Drilling on Campus

Sierra Club

Oil and gas drilling is increasing on college campuses across the nation as cash-strapped schools turn to exploiting their resources in order to balance their budgets. A recent report from National Public Radio reveals that at more than a dozen schools oil and gas drilling is already underway including at the University of Southern Indiana.

On October 8, Pennsylvania passed a bill to allow fracking on college campuses in state. Known as the Indigenous Mineral Resources Development Act, the act will allow for not only natural gas exploration but also coal mining and limestone quarrying around “universities, prisons and other state institutions.” Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) told the Philadelphia Inquirer: “My feeling is that college campuses are improper places to drill. A highly industrial activity is not conducive to a learning environment.”

Tracy Carlccio, deputy director of Delaware Riverkeeper concurs, and told Mother Jones: “Students need a place to learn and grow, but they’re being forced to jeopardize their health to get that education. 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.”

Under the bill, the universities keep half the royalties they generate, while 35% is allocated to other universities in state and the remainder is divided between al l 14 schools for tuition assistance.

Other cash-strapped states have sought similar measures. States pursuing drilling on campus have uniformly experienced massive higher education cuts. Pennsylvania Rep. Gov. Tom Corbett took office in 2010, and received $1.3 million from the oil and gas industry during his campaign. In 2011, he cut funding for higher education by 18%. Texas has seen $1.7 billion cuts to higher education under Rep. Gov. Rick Perry’s most recent budget while Indiana higher education schools have lost $150 million under Rep. Gov. Mitch Daniels.

As Mother Jones reports: “A couple of colleges in West Virginia have leased their land to fracking companies, and Ohio has a similar law to Pennsylvania’s. The University of Texas also makes money from natural gas well pads on its land, and even installed one 400 feet away from a daycare center at its Arlington campus. (The daycare center has now moved.)”

A spokesperson for the Univeristy of Texas Arlington said the school has earned $10 million from its wells so far but adds that it’s “a finite resource” so they are being cautious about how they allocate those funds. Tara Singer, a spokesperson from Indiana State University told NPR that she’s not anticipating any disruption in campus life from drilling operations there. “The tanks and everything will be underground. I don’t think that people will really visually recognize that oil drilling is taking place on the university campus, and if there are any noise problems or odor problems we will discontinue the operation,” she said. Indiana State Univerity’s agreement with Pioneer Energy would open up oil drilling on campus, though not via hydraulic fracturing.

But those concerned about the environmental damage and potential health problems related to driling and fracking (which encompasses everything from explosions and leaks to contaminated water, tremors, dust and noise) say that opening up universities to drilling is setting a dangerous precedent. “I’ve become extremely concerned, disturbed, and disgusted by the environmental consequences of fracking,” Bob Myers, a professor of environmental studies at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania, told Mother Jones. “They’ve had explosions, tens of thousands of gallons of chemicals spilled. And we’re going to put this on campus?”