DoGooder and Upstate NY liberal arts undergrad, Nora Grenfell, explores environmental initiatives in education.
If you live in New York state or Pennsylvania, chances are youâ€™ve heard the term â€śfrackingâ€ť before. Maybe itâ€™s been in passing, but more likely itâ€™s been embedded in a hot debate. If you live in Arizona or New Mexico, you may know even more about frackingâ€”itâ€™s been going on there for several years. But what is fracking, really, and what does it have to do with schools?
Fracking (which is an abbreviated version of the term â€śhydrofracking,â€ť which in turn is shorthand for â€śhydraulic fracturingâ€ť) is a technology developed by energy companies almost a century ago that allowed them to extract more oil and gas reserves from depleted sources. The technology has recently been expanded to allow energy companies to access natural gas contained in bedrock deep beneath the earth. The gas is billed as â€ścleanâ€ť by energy companies because combustion of natural gas releases far less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than does the combustion of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is the major greenhouse gas driving global warming today, and emissions are rising. Global warming may soon reach a â€śtipping point,â€ť the return from which will be impossible for our society.
While natural gas is not as â€śdirtyâ€ť as petroleum (or its even worse cousin, coal), the combustion of natural gas still releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Environmental groups opposed to fracking are quick to point this out, and they have another concern, as well. Hydrofracking has been linked to health risks in many communities in the American southwestâ€”in articles, studies and documentaries that are both recipients of accolades and also a subject of controversy amongst the scientific and non-scientific communities.
Like many energy issues, fracking doesnâ€™t fall along strictly partisan lines. When youâ€™re talking about energy, it becomes harder to distinguish between the positions of Democrats and Republicans. Consider the historic case of coal, where democratic legislators from â€ścoal statesâ€ť usually advocate the development of coal-fired power plants because of the enormous economic impact it has on their districts. President Obamaâ€™s, despite a commitment to dealing with climate change during his campaign, has largely ignored the issue in favor of his health-care platform and the countryâ€™s economic issues. And letâ€™s not even get started on the Bush administrationâ€™s deep ties to Big Oil and Haliburton.
College campuses, which are often hotspots for activism, occupy a unique position in relation to this environmental issue. New York State has recently become focused on fracking due an interest in fracking the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation underlying New York and Pennsylvania. While many students and community leaders on my college campus are vehemently opposed to fracking (the grounds of our campus and outlying town are littered with â€śI <3 New York: No Hydrofracking!â€ť signs), the professors of geology on my campus have a different view of the problem. Because hydrofracking is an inherently geologic mechanism, these professors carry a lot of clout with the issue: and they say, â€śfracking? Do it.â€ť
Colleges are an interesting place to examine fracking, because the communities are already so intellectually diverseâ€”and full of individuals ready to express opinions. We can look to what happens at colleges to predict national debates. Energy companies who are pro-fracking have geologic experts testifying that itâ€™s time to exploit natural gas. Environmental advocates point to health hazards and say itâ€™s time to move away from our gas-fueled infrastructure and move to renewable energies. On a college campus, the discussion is more local, less publicized, and ultimately more productive. While many members of the community donâ€™t agree at my school, they are willing to work together to come up with compromises. The political debate around fracking isnâ€™t getting us anywhere, and a small-scale model like a college is working far more effectively than the national reality. Maybe itâ€™s time to change the conversation about frackingâ€”and I think community and regional models are a great place to start.
DoGooder Twitter Updates
Share the DoGooder with your Friends