Shale Gas Roundtable proposes independent research fund similar to auto industry's

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The auto industry has a thing or two to teach the shale world about health research.

For the past 33 years, car makers, oil companies and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been splitting the cost of air quality research at the Boston-based Health Effects Institute. Its research priorities are set by independent scientists, the money -- about $12 million annually -- is doled out to researchers and the peer-reviewed findings are used by decision makers when crafting public policy for the auto industry.

Now, a group of local energy companies, government officials and university and foundation leaders are planning to use the Boston model to organize shale research in the Marcellus.

Jared Cohon, former president of Carnegie Mellon University, is spearheading the effort. For more than a year, he's been exploring the idea as co-chair of the Shale Gas Roundtable, a group of 34 members brought together by the University of Pittsburgh's Institute of Politics.

On Wednesday, the group released its recommendations for shale gas development in the Marcellus region, which included the establishment of an independent research fund that focuses on environmental impacts.

The roundtable found that scientific research on the impacts of shale development is scant, and where it exists, it lives under a suspicion based on who funded the work.

Mr. Cohon, working with leaders from Chevron, The Pittsburgh Foundation, RK Mellon Foundation and others, will begin to identify funding sources to establish the shale research institute and, at the same time, pick a panel of scientists to craft an agenda for what the center would tackle.

The local foundations are an obvious funding target, Mr. Cohon said, "but if it's going to be successful in the long run, it has to have support of the major sectors -- the industry and the government."

Daniel Greenbaum, president of Health Effects Institute, which has been advising the roundtable and will continue to work with its members on this, said he expects the effort to take 15 months at a minimum.

At Carnegie Mellon, Deborah Stine is fighting a similar battle, but on a national scale. Ms. Stine, a professor at the Institute for Energy Innovation, has been talking with federal government officials for months about funding shale research.

Her vision involves having regional centers of research -- perhaps one for the Marcellus, another for the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, yet another for the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas -- where the federal government and industry fund research that's coordinated and prioritized to answer the most pressing public policy questions.

"In the end you want the research to be credible," Ms. Stine said. "The way to do that is by creating a firewall between funding of the research and its implementation."

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Anya Litvak: or 412-263-1455.


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