Meadville Tribune

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May 26, 2013

SUNDAY ISSUE: Green schools and fracking

MEADVILLE — At Allegheny College, students eat locally grown food from biodegradable containers using compostable forks.

The private, liberal-arts college has won national awards for green initiatives, gets all its electricity from wind generation and has a goal of carbon neutrality by 2020.

Now, the school touted in the Princeton Review’s guide to green colleges as a leader of environmental friendliness, is talking about leasing land for “fracking,” the horizontal drilling technique used to get gas from shale.

Even more surprising is that the most likely place is in the Bousson Environmental Research Reserve, 283 acres of university-owned land in East Mead Township. It is part of the Bousson Forest, which sits atop the Utica Shale.

There is no offer on the table yet, but gas leasing companies expressed interest late last year, and the school is trying to head off controversy. It may become a model for handling the issue on campuses across the state.

Allegheny has tried to avoid some of the tension around the subject on campus by creating a group of faculty members, students and alumni to help the school navigate a discussion of drilling.

But many students PublicSource talked with aren’t buying the arguments for fracking.

Annie Krol, 23, said she chose to attend Allegheny because of its green reputation.

“It shocked me that we would consider subsidizing fossil fuels,” Krol said. “It’s not in line with our image.”

Averting problems

The situation unfolding at Allegheny is in stark contrast to the way California University of Pennsylvania, a state-owned school, handled leasing campus land in 2011. When the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PublicSource collaborated on a story about the lease, students said they knew nothing about it.

Larry Lee, vice president of finance and administration at Allegheny, said officials there want a better sense of what the concerns are in the community and on campus.

“Let’s have a conversation,” Lee said. “We don’t know whether we are interested or not, but we should go through the process of self-awareness and education.”

But some on the campus fear that the discussions will have no impact on the ultimate decision makers — the school’s board of trustees.

“If the trustees have decided that they want to frack, then we’re going to frack,” said Krol, who has since graduated.

The tension surrounding this issue on the Allegheny campus was evident at an April forum held at the school’s historic chapel.

Members of the campus community fired questions and comments at the Bousson Advisory Group, picked to aid in decision making.

“For this institution to teach me sustainability and … then for them to turn their back on me, to say we are going to frack because of the money, undermines the values we stand for,” said Ahasanur Rahman, 22, who graduated in May with a degree in environmental science.

Many of the forums have centered on industry issues, said Kiley Fisher, 22, with experts from the drilling industry discussing the process of leasing land and seismic testing. That leads her to believe the school will ultimately allow drilling.

An environmental group that Fisher heads, Students for Environmental Action, gathered more than 900 signatures from students, faculty, staff and alumni against fracking.

Krol, who graduated in May, said that if the campus decides to frack, it would be neglecting its civic duty to protect the region’s resources.

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