June 9, 2010

Students, Community Sound Off in Hydrofracking Debate

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The University’s decision on whether to lease its land for natural gas drilling has sparked controversy.The development of new gas extraction capabilities like horizontal drilling and hydraulic-fracturing —known as “hydrofracking” — has generated interest in the Marcellus Shale, a rock bed the size of Greece that stretches across New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio and may contain between 168 and 516 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.The University currently owns the rights to approximately 11,000 acres, or 4 percent of Tompkins County’s land, in addition to 420,000 acres of potentially gas-rich land across the United States.Since November, local community groups, along with student groups KyotoNow! and the Sustainability Hub, have organized protests against the possibility of hydrofracking in Tompkins County. Community members have also voiced their concern that hydrofracking would harm the local water supply.Some activists have also expressed concerns over the decision-making processes at Cornell. More than 100 people have signed a letter that asks that the chairman of Cornell’s Board of Trustees to recuse himself from advising the University on the issue. Chairman Peter Meinig ’61 has served on the Board of Directors of Williams Companies, one of the nation’s largest natural gas companies. Although the University maintains that no conflict of interest exists because there is no specific gas drilling deal on the table, supporters of the letter argue that Meinig’s family ties to oil companies should preclude him from being involved in any discussuion of the issue at Cornell. In December, the University announced a moratorium on any consideration regarding the leasing and exploration of University land above the Marcellus Shale until “federal or state guidelines on natural gas drilling are established that conform” to the University’s “high environmental standards.”The University’s ad hoc advisory committee on natural gas drilling — comprised of six faculty members, four staff members and one graduate student — has since met to gather community feedback and develop a set of guidelines by the end of this year.Even so, local and student groups alike continue to mount public pressure on the University by erecting small anti-fraking signs in their yards. Student groups have also lamented the lack of undergraduate involvement representation on the advisory committee.

Original Author: Sun Staff