From the Director:

 

September 2011

By Kenneth M. Klemow, Ph.D.

 

During the past few months, the staff of the IEER has made significant progress on its two-pronged goal of developing sound science and making information available to the public on Marcellus development in northeastern Pennsylvania. We remain committed to serving as a reliable source of unbiased information, supporting informed public discussion and wise decision-making. 

Our water-quality monitoring plan is taking shape, and will have three components. The first involves continuous recording of key water-quality parameters using sophisticated instruments produced by YSI Incorporated that are being placed at strategic locations in northeastern PA. We are coordinating with other organizations like the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and Binghamton University to complement their sampling efforts. Data from our YSI instruments will be sent to a receiving station at Wilkes University, where they will be analyzed and made available to the public. 

The second component involves periodic visits to a number of carefully selected sites to take spot measurements and assess the ecological health of streams. 

The third component focuses on the development of a robust “citizen science” effort in which groups of dedicated stakeholders are being asked to sample streams of interest, record their observations, and forward their data to IEER.

Translating the raw data into meaningful information requires analyses and thoughtful presentation. Our strategy involves the use of latest Geographical Information Systems software that will be presented through our website (http://www.ieer-nep.org). When fully developed, our site will allow users to assess the quality of streams of interest, in relation to other features like Marcellus wellpads and pipelines. Recognizing that we are one of several organizations conducting water quality assessments, our database is being developed to include and integrate information provided by others.

Another major thrust of the IEER is to conduct a vigorous and innovative community education program, helping stakeholders to interpret the complex – and often misleading – information surrounding Marcellus development. A primary vehicle for that effort is our website. We are developing, refining, and posting dozens of essays covering the spectrum of topics bearing on Marcellus shale development. Our library now includes scores of articles, Power-point files, images, and other digital resources – many of which are accompanied by brief summaries in plain English.

During the past summer, we drew upon the talents of our scientists and educators to develop clearly written commentaries and position statements on research relating to methane contamination of drinking water and air.   A commentary released last June focused on a study by researchers from Duke University that reported a correlation between methane contamination of drinking water wells and proximity to Marcellus drill sites (see http://energy.wilkes.edu/pages/164.asp?item=477). In late August, we substantially revised an earlier position statement regarding the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas development and use (see http://energy.wilkes.edu/pages/216.asp). That revision, which interprets a series of studies published in the late spring and summer, compares the greenhouse gas profile of shale gas to conventional natural gas and coal. 

A second part of our community education and outreach effort involves our participation in forums, workshops, and legislative hearings.  In May, IEER hosted a forum on the Wilkes campus that included a broad range of speakers aimed at identifying ways in which we can reach consensus on Marcellus development. In August, scientists from the IEER provided testimony on water and air pollution issues during a House Democratic Policy Committee hearing. In early September, technical experts from IEER presented at a workshop sponsored by the E.L. Rose Conservancy in Susquehanna County.

IEER enjoys a close association with The Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development. That organization provides studies and analyses of topics such as labor trends and educational opportunities that are posted to our website. Future projects include comparative assessments of laws and regulations bearing upon Marcellus development at the federal, state and local levels.

While we are proud of our accomplishments to date, we see our work as just beginning. Certainly, the water quality assessment and development of the database is in its early stages. Also, the website will continue to mature in the months to come, and will include more essays, position statements, and library resources on the range of Marcellus issues.

We invite your feedback on our efforts – and specifically want to know where we are truly informing public discussion, as well as areas where we need to improve. You can submit your thoughts by clicking here.