A Century of Cooperation: WVU Extension empowers West Virginians through education about state's natural resources
Eds Note: This is one of a series of stories highlighting the programs of the WVU Extension Service in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act creating the Cooperative Extension Service. WVU, which is leading the way in creating a modern Extension Service, is sponsoring a two-day symposium Sept. 24-25 entitled Century Beyond the Campus: Past, Present, and Future of Extension.
Many aspects of West Virginia help to make it “wild and wonderful.” The state’s mountainous terrain, winding rivers and lush forests are a point of pride for citizens and a destination for tourists.
Beneath the surface of the state’s natural beauty is one of the largest Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits on the east coast. And while the shale gas and oil drilling industry provides important jobs and revenue to families and communities, the rapid growth also has come with questions and a need for reliable information.
“The growth and development of the Marcellus Shale in West Virginia creates both opportunities and challenges for public and private landowners, local communities, and local and state governments,” said Jennifer Williams, program director of the West Virginia University Extension Service Agriculture and Natural Resources unit.
“About eight years ago, our local county WVU Extension offices started getting calls and questions related to drilling – about land and mineral rights, and about environmental impacts,” she said. “We realized we needed to do our homework and provide a coordinated effort to address citizens’ needs. We also needed to be sure we had reliable, research-based information to provide to those who were coming to us for help.”
"The growth and development of the Marcellus Shale in West Virginia creates both opportunities and challenges for public and private landowners, local communities, and local and state governments," said Jennifer Williams, program director of the West Virginia University Extension Service Agriculture and Natural Resources unit.
Williams helped to create a team to develop educational programming about natural gas exploration. The interdisciplinary Oil and Natural Gas Education Program team includes WVU Extension county agents, WVU geologists and water quality experts, legal experts, and representatives from industry, community and environmental groups.
“WVU Extension has the resources and responsibility – as part of WVU and its land-grant mission – to keep citizens informed and educated by providing unbiased, factual information. This is our tradition, our mission and our practice,” she said.
The Oil and Natural Gas Education programs are one example of a 21st Century Extension Service that fulfills the vision of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 which established the U.S. Cooperative Extension System, a partnership of the Department of Agriculture, land-grant colleges, and state and local governments.
WVU is celebrating the Act’s centennial, and with a two-day symposium Sept. 24-25, entitled Century Beyond the Campus: Past, Present, and Future of Extension. The symposium highlights not only how WVU has structured modern Extension service, but how Extension extends educational, social and economic benefits of higher education beyond the campus and into communities across the state.
WVU Extension Service’s Oil and Natural Gas Education Program team reviewed known needs and set out to develop a series of educational programs, open to the public, in several communities in the state. These information sessions are presented as part of a $125,000 grant from Chesapeake Energy, EQT and Dominion Hope.
"The WVU Extension Oil and Natural Gas Program is unique because it is designed specifically for the citizens of West Virginia," said Georgette Plaugher, WVU Extension Service Oil and Natural Gas Education Program coordinator. "The audiences at our forums have been so diverse – farmers, community leaders, teachers, landowners, business people. As a neutral entity, WVU Extension Service is able to provide fair and balanced information from reliable and trusted sources."
“Grant money from energy companies is used to directly fund expenses for our workshops and conferences, while the research and funding to pay our faculty comes from the University,” said Georgette Plaugher, WVU Extension Service Oil and Natural Gas Education Program coordinator.
The first series of educational programs was held in the fall of 2010 in eight locations throughout West Virginia, and focused on the fundamentals of natural gas leasing and exploration. More than 600 people attended.
The educational programs have helped WVU Extension Service to continue to present current information and respond to emerging issues and questions. In four years, the group has hosted more than 30 programs, as well as three statewide conferences.
“The WVU Extension Oil and Natural Gas Program is unique because it is designed specifically for the citizens of West Virginia,” said Plaugher. “The audiences at our forums have been so diverse – farmers, community leaders, teachers, landowners, business people. As a neutral entity, WVU Extension Service is able to provide fair and balanced information from reliable and trusted sources.”
Some of the topics that the information sessions address include natural gas leases for landowners; understanding the renegotiation and renewal process of natural gas leases; farming over the Marcellus Shale; and safety on natural gas well sites.
“These sessions provide West Virginians with information and questions to ask to understand the details of the lease and how it will affect them when it comes time to sign or renew a contract,” said Plaugher.
Recent information sessions have included a look at oil and gas risks, regulations, environmental impact and the associated laws. Session topics are continuously evolving and being updated to keep up with the needs of West Virginians and new developments in the industry.
“Wealth management is an emerging topic for landowners,” said Plaugher. “Some of them experience an exponential increase in household income – within weeks – after signing a natural gas extraction lease. They have questions and we help to provide the answers.”
WVU Extension collaborates with various individuals and organizations from across the country to ensure that information presented to West Virginians is both fact-based and unbiased.
One way of keeping current with oil and gas issues involved a field trip to North Dakota. WVU Extension’s oil and natural gas faculty joined with the WVU College of Law and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to visit and learn from faculty studying North Dakota’s Bakken Shale region, an area very similar to the Marcellus Shale expanse.
The team learned about the impacts of the Bakken Shale region and its effect on North Dakotans from state and local officials, and private businesses. More importantly, team members say they learned that while the state’s landscape might be very different from West Virginia, many other characteristics are the same, including the influence of natural resource extraction and use on the economy, environment, landowners and health.
“Some of the most significant changes that come with natural resource extraction in a region are economic-related,” said Joshua Fershee, WVU College of Law professor.
“The Bakken oil boom has brought rapid growth and changes to the area of western North Dakota, from the increased cost of groceries and shortage of housing, to roadway and infrastructure challenges, similar to, but more severe than, what we face in West Virginia,” he said.
With rapid growth and changes, come questions, and WVU Extension Service steps in to provide facts and information to West Virginians facing the same issues.
Being a part of the larger, national Cooperative Extension community allows WVU Extension faculty to connect broadly, therefore strengthening its research, impact and understanding of how oil and gas can affect the state on multiple levels.
“I think WVU Extension has a unique partnership with the people we serve in West Virginia,” said Williams. “Our citizens count on us to help them find answers to questions and solutions to everyday issues. Our organization is traditional in many ways, yet we continue to thrive because of our progressive and timely response to citizens’ needs.”
From the stewardship and management of natural resources, to farming “best practices” and connecting our state’s youths to higher education through programs like 4-H, Extension has worked, and continues to work for West Virginians for 100 years and counting.
By Brian Gallaher
WVU Extension Service
CONTACT: Cassie Thomas; WVU Extension Service
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