Should Penn State Lose Accrediation for Marcellus Shale Advocacy?

If you are a major university and research institution and if members of your staff are blatant advocates for a genocidal, profiteering, propaganda mongering industry, your institution deserves to lose all accreditation – at least in the Geosciences department – and deserves to be publicly shamed for supporting that industry.  This past week Penn State University Geosciences Department received a couple of more black eyes, but unfortunately there aren’t enough eyes on the public image of that university, which is still reeling in the embarrassment for covering up Jerry Sandusky’s child touching habits.

This past week, two more indictments came out against the Penn State University Geosciences Department.  The first indictment came from the Responsible Drilling Alliance, a grass-roots organization from Williamsport, PA, claiming that Penn State University is harboring faculty members that are advocates for the gas industry – a real shocker.  The second indictment came from the self-appointed “Jonas Salk” of the Marcellus Shale Industry – Terry Engelder.  After Mr. Engelder’s latest stunt, he should seriously consider trading in his PhD, suits, ties and penny loafers for a pair of pom-poms and a cheerleading skirt because he – along with some of  his colleagues – have become some of the biggest cheerleaders for the gas industry.

The Responsible Drilling Alliance v. Penn State University

On September 18, the Responsible Drilling Alliance issued a press release claiming that scientists at Penn State University authored a series of reports that advocated for the expansion of the Marcellus Shale Industry and that those reports played a significant role in Harrisburg’s public policy-making regarding the Marcellus Shale – go figure.  The press release also stated that the Responsible Drilling Alliance is pushing the Middle States Commission on Higher Education to review the university’s accreditation process for violating ethical procedures (for the ethics violations, please click on the link below).  The press release issued by the grass-roots organization states:

Penn State published three papers commissioned and paid for by the shale gas industry as independent research reports. They contained a host of highly exaggerated predictions on jobs, economic development, and tax revenues. These papers profoundly influenced the legislative debate in Pennsylvania in favor of the gas industry and to the detriment of the commonwealth.

The letter to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education was addressed to President Elizabeth Sibolski, and it named the two papers that were brought into question:  “An Emerging Giant: Prospects and Economic Impacts of Developing the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play” (July 2009, updated in 2010), and  “Impacts and Future Potential” (2010).  The non-profit argues that “the papers were released under Penn State’s name and authored by former Penn State professors but commissioned and paid for by the shale gas industry.”  In 2010 when the Responsible Drilling Alliance brought these issues forward, Dr. Easterling the Dean of College of Earth and Mineral Science admitted that the authors “had overstepped into advocacy.”  In Dr. Easterling’s response to the criticism at the time, he stated:

In the initial version of the earlier report, we found flaws in the way the report was written and presented to the public.  First, the report did not identify the sponsor of the research, which is a clear error.  As a matter of policy, all publications emanating from the externally sponsored research at Penn State are required to identify the sponsors of the research.  Second, the authors could and probably should have been more circumspect in connecting their findings to policy implications for Pennsylvania, and may well have crossed the line between policy analysis and policy advocacy.  In particular, the prose in the section dealing with the potential effects of a severance tax on drilling rates in Pennsylvania should be more scholarly and less advocacy minded.  Moreover the authors should have made their points without being adversarial to the governor (emphasis added).

Later in his letter to the Responsible Drilling Alliance, Dean Easterling pointed out that the authors of the paper should not have had Penn State’s name and logo “prominently featured in the report as they were” and “the initial version of the earlier report, the Penn State logo appeared on every page (emphasis added).”

So now we have this case – in 2010 – where the Dean of Earth and Mineral Scienes admitted that there was some “advocacy” for the Marcellus Shale in academic papers published through the university, and of course we didn’t see any reprimand against the university or authors of those reports.  Now we have a Penn State Earth and Mineral Science / Geoscince professor giving an amateurish slide show to the Pennsylvania Bar Institute.

Terry Engelder: Judge, Journalist, Lawyer and Executioner

Besides claiming that he is the “Jonas Salk” of the Marcellus Shale and the fracking industry, Terry Engelder released a slide show where he was the judge, journalist, and a lawyer in the controversial Manning vs. WPX case, but he stopped short of proclaiming he was executioner with his fantasy godlike complex.  But before we get into the “slideshow” Terrance made for a crowd at the Pennsylvania Bar Institute, where the crowd was the jury, let’s give a brief explanation of what happened to the Manning family’s well water.

Engelder Tort Slide

In March 2011, WPX Energy began drilling for gas in Susquehanna County. Shortly after the drilling began, residents in Franklin Township well water went bad.  Tammy Manning, a plaintiff in the case against WPX Energy, has been an outspoken critic of the industry, and she was able to share her story at last week’s Shale Gas Outrage event (see the video below).  At the demonstration, Tammy Manning explained that she had lived in the area for over a year, and then her water “turned dark grey, and that it was erupting from her well head with a lot of force.”  After the incident, a DEP official was taking water samples, and the man “thought that a methane bubble was forming under the water in the well.”  Mrs. Manning had a methane detector placed inside her home, and that when the detector went off, she should “ not turn on the kitchen stove as it could cause a flash fire, and we should leave our bathroom window and door open and the fan going when getting showers, as methane can build up and cause an explosion risk.”  A couple of months later and after her granddaughter was getting sick, the levels of methane in her water doubled, and she had to have an external “water buffalo” (a tank that holds fresh, clean water) – the fastest growing species in Pennsylvania – attached to her home.  Now let’s take a look at why Terry Engelder’s slideshow is a complete joke.

In the slide show, which is 60 slides long, Dr Engelder explains the legal background of the Manning case.  Early on he lays out the plaintiffs, the defendants and the “type” of lawsuit that is filed.  He explains the type of suit filed is a “tort” case, and defines tort as:

A tort in common law jurisdictions, is a civil wrong.  Tort law deals with situations where a person’s behavior has unfairly caused someone else to suffer loss or harm.  A tort is not necessarily an illegal act but causes harm.  The law allows anyone who is harmed to recover their loss.

Engelder Wheaties Slide

Further into the slide show, Engelder inserts a snide little cartoon, illustrating an industry representative who is intentionally planning on polluting water tables and causing earthquakes – a fact that Mr. Engelder is still in denial about (just see Wendy Lee’s piece titled “The Unholy Alliance of Big Energy, Big University and Big State: My Exchange with Terry Engelder).  And for the Manning’s to seek legal help, Mr. Engelder makes the family’s lawyer out to be an “ambulance chaser” trying to bring down the “benevolent fracking industry.”  Throughout his slideshow, Engelder shows the path of Hurricane Irene, shows contours of the Manning’s home area, cites Truthland – a documentary that was funded by the IPAA and Energy In Depth, and cites articles from Energy In Depth – the industry created and sponsored PR publication that makes gas drilling look like the next best thing since sliced bread. Eventually, viewers are shown two eye-popping slides.

Methane is not poison slideIn the first slide, Dr Engelder compares the contaminants found in the Manning’s water source to what you would find in a serving of Wheaties – yes the cereal.  In the slide, he shows the “EPA safe drinking water standards for: Barium, Aluminum, Zinc, Magnesium and Iron, and he is trying to make the connection between those metals to what you would find in a regular serving of a bowl of Wheaties.   The second slide, is a picture of cloudy water that most likely came from the Manning’s well, and the slide said “Methane is not a poison” – but it could cause your house to blow up. He also mentioned that arsenic isn’t on the DEP list – even though the US Environmental Protection Agency says water containing arsenic at more than 10 parts per billion is unsafe and a 2012 study by the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory found that “pregnant and/or breast-feeding women who consumed low levels (10 ppb) of arsenic in their drinking water … exhibited significant disruption in their lipid metabolism, leading to diminished nutrients in their blood and in their breast milk.” Underneath these “facts” Engelder inserted into the slide, he attacked an activist journalist who cited that safe drinking levels of methane is at 5-10%, but the water coming from the Manning’s well is at 68% methane – which is not a poison.  On Shale Shock Media, Dorry Hippauf cites the side effects of methane exposure from the National Institute of Health’s website.  The NIH webpage says:

Exposure to low levels of natural gas is not harmful to your health. However, if a gas leak is severe, the amount of oxygen available for breathing could be dramatically reduced, which can lead to asphyxia. Symptoms of asphyxia include:

  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • headache
  • irregular breathing

Exposure to extremely high levels of natural gas can cause loss of consciousness or even death.

As I stated earlier, if you are a major research institution and you are going to have faculty who advocate for an industry – such as the natural gas industry – your institution should lose all accreditation.  The “scientific” work coming out of Penn State University has blurred the lines between advocacy and science.  Just as we are witnessing with global warming deniers, we are watching junk science influence our public policy, and we are only beginning to see the detrimental effects this junk science will reap to our natural environment.  It’s time for those in the scientific community to draw a line in the sand and question the motives behind the individuals authoring and publishing these type of reports.  

Sean Kitchen is an Assistant Editor and Social Media Organizer for Raging Chicken Press. He is student at Kutztown University.

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About Sean Kitchen 681 Articles
Contributor and Assistant Editor for the Raging Chicken Press. Stationed in Harrisburg covering politics in the capitol. You can send tips to or reach me on twitter at @RCPress_Sean!
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3 Comments on Should Penn State Lose Accrediation for Marcellus Shale Advocacy?

  1. Our taxes support that institution, and no matter how many research dollars the gas industry “donates”, it must remain public. I’m all for collaboration among businesses, governments and universities – it’s a powerful triad proven to train a skilled and dynamic workforce, but that’s not what happening at Penn State (nor in any of the Extension programs which travel to smaller state schools) – seems more like indoctrination, with the intent of promoting a singularly pro-gas point of view.

    Of course, thanks to Corbett, Penn State is also able to lease its land for drilling now, too.

  2. Damn right! If the faculty isn’t liberal the institution should lose their cred’s. Down with free speech we don’t agree with!

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