Frack U.: Drilling comes to campus as America wises up about Big Gas


College kids across the great state of Pennsylvania are about to get an honors-level schooling in the joys and risks of unbridled fracking. The Republican governor of the Keystone State. Tom Corbett, and his legislative allies in the state capital of Harrisburg — after a two-year crusade to cut funding for higher education — have told state universities they can make back some of the lost money by leasing their land to natural-gas drillers.

This is not a fraternity prank:

Last year, when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett suggested offsetting college tuition fees by leasing parts of state-owned college campuses to natural gas drillers, more than a few Pennsylvanians were left blinking and rubbing their eyes. But it was no idle threat: After quietly moving through the state Senate and House, this week the governor signed into law a bill that opens up 14 of the state’s public universities to fracking, oil drilling, and coal mining on campus.

For a system starved by budget cuts, it’s an appetizing deal: The Indigenous Mineral Resources Development Act mandates that 50 percent of all fees and royalties from the mineral leases will be retained by the university where those minerals are mined, 35 percent will be distributed across the state system, and another 15 percent will go towards subsidizing student tuition.

Of course, those benefits don’t take into account externalized costs.

Environmentalists and educators are concerned that fracking and other resource exploitation on campus could leave students directly exposed to harms like explosions, water contamination, and air pollution. They’re also worried oil and gas development would leave campuses ruined for future generations.

As this article in Mother Jones notes, one more reason to be alarmed is that Pennsylvania — which has become the epicenter (earthquake pun partly intended) of America’s fracking boom in recent years because of the large amounts of gas trapped deep under the Marcellus Shale formation — has a terrible track record of regulating the industry. No surprise there — it’s donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Corbett and to other Pennsylvania pols in both parties.

Now I’d be the first person to agree that fracking on college campuses is a horrible idea. It’s bad enough that we’ve seen so many cases of polluted streams and wells, foul air, and methane releases worsening our greenhouse gas crisis of global warming from isolated rural areas of Pennsylvania and other states, But college campuses have a high density of young people who may be exposed to toxins. That’s why I join with many other environmental activists who’d like to see this type of natural gas drilled halted — not just at colleges but everywhere — until we can agree on how to do it safely.

But on the other hand, there is one benefit to putting a fracking rig right underneath your son or daughter’s high-priced dorm window. For many Americans, especially from the crowded cities and suburbs, the explosion of gas drilling may have been an abstract, faraway issue until now. Generally speaking, we’re seeing that the more people know about fracking, the less they support it. And activated and energized college campuses can truly make a political difference.

I am greatly heartened by what’s been going on in California. Unlike Pennsylvania and New York — where passionate residents have done an amazing job in convincing their Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo to go slow on fracking for now — the growth of drilling kind of creeped up on the sprawling and diverse Golden State. But now Californians are waking up to the fact that an environmentally conscious state has done a lousy job of regulating th e gas industry. Several leading environmental groups are now taking the matter to court:

In April, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit first exposed the widespread and unregulated use of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, to release oil and natural gas taking place in California.

The lawsuit claims the Division of Oil, Gas and Geotherman Resources (DOGGR) failed to properly evaluate the risks of fracking, required by the California Environmental Quality Act. Fracking was used for 600 wells in the state last year.

The lawsuit was filed by an environmental law firm, Earthjustice, on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks, Environmental Working Group and the Sierra Club.

As it stands today, California does not regulate fracking.

Look at it this way: When the citizens of California learned what fracking is all about, they started fighting like hell to make it stop. That’s the same thing that’s been happening in New York State and elsewhere. When the noise, the air pollution, and the drinking water hazards of natural gas arrive on Pennsylvania’s campuses from Altoona to Kutztown, those kids are going to be in for quite an education. America will begin training its next generation of environmentalists. 

To read the Mother Jones article on Pennsylvania’s law allowing fracking on public university campuses, check out:

To find out more over environmental groups suing over California’s failure to regulate fracking, please read:

© Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • At UTArlington, a daydare was recently moved from being 300 feet downwind to 22 gas wells. Here is a pic

    Meanwhile several months ago I was on the other side of UTA’s campus (where they moved the daycare to) and a 50 something yr old lady working in the UTA Community Gardens complained of two crazy large nosebleeds when she spent time out there last Jan 40minute nosebleed and then in Feb (20 min nosebleed) that she attributed to gas drilling in the air.

    The technology is not there yet to do this safely by people. Even if they use electric instead of diesel rigs to drill, the diesel compressors and generators spew VOC’s. During fracturing, the sand catching pillow case/socks fail to mitigate toxic, silica dust exposing workers and residents/students into the neighborhoods/schools. And during flowback, even if they use Green Completions equipment (separator/pipeline), the topflow at the beginning stages of flowback allow hydrocarbons to escape from the OPEN HATCH flowback tanks. They need to use gas buster (degasser) equipment, but it is not mandated by any local,state or federal laws so even the EPA missed that one, so the un-sale-able/dirty gas is being vented into our airshed. There aren’t any rules either to mandate that the wells get flowed back right away after fracturing. The 3 wells frac’d by my house last month by the Cowboy Stadium will not be flowed back this year until the pipeline is in place, and so stale flowback (sour well) with dangerous sulfides emissions are very likely. This happened once before at another Chesapeake (Lynn Smith) drill site last March where 911 had to dispatch paramedics for Jean Stephens who was stricken in her own parking lot.

    Thanks Mr Smith for having this forum for me to communicate what I know.

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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