Gas industry-backed group gets $150,000 from state to study health effects of drilling

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection approved a grant to a natural gas industry-backed group to study the potential health impacts from drilling, reports StateImpact Pennsylvania.

This may mark the first time state funding has gone towards such a study. The grant was non-competitive, meaning no other groups were allowed to apply for the funds. 

The $150,000 grant was awarded to Pittsburgh-based non-profit group, Shale Alliance for Energy Research (SAFER PA), a mixture of industry and academic researchers. The group’s website says it was formed “to collaboratively identify and fund impactful shale research and analysis in Pennsylvania.”

Sitting on its board are two representatives from Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pittsburgh and five members from the oil and gas industry, according to the article.

From StateImpact PA:

SAFER PA’s president, Patrick Findle, heads the Pittsburgh office of the Gas Technology Institute – an Illinois nonprofit that conducts research for gas companies. In 2012 Findle also served as the research committee vice chair of the industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

The DEP did not respond to repeated requests for comment from StateImpact PA. Findle declined to comment for the story. None of the university professors from SAFER PA’s board would comment for the story.

Last year, $150,000 was funneled to the DEP from the state budget for “independent research regarding natural gas drilling.” SAFER PA got it all.

“We frequently see this in the budget – line-items designed so only one entity is able to acquire it.” says Barry Kauffman of the government reform group, Common Cause PA. “Hopefully that’s not the situation here because we need unbiased research. One would hope this group was not selected because it would produce a predetermined outcome.”

More from StateImpact PA:

The group says it intends to track the waste generated by shale development and study potential human health impacts. It also plans to create an online training tool about erosion and sediment control related to oil and gas activities.

The DEP explained to the news organization why the grant was not awarded on a competitive basis:

“[SAFER PA] is the only known research organization that is comprised of both private and public entities, including three separate Pennsylvania-based research universities as well as industry organizations with a specific focus of conducting scientific research and development of shale related projects associated with Pennsylvania’s oil and gas resources.”

The grant was approved by the DEP in May, but the group hasn’t received any money yet.

Reach Natasha Khan at 412-315-0261 or nkhan@publicsource.org.