Frack-to-School: Several Pennsylvania School Districts Lease Land To Gas Drillers

Pennsylvania’s smallest – and most vulnerable – citizens deserve clean air and methane-free water fountains when they go to school, right? Are we seriously at the point where we’re knowingly exposing school children to toxic air pollution, potential water contamination and massive truck traffic? Apparently, we are.

According an article by Ben Wieder posted at Stateline.org, Schools fill budget holes with fracking revenues, the Blackhawk School District, located 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, is the latest of a handful of PA school districts to lease land, in this case 160 acres-worth, to Chesapeake Energy. To refresh your memory, Chesapeake is the same drilling company that was responsible for the worst fracking accident in Pennsylvania history, now infamously known as the Bradford County Blowout, in Lycoming Township in Spring 2011.

At $2,000 per acre, the Blackhawk lease will yield the district more than $300,000 right off the bat. Wieder reports, “If Chesapeake successfully extracts gas from below the district’s property, the schools would earn an additional 15 percent royalty on the profits. School leaders say the decision was unrelated to major state cuts to education funding this year. But the school board vote was immediately followed by a discussion of the district’s budget — the district saw a reduction of around $800,000 in state funding to its $30 million budget.

Jerry Wessel, the Blackhawk School District’s business manager, eagerly anticipates the short term cash infusion but it’s the long-term windfall he’s really hopped up about. Also according to Wieder, Wessel says, “If there was a well under the high school — you could see a million dollars over a 20-year period.”

A million dollars! This guy reminds me of Dr. Evil.

Chump Change: Pennsylvania’s Loss of Tax Revenue
The fiction that drillers are already generating enough ancillary tax revenue to “pay for themselves,” as spun by our governor, occasionally gets some traction in Harrisburg and even in the media. It’s one of the talking points Tom Corbett feels most confident repeating, I’ve noticed, as if he’s aware that someone on his staff has some impressive numbers to back him up. But the fact is, since 2010 Pennsylvania has lost over $220 million in forfeited tax revenue simply by being the only shale gas drilling state without a tax/tariff/impact fee, or whatever you want to call it.

Please don’t take my word for it. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, along with many others such as Rep. Greg Vitali (D-166th) in Delaware County, have been keeping track of the total state losses – and the actual figure is rising like white bread.

What’s more costly, however, is the fact that gas drillers are not paying for emergency preparedness, or water treatment technology, or even baseline water table testing. They’re not capturing carbon emissions, and they’re certainly not covering the increased healthcare costs of our “womenfolk” – a comment Rep. Mike Sturla (D-96th, Lancaster County) bumbled so comically a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, the point got lost. Average Pennsylvanians – and their families – are getting screwed.

And, btw, no current measures in Harrisburg, or any other legislative district for that matter, indicate that shale gas will be developed as a “bridge fuel” to a cleaner, greener fossil-free future. Please let’s not be duped into buying that PR fantasy! The fact is, in addition to steep cuts in education at every level, Pennsylvania’s new budget slashes funding to successful sustainability programs like Growing Greener II. And the reality is, natural gas prices are kinda low right now, so much of the gas produced here is liquified and stored in underground caverns or exported overseas. Until we get serious about renewables as a nation, and as a Commonwealth, we can expect 600 more celebrities to get arrested in front of the White House, and devastating tropical storms like Irene to be the new norm.

Real Change: Five Things You Can Do (Well, Maybe Not #5…)

I.  Sign a Fracking Ban Petition

Food and Water Watch, a national grassroots environmental advocacy organization, is proposing a National Ban on Fracking. Takes only few seconds, and it feels great! While you’re at it, peruse the ever-expanding, state-by-state list of anti-fracking actions to see what’s happening in our neck of the woods.

II. Attend a Public Hearing at The Free Library of Philadelphia

The Citizens Commission Public Hearing on Fracking
Tuesday, September 6, from 6-9pm
The Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St., Philadelphia

The Citizens Commission is intended to delve deeper into a variety of issues, including water and air quality, social impacts of gas drilling, the drilling tax, and impacts outside Marcellus communities. The Commission will hold five hearings across Pennsylvania in August and September. Citizens can sign up to testify at these hearings at the Citizens Commission’s website, or by calling Stephanie Frank at 717-255-7181.

III.  Rally for Clean Water! Shale Gas Outrage – Wednesday, September 7th at Noon
Join a broad-based coalition of anti-fracking activists from across the state to protest gas drilling. The event, Shale Gas Outrage, is scheduled to collide with the drilling industry trade show, Shale Gas Insight 2011, concurrently held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and it sounds like way more fun. There will be music, inspirational speakers such as oscar-nominated Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox, and an interfaith blessing of the Delaware River. It’s rain or shine, and will be held in a 1,200-person-capacity venue within walking distance of the scheduled outdoor location in the event of inclement weather. RSVP (not required) on Facebook.

Unable to attend? Be there in spirit: donations helps provide transportation for water activists from other parts of the state.

Wednesday, September 7, Noon – 2pm (march follows until 3pm) 
Center City Philadelphia, Arch St., between Broad and 13th Streets – in front of the Pennsylvania Convention Center
Visit ShaleGasOutrage.org for more info. 

IV.  Text Your Book Club…
Join what’s sure to be a lively discussion with Seamus McGraw, author of The End of Country, on Wednesday, September 7 at 7pm at Head House Books in Philadelphia (619 South Second St.) Call 215-923-9525 for more information.

V.  Make a Run for It!
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network has been chosen as an official charity partner of the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon. The Marathon, Half Marathon and Rothman Institute 8K offer opportunities for runners of all skill levels to be part of a great weekend of events while benefiting the River.

Race Weekend: November 18th – 20th

Visit Philadelphia Marathon 2011 for more information, or apply to be a member of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s Run for the River Team by contacting Laurie at 215-369-1188, ext. 114 or laurie@delawareriverkeeper.org.

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