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Spanier: Penn State Weighing New Center for Natural Gas Engineering

on May 13, 2011 1:21 PM

Penn State is tentatively aiming to create a new Center for Natural Gas Engineering, one that would "strengthen our capabilities to support the development of the Marcellus Shale," university President Graham Spanier announced Friday morning.

"We want to make certain that the university is well-positioned to respond to future opportunities by leveraging our strengths to grow the commonwealth's economy and meet the nation's energy needs," Spanier said in a university trustees meeting.

He said key administrators and academic leaders are weighing organizational changes "to better highlight our science and engineering capabilities within a more visible energy institute."

Interviewed later, Provost Rodney Erickson said the overall vision is to assist faculty members in focusing on the subject -- and to bring in "a few key faculty members" in the field, as well. He is hopeful that the university may be able to reallocate some faculty vacancies from elsewhere in the Penn State system to create the new faculty positions, he said.

The center would be a university initiative with administrative backing and close involvement from multiple colleges and their respective faculties, Erickson said. He anticipates that money for the center would come from the affiliated faculty members' own research efforts; they're funded through a variety of government, foundation, industry and other sources.

"This is obviously a very hot area," Erickson said. "We have lot of resources to bring to the table. We believe we can help develop the industry in Pennsylvania and also help provide analysis of environmental issues."

University leaders have talked for several years about the idea of a stand-alone energy institute at Penn State, but the explosive growth in the natural-gas industry has helped accelerate those those conversations, he said.

Right now, the university's faculty experts in natural-gas-related fields are spread across multiple academic entities, from the College of Agricultural Sciences to the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and elsewhere.

Penn State has not set a timeline for a potential natural-gas academic center, but any efforts to establish one are likely to last a number of months and will include significant, integral faculty involvement, Erickson said.

Meeting at the Nittany Lion Inn on Friday, the trustees have taken a break for lunch but are scheduled to reconvene at 1:30 p.m.

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