Leadership Team

Penn State Team

The Penn State team is leading the effort for database development for waters from the central and eastern parts of PA and the Devonian shale gas region. The team will work closely with a professor at Lock Haven University, M. Khalequzzaman, who is already sampling rivers in central PA near Lock Haven.

The Director of the Shale Network is Susan Brantley, an aqueous geochemist and Director of Penn State’s Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI). Brantley has more than 25 years of research experience and 10 years experience in administration of research and education teams. Brantley is responsible for coordinating and supervising all activities of the Shale Network, including the running of the annual workshops, and supervision of all Penn State personnel working on the ShaleNetwork. In this endeavor she is aided by EESI staff assistant Debbie Lambert. Lambert is the main staff coordinator for the annual workshop. Data specialists Matt Gonzales and Jennifer Williams are working with Brantley to input data into the database.

David Yoxtheimer, an outreach specialist for the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (a center within EESI) and a PSU-trained hydrogeologist, is helping to identify and communicate with water sampling groups throughout the state. Yoxtheimer also works with graduate student Paul Grieve as well as faculty from Pitt, PSU, and Dickinson to maintain QA/QC activities to improve the chemical data that are stored in the database. Yoxtheimer participates as part of his job in the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Education in more than 200 outreach activities per year working with PA citizens to understand Marcellus impacts.  

In addition, Yoxtheimer works closely with the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), an organization committed to the responsible development of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale geological formation and the enhancement of the region’s economy related to this energy source.  The members of the coalition, which include most of the energy companies developing shale gas in both Pennsylvania and surrounding states, work with partners across the region to address issues with regulators, local, county, state and federal government officials and communities about all aspects of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. This contact is keeping communication open with industry stakeholders and will facilitate possible future use of proprietary industry data. Conversations about proprietary data sources are already ongoing.

Dr. Greg O'Toole is a faculty member and Web technology expert at Penn State (IST, EESI), and is the ShaleNetwork HCI engineer for online networking and environmental data-sharing web applications. Greg is a Lecturer in the College of Information Science & Technology at Penn State. Greg runs the scientific content management system czen.org, a clearinghouse for research and researchers on soils and water, and he is building and managing the scientific content management system for the ShaleNetwork (shalenetwork.org). 

Kathy Brasier, co-Investigator and Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology at Penn State, works within the Shale Network team to investigate the sociological impacts of the Marcellus gas play. She is leading a research program that tracks social change resulting from Marcellus Shale development. She is teaching the ShaleNetwork team about the interplay between the sociological and hydrological data.  Brasier is working to compare hydrogeochemical data to her data concerning rural populations in PA.  For example, GIS will be used to compare water data to population and economic data and watershed association participation data to map out the social and economic context of the data collection efforts.  Census data will provide population characteristics of communities involved in sampling, providing some information about background processes such as population and housing change that could affect water quantity and quality.

Jennifer Williams, Penn State researcher, works in data organization for Shale Network and also works to lead the Teen Shale Network. Teen Shale Network is an effort to help teenagers from State College Area High school and a few other high schools in the northeast to sample and analyze water quality data in the area of shale gas development.


Pitt Team

Pitt is facilitating identification and communication with water sampling groups in the western part of PA and the Devonian shale gas region and will host one of the annual ShaleNetwork meetings. Environmental engineer and co-Investigator Jorge D. Abad is supervising Pitt graduate student, Cesar Simon. Specific questions of interest to the Pitt team include the following:

How do the flow hydrodynamics modulate the mixing processes of contaminants throughout the streams and are they important for developing appropriate protocols for water chemistry sampling? Are the above protocols similar for small streams (e.g. Fonner Run and Bates Fork) and large river systems (e.g. Monongahela River)? What are temporal and spatial scales for the mixing processes for different contaminant species? What relationships can be observed between hydrogeochemical and hydrological observations and locations of Marcellus shale extraction points as well as population density or land use characteristics?

Pitt graduate students Sina Arjmand and Cesar Simon are pursuing PhD projects focused on the question: How can statewide water flow and chemistry data be used to promote understanding of environmental and social impacts of the shale gas industry in western Pennsylvania?  With this effort, the Pitt team is studying the effects of diverse mixing processes in streams such as Dunkard Creek, a tributary that runs into the Monongahela River. Even though the mixing processes and the prediction of fate and transport of contaminants throughout streams may be governed by local conditions, the Pitt team is attempting to characterize the dominant temporal and spatial scales of these effects. Specifically, the team is developing more sophisticated predictive tools to delineate the importance of the coupling between flow and water chemistry. Pitt graduate student Yue Han is developing a characterization of critical watersheds and streams where most likely pollutants might be found if a spill occurs. Currently, the methodology is being applied for the entire PA state, but it could be easily adapted to any other shale play.

ShaleNetwork Steering Committee member, Radisav Vidic (Environmental Engineering program in Pitt CEE with specialties in water quality, pollutant transformation, transport and water treatment), has worked since 2007 on Marcellus water quality problems.  Vidic works closely with the entire ShaleNetwork team in all aspects of management of the ShaleNetwork.


Dickinson Team

Dickinson College is the host for ALLARM, the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring, an organization to promote the involvement of community watershed groups in surface water sampling. Since its founding in 1986, ALLARM has successfully trained and engaged volunteer monitors to investigate and answer questions about the myriad of issues facing PA’s water quality. ALLARM’s philosophy is centered around bottom-up engagement and capacity building through involvement of Pennsylvania communities in every step of the scientific process, including defining the research agenda, designing the study, collecting and analyzing data, managing and interpreting the data, and bringing the data to the public for appropriate action.

In 2010, ALLARM researched and developed a volunteer-based Marcellus Monitoring protocol. ALLARM has taken a leadership role coordinating a network of seven service providers throughout the Marcellus Region to disseminate training resources to community volunteers. Over 700 volunteers have already been trained. Additionally ALLARM has worked with PA Department of Environmental Protection, Environmental Protection Agency Region 3, Susquehanna River Basin Commission, and the National Water Quality Monitoring Council to raise the profile of and the importance of volunteer-based data collection in the Marcellus region to complement and inform agency data collection.

ALLARM’s role within the ShaleNetwrok includes the provision of opportunities for volunteer data to be transferred to the database, development of QC/QA metadata, and identification and coordination with participants from community volunteer groups to attend the workshops. ALLARM is a model for college-community partnerships and as a result can also provide training and pedagogical materials for the workshops. ALLARM will also host one of the Annual meetings of the ShaleNetwork.



Rick Hooper, Director of the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Sciences, Inc. (CUAHSI), an NSF-funded organization of academic hydrologists, is responsible for all technical aspects of the water database development and coordination with the CUAHSI-developed Hydrologic Information System. CUAHSI is providing training for ShaleNetwork personnel. CUAHSI is hosting a Hydroserver for the ShaleNetwork database. In addition, CUAHSI is assisting to adapt the HydroDesktop client for use by the ShaleNetwork team, shale gas play scientists, and citizen scientists. CUAHSI will also be providing training at the annual meetings on data access and analysis. CUAHSI will also be providing training at the annual meetings on data access and analysis. Jon Pollak, database support specialist at CUAHSI, works closely to train Penn State and Pitt personnel to input data into the HIS system.

In addition, CUAHSI has been developing outreach materials for citizens on hydraulic fracturing of shales through a grant from the Johnson Family Foundation. For example, CUAHSI will be holding two “Let’s Talk about Water” events during the 2011-2012 academic year that will feature Gasland, an advocacy documentary about fracking. The purpose of these events is to provide objective scientific information about groundwater and gas extraction processes to empower the audience to evaluate information provided by both sides of the debate on fracking as well as to evaluate aspects of the movie itself.