Pennsylvania allows fracking on public college campuses

Men with Cabot Oil and Gas work on a natural gas valve at a hydraulic fracturing site on January 18, 2012 in South Montrose, Pa.

CORRECTION: The original article incompletely described Indiana State University's agreement with Pioneer Energy. The company may drill for oil on the campus, but it will not use hydraulic fracturing technology.

Pennsylvania's economy has been transformed by hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Land owners have benefited, and the companies doing the drilling, of course. Now a new law would let some state universities get in on the action.

It's an idea already at work in other states. Texas, Ohio and West Virginia are exploring oil and gas drilling on campus, and Indiana State University signed a contract with Pioneer Energy this year.

"In fact today they are on campus doing some seismic testing," says Diann McKee, ISU's vice president for business affairs, "to determine the extent of any oil reserves that might exist."

If Pioneer does find oil, the school gets 15 percent of the revenue. But that would not mean you'd see derricks on campus, McKee says.

New technology called horizontal drilling means the dirty work can happen miles away. If there is any infrastructure that has to be set up on campus, McKee says, "it will all be screened from view with landscaping and that type of thing."

In northern Pennsylvania, Mansfield University could take a similar route. It's 175-acre campus sits right on top of the Marcellus Shale, a vast reserve of natural gas. Pennsylvania's new law means Mansfield would get 50 percent of royalites from gas drilling on its property. Alan Golden is interim president of Mansfield, and he says his school has not had any direct conversations about fracking on campus.

"Prior to this legislation there was no reason to do that," says Golden. "The university would not have been able to retain any of the revenue from drilling."

The money would've gone to the state's coffers, instead. The new law affects the 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. Vice Chancellor Karen Ball says those schools' budgets have been cut 18 percent. When asked if she thinks fracking royalties can make up that gap, she said, "I don't think it'll be anywhere near the volume to be a tradeoff."

Natural gas prices are so cheap right now, she says, that the incentive to drill anywhere is low.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.
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Yes lets shoot LEAD FORMALDEHYDE AND DIESEL FUEL into the ground with high power hoses causing 6X the earthquakes (Bloomberg) radon leakage, poisoning the water table, creating giant sinkholes for us to fall in! yay! What fun! I'm sure the residents can all get new mansions given to them by the oil companies.

This article is seemingly oblivious to this being an industry public relations gimmick. It blithely elides attention to the obvious issue of fungibility which Marketplace listeners should have spotted a mile away. More on this in National Notice’s: Monday, October 15, 2012, Do They Really Think People Just Don’t Know What `Fungibility’ Is?: A Good Question To Ask As The Fracking Industry Tries To Pull Another Fast One


I was disturbed to hear you report on the possibility of universities financially benefitting from hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") on their campuses without fully explaining what fracking is.

"Fracking" is a method of extracting natural gas from deep below the earth's surface first by drilling straight down, then by drilling horizontally into shale, a type of soft sedimentary rock where small pockets of the gas reside. Next, millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals are injected at enormous pressure into the shale, breaking it apart and freeing the trapped methane, or natural gas.

The issue many people have with this method of extraction is multi-fold. I will mention just two points.:

First, when the chemical-laced frack water has done its job, where does it go? In addition to being sent to treatment facilities that are not equipped to truly clean it for safe use, it has been found in rivers and creeks, on farm land and on public roads.

Second, the US is in the midst of one of its worst drought years in history. Use up millions of gallons of water to pull out a gas that is at its lowest price in decades? If fracking continues at today's rate, clean water will be a much dearer commodity than the natural gas that companies such as Chesapeake Energy, Range Resources and Cabot Oil & Gas are clamoring to extract at any cost.

I was astonished at the unbalanced nature of this piece. This is not reporting, it is a press release from Pioneer Energy. Yes, a very few have made money from being fracked, but why don't you cover the way fracking has "transformed the lives" of most folks in PA? Those who can no longer drink their water, who have respiratory diseases and cancer. Their animals have lost their fur. Streams are covered with oil slicks. And nonstop truck traffic. Sustainability? It takes 1,100 truck trips for one frack. 2-8 million gallons of fresh water laced with 40,000 gallons of toxic chemicals--per frack. Each well can be fracked 12-18 times. And 50-70% of that toxic brew comes back up along with radioactive substances and arsenic. Stored on site to evaporate into the air or trucked over the border to New York State, where landfills don't test for radioactivity. Sustainability? This is the Big Lie from the oil companies. A lie so huge people can't imagine anyone with the impudence to tell such a whopper. (Hitler, Mein Kampf)

So is a story on fracking at a college in Pennsylvania reported strictly from a financial view ,with not even a hint at the health and environmnetal hazards involved in fracking ,Marketplace's idea of "sustainability"? So much ofr 'independence" in "public" radio.

This is a feature of the sustainability desk? What a joke. Fracking is not a sustainable form of energy production. APR and NPR are bought and sold by the oil and gas industry. A disappointment to be sure.

QUite Right dthomas. Greg Palast calls NPR "National Petroleum Radio".

Bad idea, natch, but if it must be done at Penn State, start on the football field.

Those crazy college kids... always wanting to get high on fumes.

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