Friday, August 20, 2010

This Will Work Out Well

Earlier this week at Ag Progress Days, Graham announced the formation of a new Penn State research and outreach center[1] focused on the Marcellus Shale. The purpose of the center, Penn State's Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR), according the to The Penn State Propaganda Portal is work with state agencies, elected officials, communities, landowners, industry and environmental groups to protect the Commonwealth’s water resources, forests and transportation infrastructure while advocating for a science-based and responsible approach to handling the state’s natural gas deposits.
A center such as this could be very valuable if it is trusted by all parties involved. One of he factors which will determine whether there will be trust is the funding sources for the center. The press release linked to above notes that initial funding for the center is internal.
Penn State has committed major resources to establish and staff the Marcellus Center (MCOR) with support from the colleges of Agricultural Sciences and Earth and Mineral Sciences, the Penn State Institutes for Energy and the Environment (PSIEE) and Penn State Outreach, Spanier said.

Additional funding from PSIEE and the Social Sciences Research Institute (SSRI) at Penn State is underwriting investigation of human/social impacts and environmental issues related to Marcellus development by teams of cross-disciplinary collaborators ...
But eventually, as noted by The Penn State Propaganda Portal,  Penn State hopes to leverage this investment, "The goal of these research seed grants is to develop proposals for external funding agencies."  This is where things get a bit sticky.

External funding agencies suggest that the center is interested in obtaining government grants which would be a good way of avoiding conflicts of interest, but Graham actually elaborated on this in his remarks at Ag Progress Days.
Spanier said the center does not yet have outside funding, but the university hopes to get financial support from the state and the industry.
Financial support from industry, what could go wrong with that?

Earlier this summer, there was an outcry over an Penn State economic impact study of the Marcellus Shale which was funded by industry and very likely grossly over estimated the economic impact. 
On two separate occasions, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center counseled law makers to disregard the conclusions of these two “Penn State studies” because of their funding and bias. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry produced a parallel study on employment, “Marcellus Shale Industry Overview,” which estimated only a small fraction of the touted jobs. Neither Pennsylvania College of Technology’s “Marcellus Shale Workforce Needs Assessment” nor Penn State Cooperative Extension’s “Potential Economic Impacts of Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania” supports the exaggerated claims of these two industry funded papers.
The report  also advocated against the implementation of a severance tax on drillers, which the drilling industry opposes.

If Penn State wants this center to be seen as an honest broker, then it must eschew all industry funding.

But being an honest broker may not be what is on Graham's mind. There's money to made in the Marcellus Shale and where there's money to be made Graham will try to get a little taste. Consider that  the Office of the Vice President for Research at Penn State maintains a database of University research centers, institutes and facilities for industry to find potential research partners which includes the Astrobiology Research Center. If they are dreaming of making  a couple of industry dollars on Astrobiology, imagine the wet dreams they are having in Old Main over the Marcellus Shale.

[1] This link to the CDT article, published on August 19th, 2010, will evaporate in about two weeks. You can access the article after that at NewsBank which is available free online at Schlow Library or the Penn State library.

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