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.