaught of TV ads interrupting our ballgames and the fall lineup of TV shows.

In a new twist, the very groups that agitated to spend unlimited funds to promote their point of view are now critical of others who challenge them. What brings this to mind is an Associated Press story this morning that the Marcellus Shale Coalition is not happy about the funding priorities of the Heinz Endowments and William Penn Foundation.

Citizens groups and nonprofits around the nation are asking questions about environmental and health impacts of natural gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and Pennsylvania charities are funding much of the debate.

Foundations from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh have provided more than $19 million for gas-drilling-related grants since 2009, according to an Associated Press review of charity data. The money has paid for scientific studies, films, radio programs, websites and even trout fishing groups that monitor water quality.

That’s led to expressions of gratitude from those who say state and federal governments aren’t doing enough on the issue but also protests from some in the gas-drilling industry, who claim there’s bias in the campaigns...

But the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a leading industry group, criticized what it sees as a “record of bankrolling organizations and institutions opposed to the safe development of job-creating American natural gas.”

(Full disclosure: the Keystone Research Center receives funding from the William Penn Foundation and Heinz Endowments.)

What the groups, and their funders, are critical of is the unsafe development of natural gas. Since Pennsylvania’s official Marcellus policy is drill baby drill, somebody has to do the due diligence, so thank your local charity.

A related story provides heartening news that public debate can smoke out research that is simply advancing the perspective of the group that paid for the study.

A natural-gas driller’s group has canceled a Pennsylvania State University study of hydraulic fracturing after some faculty members balked at the project that had drawn criticism for being slanted toward industry.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which paid more than $146,000 for three previous studies, ended this year’s report after work had started, said Kathryn Klaber, coalition president.

The earlier studies were co-written by former Penn State professor Tim Considine, an economist now at the University of Wyoming who has produced research on economic and energy issues under contract to trade associations. The first study, in 2009, initially failed to disclose its industry funding and was used by lawmakers to kill a state tax on gas drillers. It was characterized as advocacy for producers by groups such as the nonprofit Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center in Harrisburg...

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Pittsburgh-based drillers group, paid Penn State for the three economic-impact studies beginning in 2009, according to John Hanold, senior associate director of Penn State’s Office of Sponsored Programs...

Subsequent studies by other researchers have found that gas drilling created fewer than half the jobs projected by Considine in 2009.

The public needs reliable data to understand what drilling does and what it doesn’t do — information that the industry just won’t provide. Rational, independent studies funded by an unbiased government or private foundations, are in this post-Citizens United environment the antidote to unlimited, year-round campaign commercials, like the ones offered by our friends in the gas industry.

Painting a Fuller Picture of Gas Drilling in PA Economy

A blog post from Sharon Ward, originally published on Third and State.

The folks at the Penn State Marcellus Shale Education & Training Center, a collaboration of the university’s College of Technology and Agriculture Cooperative Extension service, took a look at the Marcellus Shale’s impact on Pennsylvania employment and income in 2009.

So what did they find? The Marcellus Shale is creating jobs, development and increased income, but at a much more modest level than predicted by industry studies. 

The report brings a more detached eye to the question of the economic impact of gas drilling than previous industry-funded reports. It offers a more realistic assessment of the economic effects and contemplates the uncompensated costs to paint a fuller picture of the role of gas drilling to the state’s economy.

The authors surveyed hundreds of businesses, landowners, and government officials; gathered gas industry spending data; and put the information in an economic model to estimate the statewide impact of the industry.

The report makes clear that gas drilling brings additional wealth to leaseholders but that it also brings additional headaches, and costs, to municipal officials struggling with gas-related impacts for which many receive no offsetting tax income.

Summing Up the News Coverage on the Marcellus Shale Industry Study

Several newspapers reported Thursday on a new industry-financed study on the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling on Pennsylvania's economy. Analysts at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center weighed in on the issue with a number of reporters.

The Harrisburg Patriot-News summed up our concerns about the study best:

“You get what you’d expect from an industry report,” said Michael Wood, research director at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. “The complications and costs to Pennsylvania are either minimized, understated or not even discussed.”

The Marcellus boom is good for Pennsylvania, he said, “but we’ve got to have our eyes wide open.”

The study is based solely upon a survey of the industry — what companies say they spent and what they plan to spend — which was then run through computer models. Only 12 companies responded to the survey — representing 55 percent of the drilling activity in 2010 — so the results were scaled up accordingly.

Wood said the results don’t match verifiable data from other sources — from the number of rigs operating in the state to the number of jobs created. In every instance, the numbers in the industry-funded study are higher than what can be verified elsewhere, he said.

A few other takeaways from the news coverage:

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