Hoping to put the power of research into the hands of public officials and others who have wondered about the impact of the Marcellus and Utica shale boom, the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs has created a website that it believes may be the best one-stop source to find real answers to often vexing questions.
Using the skills of a Carnegie Mellon University economics professor, two top librarians at CMU and the University of Pittsburgh and the tireless work of two CMU graduate students, the association funded a $7,000, three-month effort to make it easy for almost anyone to find information from more than 1,200 research articles on shale drilling it found.
The website -- www.andrew.cmu.edu/org/marcellus-biblio/ -- doesn't merely list the 1,200 articles, which is more than double the number of research articles the association's team was able to find on any other website.
Its great asset -- and the larger goal of the project -- was to refine it into subcategories so almost anyone can find research on the shale boom's impact on, for instance, transportation, the environment or housing.
"We just didn't see anything else out there like it that was as comprehensive and easy to use," said Edward Knittel, the association's senior director of education and sustainability. "We wanted our members to be able to search through thousands of records and find what they were looking for."
Terry Engelder, a geologist at Penn State University whose research into the volume of natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale helped spur the boom, took a look at the association's website at a reporter's request and liked what he saw.
"I took the website out for a test drive. It's clearly a work in progress," he said in an email. "I like the hierarchical system but as more links are added, the authors will want to have a nested hierarchy to make the website most useful.
"For example, the health and environmental link has close to 600 records which might benefit from such nesting."
By "nesting" he means creating more subcategories within each main category, something the association has contemplated.
Repeated questions from members about social and infrastructure issues pushed the association last spring to create the website, Mr. Knittel said.
While it wasn't that hard to find pointed studies that answered questions about the environmental or economic impact of the shale boom, when association members would ask what impact it would have on housing, crime or traffic, Mr. Knittel said he too often had to tell them: "I really don't know what the best resource is to answer that."
Mr. Knittel reached out to a trusted friend and researcher, Robert Strauss, professor of economics and public policy at CMU. Mr. Strauss hired two of his graduate students, Anna Kasunic and Collin Siu, to deal with the difficult part of finding the research websites to search and tracking down links to each article, whether they were from peer-reviewed journals or not.
"We didn't want to have a position on what was the best research and wanted the reader to determine on their own whether the source was reliable," Mr. Strauss said.
As a result, not only do peer-reviewed journal research articles show up in abundance, but so does some of the research funded either by the shale industry or by environmental organizations that has not been peer-reviewed.
What they came up with surprised them.
"I was surprised by the wealth of information that was out there," said Ms. Kasunic, who is now working as manager of research at Homewood Children's Village, "but also by the dearth of information on social issues that the association might be interested in like housing, crime and transportation."
Mr. Knittel said he hopes that helps spur researchers to do more studies in those areas.
The website isn't done, of course. Research into shale-related issues is only quickening and the association has already committed another $3,000 to update it further over the next year. It hopes to find a partner to keep updating it into the future.
"We know there will be more studies in the future that will have more bearing on it," Mr. Knittel said. "And our members will have more questions."
Sean D. Hamill: email@example.com or 412-263-2579.