Spin overtaking facts in Marcellus Shale debate

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Other executives have claimed that there’s never been a single reported case of fracking contaminating water supplies.

And DEP Secretary Michael Krancer criticized the Duke researchers for an editorial in which they said they “would like to see shale gas become largely unnecessary” in the future. Krancer said that was evidence of their bias against gas drilling, an opposition that is “not based on science or fact.”

Kathryn Klaber, president of the gas-industry group Marcellus Shale Coalition, said the role of an industry critic in the Duke report “raises a host of questions regarding academic veracity.”

Yet Terry Engelder, a Penn State University geologist who was one of the first to claim there are huge gas reserves in the Marcellus, found the Duke results “neither surprising or new.”

“It could be cherry-picked depending on which camp you come from,” said Engleder, who has degrees from Penn State, Yale and Texas A&M, and has worked with companies such as Saudi Aramaco and Petrobras.

Jackson said he’s disappointed that Pa. DEP officials were “downright hostile” to their paper from the beginning. Duke researchers would like to work with the gas industry and DEP on Marcellus issues, he said.

Engelder said scientists are frustrated by how complex issues get oversimplified.

“So we’re back to this era that often scientific data is boiled down to a punch line that can easily be taken out of context,” he said.

Engelder knows firsthand.

Drilling foes have questioned him for predicting that the Marcellus could contain hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of recoverable gas. But the record shows his comments weren’t that simple.

In early 2008 Engelder and another geologist first estimated that the region contained about 50 trillion feet of recoverable gas. Then, after getting new data from actual wells, they upped that to 363 trillion. But not without a warning.

“Geologists are still trying to size this play,” Engelder said in 2008. “We don’t really know how much gas is there and how much can be recovered.”

There are signs the messy public policy debate is causing people to question Penn State and Duke _ two institutions with distinguished reputations.

Jackson said he found it was beneficial that his team of researchers was from out of state.

“There were many homeowners who were more willing to work with us because we were not from Pennsylvania,” he said.

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