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'This American Life' digs into Penn. shale gas boom

Scott Woodham

The so-called "shale gas boom" has been all over the news lately. Since spreading to several places around the country and dramatically increasing the domestic supply of natural gas, some even say it'll end up being the death of Alaska's dream of a big natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to anywhere. But the boom had to start somewhere: Pennsylvania's portion of the Marcellus Shale.

Last weekend, the documentarians who produce the syndicated public radio show "This American Life" for WBEZ in Chicago turned their audience's attention to the discovery, rapid development activity, public health controversy and resulting PR battle at the epicenter of the shale gas boom. The audio report creates a complex picture of the relationship between academia, government and industry as it began playing out in some southeastern Pennsylvania communities that first felt the boom.

Here's the set-up for the three-part report:

A professor in Pennsylvania makes a calculation, to discover that his state is sitting atop a massive reserve of natural gas—enough to revolutionize how America gets its energy. But another professor in Pennsylvania does a different calculation and reaches a troubling conclusion: that getting natural gas out of the ground poses a risk to public health. Two men, two calculations, and two very different consequences.

And what were those consequences? (Spoiler alert) ... Ultimately, the first professor received kudos; the second ended up without a job.