WVU Promotes a Shale Gas Research Center to Finance Committee of Legislature

by Duane Nichols on September 11, 2012

The following report is based on an article by Taylor Kuykendall for the State Journal:

West Virginia University is moving forward with creation of a center for research on the shale gas industry, but it wants the state to designate it as the official center for such research in the state.

Bill Hutchens, vice president for corporate and legal affairs at WVU, spoke to a West Virginia Legislature financial subcommittee on September 10th. Hutchens told the committee the university was going forward anyway, but passage of legislation making the state the official center would facilitate funding opportunities from federal, private and international sources.

“Funding is competitive,” Hutchens said. “If you look at the national landscape, federal research dollars are drying up. … Across the board, federal research dollars (are) getting smaller and smaller and the competition is getting tougher and tougher.”

The bill would form the Shale Research, Education, Policy and Economic Development Center. The legislation is intended to give WVU more leverage to study the booming shale gas industry, particularly in regions that lie over the Marcellus Shale. The Center would be charged with developing best practices for the industry, including more efficient extraction technologies and environmentally friendly business strategies.

Education committees in the House and Senate have already cleared the bill. At the finance hearing on September 10th, members questioned the composition of funding that would flow into the center. “We hold ourselves to high standards,” Hutchens told the committee. “… You do not take dollars from anyone that tries to dictate conclusions of the research. That’s an understanding on the front end and that’s a firewall you have to place in there.”

Concerns of  academic integrity have come to light at other institutions involved in shale research. Similarly oriented centers at the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Texas at Austin and Pennsylvania State University have faced various levels of criticism for researchers’ close ties to industry interests.

Hutchens said private funding is critical and putting up a firewall between those investments and researcher conclusions is an everyday function of academia. He pointed to several large institutions revered for their research and development talents.
“They always take money from private industry,” Hutchens said. “Taking money from a grant does not mean that research will be corrupted. That is the job of the faculty and researchers.”

One project planned for the center is a “transparent well project.” “We will meter and study every aspect from before ground is broken, bulldozing a road into the site on through every bit of the drilling process,” Hutchens said. “Studying the roads, and I mean every part of it, and it’s going to be transparent.” The data that would come from the producing well would be public information.

“These things are going on already. We’re just trying to pool together a nationwide consortium to find some intelligent, safe, efficient way through the future of this industry,” Hutchens said. 

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