MORGANTOWN - A $10.2 million computer software grant to the Department of Geology and Geography will help West Virginia University train students searching for careers in the energy field.
The grant is provided by Landmark Software & Services, a brand of Houston, Texas-based Halliburton. This company specializes in providing oil and natural gas field services, such as fracking. University officials said they will not allow Halliburton's contributions to influence their policies or research on hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, or other topics.
"(WVU) is not influenced by any political agenda, business priority, funding source or even popular opinion," said Rebecca Herod, director of communications and marketing for the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences in WVU's geology and geography department. "Faculty members at West Virginia University have an obligation and responsibility to conduct research."
Many opponents of fracking point to the so-called "Halliburton Loophole," a provision that exempts fracking from regulation under the federal Clean Water Act. Although fracking is not currently regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the agency said last week that it linked fracking to chemical contamination of some drinking water in Wyoming. EPA leaders now are exploring whether the agency should become more active in regulating fracking.
"It is part of WVU's mission as a land-grant university to gather and analyze data and then contribute this analysis to inform the discussion and understanding around various issues affecting the lives of West Virginians and others around the world," Herod added.
Herod said geology professor Tom Wilson has made it a priority to bring state-of-art computational and analytical software into the hands of his students. He said the grant is critical to the department's energy-related research and teaching missions.
"The retail value of this software is $40 million," he said. "It would be impossible for academia to keep up with the rapid advances in processing and computer-assisted interpretation without industry support. Halliburton's repeated commitment to our research and teaching programs have played a key role in helping us maintain our long-term commitment to students to provide challenging and timely training in the energy sciences."
Wilson said efforts to foster industry involvement in geophysical research and teaching missions extend over the past 25 years.
"The issue of primary importance to us is that our students understand the latest science and technology concepts and are able to put them to immediate use when they enter the work force. We want our students to succeed, to become productive team members from day one," he added.
"Research and development at the university level is a critical component of energy solutions for our country and the world," said Curt M. Peterson, vice president of Research and Economic Development at WVU. "Partnerships like this make sense for WVU and for industry that will hire our well-trained graduates."
Landmark Vice President Gene Minnich underscored the company's commitment to partnership with higher education.
"We are proud of our partnership with West Virginia University and support of their future energy professionals," he said.