The American Petroleum Institute (API) has allied with the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA) in a partnership to serve as a forum for information about the Marcellus Shale.

At the urging of some of biggest producer members, the new state alliance is expanding on an education campaign that has been under way through API’s nationwide program, Rolf Hanson, executive director of the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania, told NGI‘s Shale Daily. Hanson runs the Pennsylvania field office of the Washington, DC-based API.

“Really, it was not until the beginning of 2010 that some of our big member companies, the major integrated companies,” asked for API to conduct more educational outreach in Pennsylvania, Hanson said. API members that included ExxonMobil Corp., which had acquired shale heavyweight XTO Energy Inc., as well as Royal Dutch Shell plc, which bought East Resources Corp., were among those asking the organization to do more, he said.

“When they came into the state, one of the things they noticed and wanted was for their trade association to respond to what they thought had not been a very good educational outreach effort on what the Marcellus Shale is and the benefits in the form of job creation, economic development and energy independence,” Hanson said. “They charged us to build an educational outreach program that matched the size of the Marcellus region…because of its size and vast number of counties it covers, that’s a very big project.”

API and PIOGA agreed to pool their resources to make the outreach efforts match the members’ requests. “It’s going to take not only capital, but human resources, and we’ll bring in experts to these communities to talk about the issues. It’s a lot for one association to do on their own,” said Hanson.

PIOGA represents about 800 members including producers, drilling contractors and service companies, as well as professional firms, individuals and royalty owners. It was created through a merger last April between the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association and the Independent Oil and Gas Association of Pennsylvania.

“From PIOGA’s standpoint, we certainly don’t have the resources that API has, and the opportunity to work with them on this brings our grassroots capabilities in contact with their ability to fund some of this outreach,” said PIOGA Executive Director Lou D’Amico. “When you have that kind of resource available, it’s a tremendous asset to Pennsylvania.”

Hanson said that the new group will be unique, because it will not be directed at advocacy as both API and PIOGA are. The new group will be “focused on education, partnering with communities, third-party groups that have been impacted by Marcellus Shale development. We will let them have a place to go to collect information.”

Instead of advocating for specific issues, the partners will “rely on education to let them make their own decisions pro or against a specific issue…We’ll present the facts, and then they can make a decision.” What may be important to stakeholders in Bradford County, PA, could be completely irrelevant to stakeholders in Tioga County, PA, said Hanson.

“It’s very across-the-board, depending on the group and the community,” he said. “It’s been really interesting on how the issues have varied from group to group, based on what their needs are…what they want to hear about…whether it’s a board meeting, town hall meeting. We’ve been hearing from every faction of people in Pennsylvania…”

For instance, he was surprised by the number of people who don’t understand gas extraction techniques. Many, he said, think the trucks used by the gas industry are hauling shale from the drilling sites to other locations to produce natural gas somewhere else. “They think the Marcellus Shale is being mined like coal, taken out of the ground and hauled away…

“That’s our fault as an industry for not educating people as to what the trucks are being used for…If they don’t have the information in front of them, they get nervous and that’s not good for us.”

The initial efforts are focused on Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale industry “because that’s where the work is right now,” said Hanson. However, there are plans to possibly extend partnerships into New York, West Virginia and “possibly Ohio…It’s a great time to get this effort out in the state of New York. The more you can educate on the front end, that leads to better understanding down the road.”

First and foremost will be the education efforts, said D’Amico. “We’re not going to talk about taxes or advocate on specific issues. Our only agenda is to educate the people of Pennsylvania.” The new group plans to offer materials and outreach to “organizations not related to the oil and gas industry” such as Rotary and Lions clubs, and sports organizations.

The new group may duplicate some of the efforts under way by the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), which acts as an industry advocate. However, Hanson said this new industry effort “is what our members have asked us to do. Some of our members are not MSC members. We’re moving ahead with what we’re going to do with PIOGA. If the MSC has areas where we can work together, that’s fine. We’re open to that.”