Looking for Summer 2014 Interns

Hard to believe, but I am already looking for Summer 2014 Interns! I have posted multiple positions through the University of Alberta Research Experience program.

For international students, the application deadline is October 31, 2013. The internships run from approximately May 1, 2014 to August 30, 2014. Total compensation for the summer is $5,000. Undergraduate students from the following partner institutions are eligible:

  • Brazil: UNICAMP, Universidade de São Paulo, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
  • China: Fudan Univeristy, Tsinghua Univeristy, Zhejiang University, East China Normal University (ECNU), Sichuan University, Huazhong University of Science and Technology
  • Germany: Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich, Technical University of Munich
  • Korea: Seoul National University
  • India: IIT Bombay, IIT Kharagpur, University of Hyderabad
  • Mexico: ITESM-Campus Guadalajara
  • Oceania: University of Western Australia, Auckland University
  • USA: Penn State, University of Wisconsin, University of Texas Austin

For Canadian students, the application deadline is December 31, 2013. The internships run from approximately May 1, 2014 to August 30, 2014. Total compensation for the summer is $6,000.

If you are interested, please apply to my postings — IDs 319, 320 and 321 — through the UARE website.

Penn State No. 1 in Management Research Citations

From 2005 to 2009, research by faculty members in the Department of Management and Organization at the Penn State Smeal College of Business was cited at a higher rate than that of any other management faculty in the country, according to data from Thomson Reuters. The business research firm calculated the number of citations management research papers have received in management journals over the five-year period, and Penn State topped the list with an average of 6.45 citations per paper. Read the full story on Penn State Live.

Pennsylvania Green Energy

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership released the top 50 purchasers of green energy in the country. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is #5 on the list. The state’s annual purchases totaled 500 million green kilowatt hours, equivalent to 50% of total power consumption. Also in the top 50 from Pennsylvania are several universities, including:

  • University of Pennsylvania (#19; 202 million KWh; 48% of electricity consumption)
  • Carnegie Mellon University (#44; 87 million KWh; 75% of electricity consumption); and
  • Pennsylvania State University (#46; 84 million KWh; 20% of electricity consumption).

Out of curiosity, I translated these figures into KWh per student:

Obviously, these are wide ranges and should be interpreted with care. Students are only one source of electricity demand on a college campus.  Moreover, it is not clear whether the figures for Penn State on the EPA website are for just the University Park campus, or for all the Commonwealth Campuses (out of convenience I have assumed the latter). If instead, these figures are for University Park only, then PSU’s electricity consumption for this campus only would jump to 9,493 KWh per student. Additionally, the Penn State University Park campus steam plant consumes about 7,500 tons of coal per year, and produces about 20,000 MWh per year, or 7% of the campus’s electricity demand, as well as about 175 tons of steam per hour, which is used for heating campus buildings. To make an apples to apples comparison, this would also need to be factored in to the calculations.

Marcellus Drilling Visualized

Today the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research posted a series of animated visuals based on data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. For example, the number of permits issued has climbed from 99 in 2007, to 519 in 2008, to 1,985 in 2009, to 2,108 through the first 8 months of 2010 — a total of 4,711 permits.

Based on data released by Range Resources on the chemical cocktail used, as well as data from Chesapeake Energy on the 5.6 million gallons of water used during drilling and fracking, I estimate that some 30,000 pounds of hazardous and/or toxic chemicals are required per well.  Others have put the quantity at 80,000 pounds. At this point, given the general lack of regulation and disclosure, there is necessarily some uncertainty in the estimates. Nonetheless, even using my lower estimate, these permitted wells are likely to result in the injection of something like 141 million pounds of hazardous and/or toxic chemicals into the ground. It is believed that somewhere between 50% and 85% of these chemicals never come back out again, but instead remain in the ground. It is a matter of some controversy as to whether they might effect the water table. Having just seen GASLAND on Sunday night, it strains the limits of credibility to assert that such contamination of water never happens.

Of course, at the present time, all of the above is entirely legal. But even considering the lax regulatory environment, the industry has managed to rack up plenty of violations. In the last 2-1/2 years, Marcellus Well drillers were cited for more than 1,600 violations, a rate of more than 1.5 per day.

Graham Spanier, Gasland and the FRAC Act

Last night I went to see GASLAND at the State Theatre (movie trailer below). As I was headed in for the 9:30pm showing, Penn State President Graham Spanier was headed out from the 7:00pm showing. I bring this up primarily in the interest of turning what is otherwise a bit of trivia into possible common knowledge. Now, we all know, that we all know, that President Spanier has seen the movie and therefore has some responsibility — as do the rest of us — for responding to the issues and challenges it raises. Knowledge is like that. Once you know something, you cannot go back.

The movie is excellent — provocative, heart wrenching, inspiring. And I heartily recommend that anyone living in the NY/NJ/PA watershed see the film. The film starts innocently enough. One day Josh Fox, the film’s director, gets a contract in the mail, offering him some $100,000 for the mineral rights to his 19 acres of property in Northeastern Pennsylvania. He wonders what exactly is involved in drilling for natural gas and so he sets off to Dimock, where a number of wells had recently been completed. From there his journey takes him all across America — West Virginia, New York, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, etc.

Along the way he discovers that drilling leaves behind a wake of water and health problems. Some of the most poignant moments in the movie are scenes in which tap water is set on fire and others where water turned into plastic when heated because of the glycol ethers that have contaminated it.

If Gasland has a primary message it is that we need to repeal the “Haliburton Loophole” in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT 05). This loophole effectively exempted natural gas drilling from the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Superfund Act. In the Q&A session afterwards, Josh Fox stressed that it is only because of these four exemptions that hydraulic fracturing is economically viable. Reinstate these regulations and there is a good chance “fracking” will go away, or at least be reigned in significantly.

The first step in this direction is the so-called FRAC Act (H.R. 2766: Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act; S. 1215: Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act), which aims to repel the exemptions from the Safe Drinking Water Act. But of course, that still leaves fracking exempt from the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Superfund Act.

In addition to these obvious fixes, I found myself wondering why so few people seem to have made a connection between drilling and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). Of course at the federal level, fracking is exempt — because it is not among the industries regulated by the act. However, considering that natural gas wells use between 30,000 and 80,000 pounds of hazardous and/or toxic chemicals (based on the best estimates I can find), it seems that communities have the right to know this information. It would be easy for one of our congressional leaders to author legislation extending the EPCRA to cover oil and natural gas industries.

But even without such an extension, as best I can tell, natural gas drilling is NOT exempt from the Pennsylvania Worker and Community Right to Know Act (Act 159 of 1984). And considering the quantities of chemicals used, is probably also liable for reporting under the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard and the Pennsylvania Hazardous Material Emergency Planning and Response Act (Act 165 of 1990). And even though the Department of Environmental Protection claims the industry is bound by the Right to Know Act, I was unable to find satisfactory information on this issue. In fact, it appears they are not complying with this regulation.

So, today I contacted Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor & Industry and filed a formal request for clarification on their interpretation of this matter. I also contacted several attorneys asking for their interpretation of whether these statutes might hold jurisdiction over the use of chemicals by natural gas drillers in Pennsylvania. Of course, it is entirely possible I have missed a loophole somewhere. Stay tuned…

College Sustainability Report Cards

One trend I’ve been paying attention to lately is the growing tendency for organizations to provide an account of their sustainability. In fact, thousands of companies now voluntarily report on environmental, social and governance issues (ESG). Of course, some organizations prefer not to be so transparent, either on principle, or because they’d rather keep their dirty laundry private. But in those cases where organizations are unwilling to voluntarily offer their own sustainability accounts, detailed ratings and evaluations are increasingly available through ASSET4, Goldman Sachs SUSTAIN, KLD and others. And in August 2009, Bloomberg’s 250,000 customers gained access to ESG data on more than 3,000 public companies at no extra charge.

Synthesizing these trends has led me to postulate what might be termed the “inevitable sustainability accounts” thesis. Love them or hate them, whether by choice or compulsion, over the past 10 years or so sustainability accounts have become a virtual requirement for large, complex organizations.

With that general thesis in mind, I was intrigued by news of the 2010 College Sustainability Report Card . In much the same way KLD rates some 4,000+ global public companies across more than 200 sustainability indicators, the Sustainability Report Card graded the sustainability efforts of more than 300 public and private colleges and universities with the largest endowments, from Harvard University ($26 billion endowment) to West Los Angeles College ($0 endowment). In other words, my “inevitable sustainability accounts” thesis seems to not only cover the realm of public companies, but also the realm of another sector of large, complex organizations: higher eduction.

Grades were determined by assessing performance across 43 indicators in nine main categories, including:

  1. Administration
  2. Climate Change & Energy
  3. Food & Recycling
  4. Green Building
  5. Student Involvement
  6. Transportation
  7. Endowment Transparency
  8. Investment Priorities
  9. Shareholder Engagement

Among the 332 schools evaluated this year, 8% of schools earned cumulative “A” level grades, 45% earned “B” level grades, 34% earned “C” level grades, and 13% earned “D” level grades.

Of local interest, Penn State received a B grade as announced on the PSIEE website. A detailed summary is available at GreenReportCard.org. As a point of comparison, Cornell University, my undergraduate Alma Mater, also received a B grade. However, while a B grade put Penn State in the top half of the Big 10 conference, a B grade left Cornell in the bottom third of the Ivy League conference.

Given these apparent systematic differences between the two conferences, an interesting exercise might be to think about possible explanations for “grade” variations across the larger sample. In short, can we “predict” the grades these colleges received? And if so, on what basis? Just off the top of my head: location (blue state v. red state, urban v. rural, single campus v. multi-campus), average SAT scores, admission selectivity rates, endowment size, state funding, research grants, governance structure (centralized, decentralized, federated, etc), athletic program revenue, responsiveness to ESG past issues (e.g., recycling, South African investments, sweat shop labor, etc), characteristics of the top management team (“TMT”; e.g., age, gender, educational and functional background, level of discretion, etc), values of the TMT (egoistic, altruistic, biospheric, etc.), participation in the UN Global Compact.

Although this might seem like a relatively undisciplined list, behind each factor are theoretical reasons why variations might play a contributing role in explaining a college’s sustainability grade. No doubt reasonable people could come up with even more possible explanations if they spent more than 5 minutes thinking about it.

What factors would you use to predict grades? Add a comment or send me an email with your ideas.