Frack U.! Governor Corbett Supports Drilling on PA State College Campuses

UPDATE [November 8, 2011] On Sunday, November 6, Bill Schackner reported in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that the Cal U Student Association had been quietly negotiating a mineral lease deal. Read the details in his article, Drilling on Campus: Marcellus Shale boom puts colleges at crossroads It’s the first of two parts. Here is Part II: Corporate funding of Marcellus Shale studies at universities raises alarms by Reid R. Frazier and Olivia Garber


When Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett [R] first spoke of leasing state college and university land to gas drillers, he was addressing a meeting of the Pennsylvania Association of Councils of Trustees at Edinboro University in March, 2011. He was suggesting a way to soften the economic blow of $650 million in proposed cuts to Public Higher Education, cuts which amounted to a stunning 50% off the prior year’s budget. Cuts that were in addition to the universally repellant $550 million already slashed from Basic Education funding. When Corbett made his seemingly casual suggestion, however, he wasn’t grasping at political straws. He was sowing the seeds of new fiscal policy.

It’s important to note that many voices – from both sides of the aisle – decried Corbett’s “drastic” cuts to education, some even went so far as to label them “Draconian,” yet my understanding is that the new budget simply restores state educational spending to pre-Stimulus levels. In other words, he dialed the education figures back to the 2008-2009 fiscal year. Frankly, it was the logical thing to do. No responsible governor should have acted as if the temporary cash infusion of federal stimulus money would be permanent. The anticipated budgetary shortfall was an intentional, artificially created gap. By the same token, suggesting something as drastic as hydraulic fracturing to generate revenue to fill that artificial gap sounds like more than an academic leap to me.

Regardless, Corbett’s clumsy pronouncement resulted in a collective gasp among the populace. Mainstream media coverage at the time was surprisingly nonplussed and jaded, like, “Is he joking? No, he isn’t.” Readers grew concerned nonetheless, generally commenting that while they were aware state education was in trouble, they hadn’t realized it had gotten that bad. Campus environmental organizations, like the Sierra Student Coalition, took note. Sierra Students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania promptly offered to work with their administration to alleviate the university’s financial woes without resorting to fracking. Meanwhile, our boy Tommy, himself an alumnus of Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA, hasn’t mentioned drilling on state college campuses much at all lately. As far as I can tell, he’s been comfortably mum on the subject ever since. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s isn’t doing something about it.

From Flaming Shots to Flaming Faucets…
In Harrisburg, and in the hallowed halls of Pennsylvania’s alma maters, discussion over the ownership of campus mineral rights and gas royalties is ongoing. DEP Secretary Krancer and his eager pledge Patrick Henderson are out there, too, attempting to squelch the popularity of academic opposition by seriously over-intellectualizing it, literally paving the way for drillers with permits and concrete all the while. Reportedly, in Spring 2011 gas companies began preliminary talks in earnest with various shale school officials, and now rumor has it a bill to allow state campus drilling was drafted over the summer, though I have yet to find a copy. I did notice, curiously enough, that talk of such legislation usually occurs in the same breath as lifting the ban on Drilling in State Forests and State Prison lands.

A Guide to Colleges In The Marcellus Shale
Of the fourteen state-owned universities in Pennsylvania, six are located above the ever-more-stupendous gas reserves of The Marcellus Shale. Mansfield, Lock Haven, Indiana and California University of Pennsylvania sit directly atop the ages-old formation, while Slippery Rock and Clarion University are located on its outer edges.

Shale gas industry lobbyists vigorously dispute the wide range of health risks resulting from hydraulic fracturing, but air pollution is noticeably absent among them. That’s because local air pollution near drilling sites is undeniable, a given. The diesel fumes alone, from truck traffic and 24/7 heavy machinery, are measurably elevated. What’s actually up for debate are the chemical parameters of said air pollution, and the extent to which the Department of Environmental Protection considers airborne toxins acceptable in our lives. It’s a well established fact that the young and the elderly are more vulnerable to industrial air pollution than their healthy, middle-aged male counterparts. One might therefore surmise that fracking in the field behind Junior’s college dorm is basically a bad idea.

Fortunately, there’s a strong thread of opposition among respected scientific faculty members at our state universities. Anti-gas blogs are out there, and postings include numerous papers on the subject. A pile of credible, empirical data is steadily amassing. Conversely, many state school administrations appear predisposed to promote pro-drilling interests, such as the Penn State Extension Program, with far more gusto than the work of their own academicians. PSU’s series of traveling symposia is informed by the work of Dr. Terry Engelder, Professor of Geosciences and Mack Daddy of The Marcellus. While Dr. Engelder’s science is generally accepted as rock solid, it’s interesting to note that his work has been funded by major gas companies, including Chevron, Exxon, Mobil and Texaco.

Indeed, these days, The Gas Industry is a ubiquitous presence in state college life. They are actively recruiting engineers, technicians, lawyers, geologists, environmental scientists, government affairs representatives, land purchasers, and other positions. So successful are their recruiting efforts that, paired with recent tuition increases, some state schools such as Mansfield University are seeing their enrollment decline. One might even say that, at least in the Northern Tier, the state school scene includes one big, year-long industrial job fair.

Some schools, like Mansfield, are already surrounded by drilling activity. (One university administrator counted 100 industry-related trucks pass by his window in a single hour.) Others, such as Lock Haven in Clinton County, will eagerly host new natural gas pipelines. Soon, I bet, all fourteen state schools will promote their use of natural gas as a greener energy alternative.

Shale State: The Marcellus Schools List

California University of Pennsylvania, California, PA (Washington County)
Tuition: $8,012 (in-state); $11,496 (out-of-state)
Enrollment: 9,400; Acceptance Rate: 60.01%
On Hydraulic Fracturing:
Located amidst some of the earliest drilling activity in Pennsylvania, CalU is ahead of the curve in terms of environmentalism. The university hosts regular public forums on fracking, with topics running the gamut from Donna Brazille speaking on “Civic Responsibility: People, Policy and Politics” to Washington County Commissioner, Bracken Burns, discussing the effects of natural gas drilling on local infrastructure. Washington County has 112 new Marcellus wells drilled as of August, 2011.

Clarion University, Clarion, PA (Clarion County)
Tuition: $8,828 (in-state); $15,246 (out-of-state)
Enrollment: N/A; Acceptance Rate: 68.47%
On Hydraulic Fracturing:
According to Clarion’s website, the Marcellus Shale is “the hottest natural gas boom in the United States… offering unexpected business opportunities to Pennsylvania.” Clarion University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is actively stepping forward to help local business benefit. Recently, CU offered a five-part seminar, working with local economic development agencies to inform business owners how to take advantage of the economic opportunities of the Marcellus Shale. The series hyped the benefits and local employment projections of shale gas drilling within the next decade.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA (Indiana County)
Tuition: $8,352 (in-state); $17,712 (out-of-state)
Enrollment: 15,126; Acceptance Rate: 60.21%
On Hydraulic Fracturing:
In June, 2011, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that IUP students began collecting samples from the Beaver Run Reservoir to determine whether Marcellus shale deep-well drilling has affected the drinking water supply there. The Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County is paying IUP $55,000 this year to conduct the voluntarily testing and water analysis in order to address concerns from customers that chemicals from existing gas wells around the 5,000-acre property could have infiltrated the water supply. As mentioned above, the IUP student body includes an active shale gas opposition arm in the form of its Sierra Students Coalition.

Lock Haven University, Lock Haven, PA (Clinton County)
Tuition: $7,540 (in-state); $14,246 (out-of-state)
Enrollment: 5,450; Acceptance Rate: 71.5%
On Hydraulic Fracturing:
Officially, LHUP views gas development as a “bright spot on the horizon.” According to the Spring 2009 issue of its alumni magazine, Perspective, “Geology students and faculty at Lock Haven University are optimistic about the prospect of natural resource development throughout the state. Besides boosting the area’s economy, it will provide future opportunities for internships, educational field trips, projects for scientific research, and jobs and careers for graduating seniors.” Oo, goodie, field trips! Despite its simultaneous attempt to present a broad-minded image, academic opposition to drilling is relegated to the lower profile yet more aptly named university blog,  The Hemlock.

Mansfield University, Mansfield, PA (Tioga County)
Tuition: $8,654 (in-state); $18,014 (out-of-state)
Enrollment: 3,411; Acceptance Rate: 72.93%
On Hydraulic Fracturing:
Tioga County had a whopping 161 new Marcellus wells drilled as of August, 2011, and gas rigs fairly ring the Mansfield University campus. Because air pollution wafts far and wide, the question of whether fracking should occur directly on campus is already kinda moot. Academic opposition to shale gas drilling remains socially acceptable, at the very least. The Mansfield University blog, “A Somewhat Unofficial Source for Mansfield Related Info,” features a clever link to This American Life’s recent, somewhat less-than-optimistic report on Pennsylvania’s gas boom entitled “Game Changer”

Slippery Rock University, Slippery Rock, PA (Butler County)
Tuition: $8,506 (in-state); $11,626 (out-of-state)
Enrollment: 8,852; Acceptance Rate: 67.46%
On Hydraulic Fracturing:
Slippery Rock student Lisa Andresky is one of only ten students nationwide to participate in a National Science Foundation-funded Ecosystem Restoration project. Slippery Rock recently hosted a dangerously unicorny symposium, “Toward a Sustainable Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale and Sustainability in Pennsylvania.” The academic panels here are more evenly divided than most, and so too is the student population. While nearly 100 attended the panel discussion, an equal number protested outside in classic liberal fashion, beneath a banner which read: “Fracking. Drilling. Spilling. Killing.” Butler County has 26 new Marcellus wells drilled as of August, 2011.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: