The fracking prostitutes of American colleges
Lackawanna College, a two-year college in Scranton, has become a prostitute.
The administration doesn't think of themselves or their college as prostitutes. They believe they are doing a public service. Of course, streetwalkers and call girls also believe they are doing a public service.
Lackawanna College's price is $2.5 million.
That's how much Cabot Oil & Gas paid to the School of Petroleum and Natural Gas, whose own nine-building campus is in New Milford in northeastern Pennsylvania. On the school's logo are now the words, "Endowed by Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation."
That would be the same Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation that has racked up more than 500 violations since it first used horizontal fracking to extract gas in the Marcellus Shale almost six years ago.
That would be the same company that was found to be responsible for significant environmental and health damages in Dimock.
It's the same company, fronted by four lawyers, that managed to keep a peaceful grandmother anti-fracking activist not only off its property, but away from Susquehanna County's recycling center, a hospital, grocery stores, restaurants and 40 percent of the county where Cabot has mineral rights leases.
Several major gas and oil companies and suppliers - including Anadarko, BakerHughes, Chesapeake Energy, Halliburton, Noble Energy, Southwestern Energy, Williams Midstream, and others -have also contributed scholarships, equipment and funding to the school. The school's mission includes creating "a campus that is focused and dedicated to the oil and gas industry."
Lackawanna College proudly claims its Cabot-endowed school is "focused on its vision of becoming a nationally recognized, first-in-class program in the field of petroleum and natural gas technology." There is no question the school is fulfilling its promise. A $500,000 outdoor field laboratory simulates a working gas field; all students are required to complete internships. There are nine full-time faculty, all with engineering degrees and significant industry experience. Fifteen adjunct faculty also have significant industry experience.
Richard Marquardt, the school's executive director, has Bachelor of Science degrees in petroleum engineering and business management, as well as a long history of work in the industry. By fall semester, the school will have about 150 full-time students. Students major in one of four programs - petroleum and natural gas technology, natural gas compression technology, petroleum and natural gas measurement, and petroleum and natural gas business administration.
Admission to the school's rigorous academic programs "is highly competitive," with students needing a strong science and math background prior to acceptance, says Marquardt. The students earn an associate in science degree upon completion of the two-year program. "It is focused on a very specific market," says Marquardt, providing personnel at a level between the vocational training programs and the Bachelor of Science engineering programs. The placement rate is more than 90 percent, says Marquardt.
In their fourth semester, students take a course in "Leadership, Ethics and Regulations," which explores "the holistic environment in which the petroleum and natural gas industry operates, including the effect of corporate leadership on the company's credibility and reputation; real world ethical issues and the relationship of the industry to federal, state and local governments, including regulatory agencies."
The development of the process of high-volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing (commonly known as fracking) was the result of brilliant engineering by Mitchell Energy during the 1990s. Less than a decade ago, it became the most prevalent way to extract oil and gas. But, with the new technology has come significant problems.
The students who earn the Associate of Science degree do not take courses in public health or environmental issues, major concerns of those who oppose the process of horizontal fracking. It's doubtful there will be a balanced program, where all views are heard, something that is at the core of a college program. An associate degree doesn't mean the students, no matter how prepared they are to work in the shale gas industry, will be exposed to all the issues, reports and scientific studies that suggest fracking causes significant environmental and health problems. After all, Cabot wasn't going to invest in a college program that presented all sides of the issues of oil and gas drilling. Nor is it likely to invest anything more if the college expands its program so that students get courses in renewable energy, and the health and environmental effects of fracking.
But, that really doesn't matter. Cabot paid $2.5 million, and other gas supplier, extraction and development companies donated scholarships, funds and equipment to make sure the students receive what may be one of the nation's best possible educations to be prepared to work in the gas fields. They didn't put money and resources into a program that would ask some of the most important questions: "What are the major effects to the health and environment from what we are doing?" "What should we be doing to develop new technology that doesn't threaten the health and safety of the people?" and "Is fossil fuel really the best way to assure the production of energy?"
Next week: Other colleges that may have been compromised by accepting corporate donations.
(Walter Brasch, an author and retired university professor from Bloomsburg, writes "Wanderings" for each Sunday edition.)