Last week, Dimiter Kenarov and I traveled to universities and secondary schools in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to present his work on shale gas extraction. We called it the “fracking tour.” After all, the project, which covered the thorny and complex issue from Poland, where it has yet to take off, to Pennsylvania, where it is exploding, was like “diving into the mosh pit at a punk rock concert,” said Dimiter.
Dimiter spoke at Duquesne University, the University of Pittsburgh and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and at Winchester Thurston and Mount Lebanon High School in Pittsburgh and Central High and the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. A breakfast roundtable at the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh and a media workshop at WHYY in Philadelphia were also in the mix, to make a total of 16 talks.
The fracking tour was almost an inversion of the usual Pulitzer Center educational approach, which generally involves explaining the significance of a little-known problem that’s wreaking havoc on a poorly understood people in a vanishingly distant land.
Fracking as a concept is familiar to most Pennsylvanians because it’s happening in their backyards -- sometimes as close as a few hundred feet from their homes. Still, most of the students we spoke to knew little of the environmental and social consequences of the drilling, water use, flowback, and gas seepage it carries with it. The potential for job creation in communities hard-hit by the recession and the financial gains to be had from the sale of mineral rights make fracking popular in most communities.
But, as Dimiter’s reports have revealed, environmental concerns are mounting and the long-term economic benefits to the people who live among the wells are uncertain.
In President Obama’s State of the Union address on Wednesday he lauded “the natural gas boom,” and vowed to “keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.” As we were leaving Pittsburgh we heard that a deal to frack the land next to the airport was close to completion.