Penn State has an extension service that educates communities about gas exploration. It also has the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research.
The community education programs are funded with public dollars, said Michael Arthur, co-director of the center.
"A number of people here do research which is funded by industry, but that money is not going to our outreach," Arthur said.
Arthur added that "the WVU group has a great reputation."
"If the state isn't forthcoming" with funding, he said, "where are they going to get their money?"
Some people who attended the forums in West Virginia said the sessions were informative, but felt they did not touch on all the aspects of Marcellus drilling.
Fayette County resident Jennifer Boyd, a physician assistant, said she was surprised to see a Merrill Lynch representative there.
"It was presented as informational, and as soon as you walked in the door, you were handed a folder with information from Merrill Lynch about managing your wealth by leasing your land [for gas drilling]," she said.
The packet from the financial firm contains materials titled "Managing Your New Wealth" and "What if you were suddenly wealthy?" as well as a business card for a Merrill Lynch advisor.
Berry of the Extension Service said the programs allow organizations, including the Sierra Club, to distribute literature at the forums.
Phil Raney, a retired NASA scientist and engineering professor, said he thought the program provided good information, but glossed over the risks of natural-gas drilling.
"There certainly was nobody there representing any kind of citizens' interest," the Oak Hill resident said. "Some interests are going to make really big bucks out of [Marcellus drilling]. And the only mention of regulations or safeguards, environmental or otherwise, that I heard from anybody...was, 'Trust us.'"
Spokesmen for Dominion and EQT said that the companies contributed the money because they wanted to help communities understand the issues involved in Marcellus development.
Chesapeake Vice President Scott Rotruck said his company also has given $750,000 to WVU's law school, petroleum engineering and geology programs. Most of that money is for scholarships.
"Everybody was told to not in any way try to influence" any of the programs, including the community outreach forums, said Rotruck, who used to work for WVU. "The public really wants to learn, and the university is a third party that they can turn to for expertise."
The gas-company funding has covered rental fees for equipment and sites, Berry said. The companies also partially paid for travel and logistics for Extension agents and presenters for the initial meetings, as well as employee trainings. None of the money pays for salaries or for presenters' and Extension employees' time.
So far, the service has spent about $8,000, she said. Most of the funds will help pay for printed materials.
Reach Alison Knezevich at alis...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.