Newly named research center reflects convergence of agricultural and energy law

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Through its Agricultural Law Resource & Reference Center, Penn State Law has conducted extensive outreach activities in agricultural law for nearly two decades. To more accurately reflect the focus of this work and the interconnected nature of agricultural law and shale gas development, the center's name has been changed to the Center for Agricultural and Shale Law.

The mission of the research center, to conduct and disseminate research on current and emerging legal issues of interest to agricultural and rural communities, remains the same.

Through a variety of programs, the center seeks to serve a wide variety of stakeholders, including agricultural producers, landowners and royalty owners, business professionals, judges, attorneys, legislators, government officials, community groups, and the general public.

“Given the significant impact that shale gas development has had on agricultural stakeholders, we have seen our work in this area grow considerably over the years,” said Ross Pifer, clinical professor at Penn State Law and director of the Center for Agricultural and Shale Law. “Our new name is simply a reflection of our work in this area and the inescapable overlap between agricultural law and issues associated with shale development resulting from the location of shale deposits.”

Located on Penn State’s University Park campus in State College, Pennsylvania, the center sits atop the Marcellus Shale Formation, the largest source of natural gas yet to be discovered in the United States. Covering portions of Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, the Marcellus shale region is estimated to contain up to 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The process of bringing this gas to the surface has implications in several legal and policy areas, and has had a significant impact on agricultural and rural communities, particularly in Pennsylvania.

“It’s been a natural progression to see our work focus more and more on energy production as it has become more and more significant to agricultural businesses in the region,” Pifer said. “Energy production and food production are both significant sources of income for farmers, landowners and rural communities that sit on top of shale gas deposits.”

In addition to shale law, other major research areas of the Center for Agricultural and Shale Law include mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and legal developments around the Chesapeake Bay. Its work in these areas will be strengthened with the addition of the center’s staff attorney, M. Sean High, who serves as the primary researcher at the center and is executing its outreach strategy. High, who focuses on landowner liability, statutory protections of agriculture, and business planning, is responsible for disseminating the center’s research to attorneys, government officials, industry leaders, and interested members of the general public.

This outreach mission will be accomplished through the creation of an online library focusing on discrete subjects and compiling statutes, regulations, case law, publications, law review articles, and other relevant resources on each topic. The center also plans to publish fact sheets and other reference materials that will address specific areas of Pennsylvania agricultural law, including the Right to Farm Act, the Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment Act (ACRE), and Clean and Green, among other possible topics. An electronic newsletter as well as webinars and podcasts are planned to keep stakeholders abreast of developments in agricultural and shale law. The center will also work closely with the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences and other University units to develop further outreach programs and educational programming.

Much of the center’s work will be based on its membership in the Agricultural and Food Law Consortium, a national partnership supported by a $750,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and established to study how food and agriculture laws affect land- and sea-based food, fiber, and energy production. The consortium, which launched in fall 2014, seeks to expand the reach of objective agricultural and food law research and information to the nation’s agricultural community of producers, state and federal policymakers, attorneys, Cooperative Extension Service professionals, and others at the state, regional, and national levels.

For more information on the Center for Agricultural and Shale Law, visit

Last Updated August 06, 2015