Universities plan study in planned shale drill area

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The Heinz Endowment is funding a $2 million, three-year project involving a consortium of local universities to create a baseline survey of the ecosystems where drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region will occur, the endowment said today.

"The Endowments' grant will fund surveys of wildlife and other data collection that establishes a baseline of ecosystem health," Caren Glotfelty, director of the endowment's environment program, said in a statement. "This will enable more accurate evaluation of changes in conditions when natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale formation moves into full production."

The grant will be given to researchers at Duquesne University, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, who will work together to establish the baseline, collect and analyze the data. Pitt will maintain a public website for the information at www.fractracker.org, and CMU researchers will conduct elemental analysis.

One of the researchers will be John Stolz, director of Duquesne's Center for Environmental Research and Education. With an $87,000 grant he will lead a team studying the Tenmile Creek watershed in Washington County, studying microbes, salamanders and fish. Other teams will study other areas that have yet to be drilled, but are likely to be in the future.

Ultimately, Dr. Stolz said, the study is aimed at answering basic questions: "Will there be an impact if it is drilled? If so, what is that impact?"

Sean Hamill: shamill@post-gazette.com


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