After considerable protracted debate over a long Summer, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty—APSCUF—decisively passed by a vote of 68-31 a position statement with respect to SB 367—the PA Frack U Bill—and more generally the state university union’s position with respect to hydraulic fracturing—fracking—on state university properties.
It had been nearly a year since the “indigenous mineral resource development” bill had been debated and passed as Act 147 investing university presidents with the authority to decide whether a fracking—or coal, or oil—mining operation can proceed on Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) campuses—including campus quads, outside classroom windows, next to sports fields, or wherever else the industry determines is the most expeditious location for a drill head, a compressor station, a waste hauler parking lot, or pipeline (http://legiscan.com/PA/text/SB367/id/648399).
The text of the position statement reads as follows:
A motion was advanced to LA [Legislative Assembly] in April 2013 stating: Therefore, be it resolved, EUP Legislative Assembly delegates request the executive council to develop a position statement opposing fracking on Pennsylvania State System Properties. This motion will return to the floor at the pending LA in September.
The ad hoc committee, by majority, supports the position that PASSHE campuses are not appropriate locations for hydraulic fracturing (fracking), that given the environmental and health hazards of the fracking process, including all of its infrastructure and associated enterprises, its presence on PASSHE campuses is inconsistent and potentially deleterious to the PASSHE educational mission as well as to the health and welfare of PASSHE community members. A growing body of research is beginning to quantify and characterize the negative environmental, societal, economic, and ecological impacts on those close to such activities. Local impacts include but are not limited to gas migration, air pollution, and surface and near-surface water quality degradation as well as potential chronic impacts to air, water, landscapes, habitat, and ecosystems. Soeder (2012, Shale gas development in the United States) states, “Having one of these sites near a home, school or business can be distracting, inconvenient, annoying, and disruptive.” Moreover, APSCUF opposes SB 367–the Indigenous Mineral Resources Development Act–as inconsistent with the PASSHE education mission for the same reasons and because it effectively pits some PASSHE campuses against others for revenue which could accrue to the permitting of fracking operations on PASSHE lands. Such potential competition, or implementation of SB 367 in any form, could accelerate the presence of such operations–including pipeline construction, compressor infrastructure, waste management, heavy industrial truck traffic, and thereby increase exposure to pollution and hazards for members of PASSHE communities. Lastly, APSCUF takes a position against a PASSHE contribution to climate change, as induced by increased greenhouse gas emissions, as this is also inconsistent with a mission committed to the educations and welfare of future citizens of the Commonwealth.
Although the committee supports this position and acknowledges potential negative impacts to our campuses by on-campus drilling, a subset of committee members posed an alternative viewpoint that APSCUF should not offer a position on this issue but allow individual PASSHE universities to act independently in response to implementing the Act. Concern was expressed that issuing a position to oppose on-campus drilling would be viewed as a condemnation of the entire industry, a viewpoint not universally shared within the committee.
To fully appreciate the meaning of what may be the first union position taken on fracking in the Commonwealth, it’s useful to make brief review of the history, the motives, and the corruption that attended Act 147. In addition to Dory Hippauf’s fine piece “Welcome to PA Frack-U” (Welcome to PA FRACK-U), I laid out the argument against SB 367 in an October 2012 RCP piece, “The Industrialization of PASSHE” The Industrialization of PASSHE: Where the Public Good, its Students, and its Faculty are Auctioned Off to the Extraction Profiteers (Or: Extortion by Extraction) | Raging Chicken Press):
- It’s sponsor Donald C. White (R-41) is a direct gas industry beneficiary to the tune of $94,150.
- White explicitly compares the opportunities for gas leasing made available in SB 367 on PASSHE properties to leasing Pennsylvania game and state forest lands. He insists that the bill does not require the state to lease or sell property rights—making those decisions the province of university presidents—but this is nothing but thinly veiled subterfuge given that
- Governor Corbett has bludgeoned PASSHE budgets for the last three years such that pressure for university presidents to play ball with the gas industry to make up the short-fall is a virtual guarantee of their complicity, and
- The comparison with other state lands like those currently under siege by the gas companies (for example, Loyalsock State Forest) only strengthens the claim that whatever rightly counts as the people’s land—state forest, state campuses, state game lands—is absolutely for sale by a corrupt state administration which acts as a revolving door and an employment agency for the industry (Fracking and the Revolving Door in Pennsylvania | Public Accountability Initiative).
- Leasing PASSHE properties to the gas industry is just one part of the strategy to convert state universities in Pennsylvania into privatized and corporatized training depots and public relations offices for industry. Whether Big Energy, Big Pharma, or Big Food, the industrialization of PASSHE is consistent with Corbett administration ideology which makes higher education the prerogative of the very wealthy all the while consigning the children of the middle and lower classes to fill the jobs requisite to an industry that fills the pockets of Corbett appointments and allies. As I made clear during the APSCUF Legislative Assembly, 9.20.13, SB 367 is manifestly inconsistent with the mission of any university: “The notion that a campus with active drill rigs competing for space with libraries, quads, and classrooms is conducive to learning, that a frack-operation is consistent with the atmosphere necessary to the free exchange of ideas, is absurd on its face.” This is true for at least three reasons:
- The presence of a frack operation or any of its infrastructure is inconsistent with the health and welfare of the university community. The potential for carcinogen exposure, methane leak, explosion, noise, heavy industrial truck trafiic, etc. should make any parent taking the tour of a PASSHE campus think twice about sending their son or daughter to a PASSHE school.
- The creation of university/industry “partnerships” can compromise the integrity of entire departments and programs. “Research bearing the imprimatur of Penn State, University of Texas at Austin, and University of Buffalo, for example, have all come under fire for “research” demonstrably biased to industry interests, for ignoring environmental and health concerns, and for failing to disclose their financing.” Closer to home, consider “A three group panel” discussing “environmental and operational safety of drilling for Marcellus shale natural gas” at PASSHE’s Slippery Rock University (SRU). The panelists included “health and safety manager at Advanced Waste Services Sean Decristoforo, vice president for safety and environment of Range Resources Ralph Tijerina, and James Daley, director of natural gas and energy programs of Greenhouse and Omara Inc. The mediator was Anthony Cialella, vice president for energy services for Advanced Waste Services”—all pro-fracking, all industry beneficiaries. Moreover, one of the attendees, Professor Patrick Burkhart, Geoscience SRU and committee chair for the APSCUF committee charged with drafting the APSCUF position statement on fracking insisted with respect to frack-related water pollution that “you cannot define dirty until you define clean,” and that “environmental issues are demand driven” (The Rocket : Local shale fracking under question) implying—as he reiterated at APSCUF Delegate Assembly—that economic circumstance ought to determine environmental policy—on PASSHE properties.
- We teach our students a deeply immoral lesson about the value of human life and the integrity of the planet’s ecology when we allow operations whose contribution to water destruction, air pollution, forest fragmentation, and climate change to proceed on campus—as if our only value for their futures is as cogs in that machine.
SB 367, however, is just one piece in a suite of perverse legislations threatening to undermine not only the ecologies upon which we all depend, but the democracy we still pretend to value. SB 259/HB 1414 allows old gas and oil leases to be revived by drillers unless there is explicit language in the old lease forbidding it—and of course, there won’t be since fracking is a new technology (naro-us.org/Resources/NARO%20PA/PA%20Legislative/Here’s%20What%20NARO-PA%20has%20to%20say%20about%20SB%20259.pdf). The bill opens the door to forced pooling in a fashion called “sleazy” even by some in favor of drilling. SB 1047/HB 15756 effectively guts the states endangered species act making access to habitat otherwise off limits to drillers available to natural gas extraction (Endangered Species Act Proposed Changes: HB 1576 & SB 1047 | Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs). HB 1717 would “force DCNR to lease another 300,000 of state forest and park land for gas drilling, and direct the money to PennDOT to repair bridges” (http://birding.aba.org/message.php?mesid=505993&MLID=PA01&MLNM=Pennsylvania).
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. As I pointed out at APSCUF Delegate Assembly, once the export gas terminals at places like Cove Point Maryland come on line, the industrialization we have seen in Pennsylvania to date will look like a trip to Disney World—100,000 wells, twenty-two possible export depots from Maine to Oregon, their pipeline, their compressors, and their waste—will look more like Zombie Apocalypse than ‘It’s a Small World After All.”
All of this brings me finally to some observations about the potential Democrat party candidacy of former DEP head John Hanger who promises—with a straight face—that he will see to it that regulation will make fracking safe and natural gas cheap.
Indeed, he has duped some in the anti-fracking movement to his platform with promises that he’ll make right the wrongs they have suffered. But it is a small world after all. Besides the fact that there simply is no making right the permanent destruction of water, the generation of the conditions for cancer, and the erosion of the rural social fabric, Hanger epitomizes the perverse lie that it is possible to regulate a catastrophe in progress. Given that the regulations are themselves drafted by the very industry that benefits from no regulation at all, “regulate” can mean nothing other than “business-as-usual-concealed-with-a-bit-of green-wash.” And that is Hanger’s pitch for the development of energy alternatives—green wash. Not because he might not really mean that he’d like to see us move beyond fossil fuels, but because he has already conceded cheerily that we won’t and can’t—and he doesn’t really care. After all, if he did, he’d support the Democratic Party’s moratorium resolution—and he doesn’t. He calls it unrealistic—as if “realistic” were an acceptable concession to death-by-fracking.
So here we have another resolution with which a candidate for governor disagrees—the first Pennsylvania public union’s resolution to resist fracking operations on PASSHE properties. The value of such a resolution is not—to be really realistic—in its capacity to keep fracking off PASSHE campuses. It will not. It’s value lay in its bearing witness—when the trucks roll down our rural roads onto our campus quads, our students will know that we said NO to this egregious intrusion into their futures. Its value lay in its capacity as a tool for fomenting the only thing that will bring to an end a catastrophe that hasn’t really even begun—and won’t until pipeline and export depot are ready to begin the trans-ocean transports of frack gas to China and Japan and India. That thing is called a “revolution,” and it begins in the only place it can: every conscience of every thinking person who sees through the game of “regulation,” and recognizes that like all games of Russian Roulette, Regulation Roulette ends up with a bullet to the head—in this case that of our collective future.
So—it is a small world. But it is bigger than, say, Dimock, and it is bigger than any single college campus, and it is bigger than Pennsylvania. But it is not bigger than the shale deposits whose mining for gas represents the last gasp of a fatal addiction—and that is a world grown smaller by the day.