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Carnegie Mellon effort puts shale data online

| Monday, Sept. 24, 2012, 12:17 a.m.
Property at 1954 Perrysville Avenue in the Perry Hilltop neighborhood Thursday September 20, 2012. The house, built and lived in by inventor John Brashear, is up for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The manufactorer of precision optical instruments and telescope lenses was known by many Pittsburghers as'Uncle John.' (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)
Property at 1954 Perrysville Avenue in the Perry Hilltop neighborhood Thursday September 20, 2012. The house, built and lived in by inventor John Brashear, is up for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The manufactorer of precision optical instruments and telescope lenses was known by many Pittsburghers as'Uncle John.' (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)

Faced with a scattered body of research and background information about the booming Marcellus and Utica shale industries, officials and students at Carnegie Mellon University have compiled a searchable “bibliography” of more than 1,000 documents online.

Professor Robert Strauss enlisted a pair of graduate students to compile the database, available at http://rpstrauss.pairserver.com/marcellusshale, over the course of a year. It is searchable by keyword, category, geographic region, source, year or author affiliation, and it includes links such as testimony before legislatures, academic studies, maps compiled by regulators and industry sources, and explanatory materials provided by drilling companies on the hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” process.

“It's for anybody curious about the Marcellus shale exploration. ... I think there should be some legislators and policymakers in Harrisburg who find it informative,” said Strauss, a professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon. “I think it's going to be a useful tool for all kinds of people.”

The database was funded with about $6,000 from the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Association of Boroughs.

“We have 958 member boroughs, and a number of our members are in the 26 or 27 counties where gas drilling is taking place,” said Edward Knittel, the association's senior director of education and sustainability. “They were coming to us with questions about its impacts, and, in many cases, we weren't able to really give them answers.”

In some cases, research that would answer local officials' questions had been done, but it wasn't easy to find or available to the public, Knittel said. Through the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon libraries, Strauss' team dug into databases that most boroughs could not get to and made the information searchable by keyword and category.

Dividing the database into categories shows not only the drilling-related topics with lots of information but also those with a lack of information, Strauss said.

While the bibliography has more than 200 documents in the category of “economic impacts,” for example, just two are in the “crime and drugs” category.

Those gaps in knowledge can point the association to areas where it can sponsor further research, Knittel said. The database includes sources that have a stated pro- or anti-drilling stance, Strauss said, but the team's goal was simply to compile as much information as possible, not to weigh the merits of the reports or take sides.

“You can sort it by source, but we make no judgments about the importance, the objectivity or the scientific accuracy of a particular study,” he said.

Officials could seek additional funding to keep the database up to date as more articles are published.

Knittel said he hasn't heard any reactions yet from borough officials because the database was announced to the public last week. Strauss will demonstrate how to use the browsing and searching functions during the association's annual meeting in October.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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