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College campuses no place for fracking

Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012

Updated: Sunday, October 14, 2012 23:10

A law passed last week will allow state colleges and universities in Pennsylvania to drill for natural gas on their properties using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The benefits for Pennsylvania’s 14 state schools — whose state budget was cut by 18 percent last year, according to NPR — seems like a good deal. The school allowing the fracking would get 50 percent of profits, another 35 percent would be distributed among the Penn. State University System (SUS) and 15 percent would go to offset student tuition costs.

Despite these benefits, schools should look beyond money when deciding whether or not to allow fracking on campus, and think back to a university’s primary foci — innovation.

Fracking is a process that involves drilling almost a mile into the earth to a natural gas well, then injecting sand, chemicals — including carcinogens such as benzene — and millions of gallons of water. The natural gas is then expelled and wastewater is produced.

The health hazards of fracking have not been fully studied, and according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, most states do not require full disclosure of chemicals used in fracking processes.

The PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center reported in February that environmental violations are not strictly enforced and have led to an explosion and a major spill in the Marcellus Shale area, where many of the universities are located, causing groundwater contamination. According to Bloomberg, high ozone levels in Wyoming and air pollution in Colorado have also been linked to fracking practices.

Are these the types of issues our university students and researchers should be dealing with?
According to Popular Mechanics, burning natural gas emits a fraction of the greenhouse gases as burning coal: half the carbon dioxide, a third of nitrogen oxide and only 1 percent of sulfur oxide.

Yet, according to a Cornell University study, methane pollution from fracking would have a greater impact on climate change than coal burning.

Though Penn SUS Vice Chancellor Karen Ball told NPR schools are unlikely to start drilling — since the price for natural gas is low and wouldn’t account for lost budget cuts — other schools in the  U.S. have begun deliberating.

At Indiana State, which signed a contract with Pioneer Energy, Vice President for Business Affairs Diann McKee told NPR that horizontal fracking — a process by which a vertical well can be drilled, then continued for almost a mile — means the drilling can be done away from campus, and any on-campus presence would be “screened from view with landscaping and that type of thing.”

But questions still remain about long-term environmental impacts. And some university studies, including at the University of Texas and Penn State have been discredited because of undisclosed funding from the fracking industry.

Universities should be pioneering research into renewable natural resources like wind and solar power — not offering up land and valuable research time for unethical and environmentally damaging fracking profits.

Hannah Feig is a senior majoring in chemistry and anthropology.
 

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