The Marcellus Shale is a lot to handle with its huge gas bounty, projected economic expansion, and attendant development issues, which can pit the energy industry, landowners, residents, politicians and others against one another. To smooth the path to Marcellus development in Pennsylvania, Penn State has formed the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR).

The goal of the center will be to protect the Pennsylvania’s water resources, forests and transportation infrastructure while advocating for a science-based and responsible approach to handling the state’s natural gas deposits, the university said.

“With the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research we are bringing together the university’s considerable expertise in a number of areas to provide fact-based information on the Marcellus Shale, one of the largest gas fields in the world,” said Penn State President Graham Spanier. “It has become apparent that much more research and education is needed on the Marcellus.”

Studies of Marcellus development predict a boost to both Pennsylvania’s economy and the energy reserves of the state and nation. At the same time, there are potential environmental and social impacts that must be researched and considered, Spanier said. “Penn State has the capabilities and resources to examine all sides of this complex issue — and to do that well.”

In establishing MCOR, the university aims to coordinate ongoing outreach and research initiatives as well as develop additional resources for stakeholders on Marcellus geology, legal issues, environmentally appropriate technologies, and impacts on infrastructure such as roadways and bridges.

MCOR will be led by Michael A. Arthur, professor of geosciences in the university’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; and Thomas B. Murphy, extension educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension.

Because water availability and protection are key issues, MCOR has hired a hydrogeologist to lead these related outreach and research efforts. This position will complement ongoing research into water supply and quality issues funded by state and federal agencies.

It was Penn State research that first called attention to the potential for tapping the Marcellus using horizontal drilling technology, the university said. For the past five years Penn State extension staff has provided Marcellus-focused programming to landowners, local governments and state legislators, reaching more than 50,000 people in Pennsylvania and surrounding states. Cooperative Extension staff also has collaborated with environmental and business organizations as well as state agencies on issues from gas rights to water impacts.

Workforce development programs to train Pennsylvania residents for jobs within the natural gas industry also are being initiated by the Marcellus Shale Education and Training Center, a separate effort of Cooperative Extension and Penn College of Technology. The College of Technology recently expanded its welding department. Students there are learning welding skills that are in particular need in the natural gas industry.

While the expertise of Penn State faculty across the university will be tapped through the center, faculty in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences are already engaged in research projects to investigate geologic aspects of the Marcellus Shale and to determine more efficient methods for hydraulic fracturing.

“Other key research examines impacts of increased truck traffic on Pennsylvania’s extensive dirt and gravel road network, the effects of well siting and pipeline construction on forest ecology and the spread of invasive species,” Arthur said.

Others, including industry, have sought to spread the word about the Marcellus and its development. The energy industry has the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which advocates for development in the play. The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York offers information through its Marcellus Facts website. There is also the Appalachian Oil and Natural Gas Research Consortium, which is affiliated with West Virginia University.

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