Pennsylvania OKs Fracking, Fossil Fuel Extraction On College Campuses

Pennsylvania has taken its open-door policy for fracking to a new level – a new law allows fracking and other fossil-fuels extraction at state-owned colleges and universities.

The law, the "Indigenous Mineral Resource Development Act",  allows for "mining or removal of coal, oil, natural gas, coal bed methane and limestone found in or beneath land owned by the state or state system of higher education."

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett hatched the plan last year after he slashed funding for the 18 schools in Pennsylvania’s higher-education system by 18%. He sees fossil fuel extraction as a way to close the budget gap.  

Six of the state’s campuses sit atop the Marcellus Shale, making them particular vulnerable to fracking. They are Indian University, Slippery Rock University, Clarion University, Mansfield University, California University (which has already approved a drilling lease), and Lock Haven University.

And Corbett’s giving universities good reason not to object. Under the law, schools will keep half of all fees and royalties from mineral leases, 35% will go toward funding for the entire system, and the remaining amount will subsidize student tuition. 

"Students need a place to learn and grow, but they’re being forced to jeopardize their health to get that education," Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of Delaware Riverkeeper, a local water quality watchdog, told Mother Jones. "This has been a big giveaway by the state of Pennsylvania to drilling interests, and it’s at the expense of students and the public."

"I’ve become extremely concerned, disturbed, and disgusted by the environmental consequences of fracking. They’ve had explosions, tens of thousands of gallons of chemicals spilled. And we’re going to put this on campus?," asks Professor Bob Myers, who runs the Environmental Studies program at Lock Haven University.

The new law completely disregards the environmental record of oil and natural gas companies in Pennsylvania. From 2008-2011, at least 2,932 violations were recorded – posing threats to drinking water supplies and air quality. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, since Pennsylvania has made it tougher for drilling inspectors to do their job – in 2010 alone, 82,602 active wells went uninspected.

The Pennsylvania law ignores the growing body of evidence cataloging the dangers of fracking, including three new studies from Europe.

All three new studies – including one funded by ExxonMobil – conclude that fracking poses serious threats to groundwater and at least some of the chemicals used should be replaced because of their environmental impact. All the studies recommend that more information is needed before fracking should be approved on a widespread basis.

Data such as this has prompted Pennsylvania’s neighbor New York to take a more cautious approach to fracking, initiating a second review. Over 100 communities have banned it.

But Ohio has passed similar laws as Pennsylvania, and a number of schools in West Virginia as well as the University of Texas have leased land for fracking. 

The controversy is likely to get much louder whe a major motion picture starting Matt Damon on the subject opens in movie theaters in December.

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