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Marcellus Seed Grant Program: Investigating the Human/Societal Impacts and Environmental Issues Related to Marcellus Shale Development

Research on the human/societal impacts and environmental topics is underway by six interdisciplinary teams of Penn State researchers through a seed grant program sponsored by the Social Science Research Institute (SSRI) and Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment (PSIEE) in conjunction with the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research.

This seed grant opportunity drew a large pool of innovative proposals from researchers across colleges with a broad range of topics. One expectation from the projects is that the teams will leverage their efforts toward subsequent proposal submission to external funding agencies such as NSF, NIH and private foundations. Information on the selected seed grants is below.

  • Assessing Landscape Change due to Marcellus Shale Drilling Operations and Devising Landscape Remediation Strategies to Minimize Site Impacts
    PIs: Margaret Brittingham (Forest Resources) and Patrick Drohan (Crop and Soil Sciences)
    This project will assess micro and macro landscape disturbance from Marcellus shale drilling across the northern tier of Pennsylvania, which has some of the most intact, forested patches in the Appalachians and hosts numerous interior-forest flora and fauna species. The research team will use pre- and post-gas monitoring on public and private lands to assess the extent of landscape fragmentation, changes in avian communities, soil and hydrologic disturbance, and invasive species abundance. Research results will be used to develop guidelines for well pad siting and implementation of pad remediation practices post-drilling that will be made available to state regulatory agencies and the public.
  • Environmental and Psychosocial Risk Regulators of Stress in Time and Context
    PIs: Brian Orland (Arts and Architecture) and Martin Sliwinski (Health and Human Development)
    Are the environmental and social changes resulting from the development of the Marcellus shale impacting the physical and mental health of residents, and if so, how? The research team will measure features of the natural and built environment, health risk-related behaviors, emotional distress and stressor exposure in residents in three counties with high Marcellus activity and in three counties where exploration and drilling is expected but has not yet occurred. Research results will guide development of effective approaches to community health promotion and disease prevention.
  • Implications of Marcellus Shale Development for the Well-Being of Resident Parents and Children: Community, Natural Environment, and Family Pathways
    PI: Diane McLaughlin (Rural Sociology)
    Marcellus Shale development will incur changes across a broad spectrum ranging from increased family income and new employment options on one side, to impacts on the environment, economic inequality, lower community cohesion, and greater strain on family relationships. This project will refine and begin to test a model of how three interrelated domains—community, natural environment, and family—influence child and parent well-being. Research results will inform communities and governments about residents' experiences, concerns and needs and lay the groundwork for launching a large, longitudinal study of the effects of Marcellus Shale Development on child and parent well-being.
  • The Impact of Marcellus Gas Development on the Rural Transportation Infrastructure
    PI: Barry Scheetz (Civil Engineering)
    Extraction activities in the Marcellus shale region are placing unprecedented demands upon local roads systems that were not designed for the magnitude of drilling-related traffic and upon local municipalities responsible for maintaining roads. The research team has chosen Bradford County as the study area because of the high level of drilling activity and is scheduling a "rural roads summit" with invited participants from the local communities, gas companies and regional regulatory agencies to identify critical issues specific to the county. This study will result in the development of a methodology to establish the direct and indirect effects of gas extraction activities on improved and unimproved roads, secondary road bridges, travel safety, changes in real estate and property values, and the impact on the physical and aesthetic preservation of communities’ historic resources.
  • Fiscal and Community Impacts from Marcellus Shale Gas Development in Susquehanna and Washington Counties
    PI: Michael Jacobson (Forest Resources)
    Well-designed taxes and fees can play a key role in ensuring that efforts aimed at economic development and revenue generation are balanced with those aimed at community well-being, environmental safeguards and social stability. This study will examine the role of potential revenue from a gas severance tax and other fees on two counties—Susquehanna and Washington—currently experiencing the most extensive Marcellus drilling activity. Alternative tax structures used in other major gas producing states also will be researched. The research team will use the results from this pilot study to propose a larger project that examines data from potential future gas production and community impacts across the Commonwealth.
    Read the final report, "Impacts of Marcellus Shale Development on Municipal Governments in Susquehanna and Washington Counties, 2010."< br /> Q&A with Michael Jacobson on "Impacts of Marcellus Shale Development on Municipal Governments in Susquehanna and Washington Counties, 2010."
  • Assessing School Responses to Changing Workforce and Community Conditions in Pennsylvania in the Context of Marcellus Shale Development
    PI: Kai Schafft (Education)
    Marcellus development will fundamentally change social, economic and environmental conditions across much of Pennsylvania, and predominantly in rural areas that in recent decades have lagged economically and provided few opportunities for young people entering the labor force. Public secondary schools and Career and Technology Centers (CTCs) represent a critical means of enabling Pennsylvania’s youth to maximize their ability to take advantage of new economic opportunities in their home communities. The research team will gather data on what local educational stakeholders identify as the greatest opportunities and greatest challenges for schools and communities across the Marcellus region related to community impacts and workforce development.

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