GSPIA Launches Shale Gas Governance Center

Issue Date: 
March 14, 2016

The University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) has launched a Shale Gas Governance Center to promote research, teaching, and outreach on the governance and public policy issues surrounding the natural gas industry. The center is intended to complement Pitt’s Center for Energy, administered by the Swanson School of Engineering, by coordinating and publicizing the work of social scientists on this key issue area.

The Shale Gas Governance Center, which will be housed in Posvar Hall, will coordinate and publicize the work of an interdisciplinary team of experts on shale gas governance developments locally, nationally, and globally. Six GSPIA faculty are currently engaged in research on shale gas governance, including two economists, three political scientists, and one urban planning specialist.

“The creation of the Shale Gas Governance Center was inspired by the fact that the GSPIA faculty now includes one of the largest interdisciplinary concentrations of social scientists in the United States engaged in teaching and/or research on shale gas governance issues,” said GSPIA Dean and Professor John Keeler, who will serve as center director for the first year.

Shale rock formations containing rich stores of natural gas exist all over the world, but the Marcellus Shale formation, which stretches through much of Western Pennsylvania (along with parts of upstate New York, most of West Virginia, and a small part of Ohio), is one of the first in the world to have been successfully “tapped” for natural gas. The development of the “unconventional gas” industry has been a boon for American energy companies over the past decade, but the growth has not been without controversy. 

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” combined with horizontal drilling, is the only technique currently available for extracting pockets of natural gas from fissures in prehistoric shale rock that is buried thousands of feet beneath the Earth’s surface. The process raises multifaceted environmental and public health concerns.  In addition, government officials often face intense public opposition from both environmentalists and residents in areas where fracking is being considered. Municipalities also must balance the desire to attract gas industry investors with the need to raise revenue through taxes and fees on gas production. 

The Shale Gas Governance Center is well poised to address these public policy questions through its comprehensive, interdisciplinary body of research.

“Our team includes experts on developments in Pennsylvania and other states in the U.S., but also in countries abroad where the development of shale gas is now being debated,” Keeler explained. This expertise includes research on the shale gas debate in France (which became in 2011 the first country to ban fracking), the United Kingdom, Africa, central Asia, and China, which is reputed to have the world’s largest shale-gas reserves.