Last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) awarded the Shale Alliance for Energy Research (SAFER PA) a $150,000 non-competitive grant for “independent research regarding natural gas drilling”. The money comes from a portion of last year’s state budget specified for this type of research.
SAFER PA is a Pittsburgh based non-profit formed in 2013 as a partnership between industry and academia. The board is comprised of three representatives from Pennsylvania universities and five members from the gas and oil industry. Other groups were not even allowed to compete for this money because the DEP claims that SAFER PA is “the only known research organization that is comprised of both private and public entities … with a specific focus of conducting scientific research and development of shale related projects”.
This move is quite concerning, especially given the fact that SAFER PA has never published any research and the DEP refuses to respond to any inquires about the grant. There is one published report on the SAFER PA website, a handbook for private water well owners. The handbook was written by Groundwater and Environmental Services, Inc., a company that conducts the majority of its business with gas and oil companies.
“There are many, many qualified organizations with good research credentials that could produce unbiased research—or certainly more balanced research—than an entity heavily dominated by the industry which it contends to take a look at,” says Barry Kauffman of the nonpartisan government reform group Common Cause PA.
Not only does the group lack research experience, the president, Patrick Findle, is also the head of the Pittsburgh office of the Gas Technology Institute, a non-profit that conducts research for gas companies. He is also the former research committee vice chair of the gas industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition. He stated that “one of our main differentiators is that we are independent, balanced organization conducting focused research and analysis. We follow the science to generate research and information”.
SAFER PA intends to use the grant to track waste generated by shale development and to create an online training tool for the DEP about erosion and sediment control related to gas and oil activities. It seems unlikely, however, that the results of this grant will be unbiased.