Smart Fuel? Pennsylvania May Tap Into Campus Gas Reserves

A Pennsylvania gas rig (left) and the campus of Mansfield University. (images: Mark Ovaska via flickr.com; pennsylvaniamentor via flickr.com)

Pennsylvania — like many governments, large or small — has been strapped for cash over the last few budget seasons. And now, as the state tries to patch over a $4-billion budget hole, Gov. Tom Corbett has offered a way to slash spending on higher education.

The proposal: Drill the gas under state college campuses, several Pennsylvania media outlets are reporting.

There is an obvious financial perk. The gas money would cover some of the proposed budget cuts. One University of Texas satellite gas made $7 million in royalties since it started drilling campus gas in 2009. However, there’s a hiccup for colleges in the Pennsylvania state system that want to collect: The state owns the land, and so is entitled to the money. Though a state lawmaker has proposed changing the rules, so the money stays with the schools.

Four colleges in the Pennsylvania system sit along the gas-rich Marcellus shale: Mansfield, Lock Haven, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and California University of Pennsylvania. (Side note: What’s the deal with the confusing names, guys?) Two more schools sit on the fringes of the shale, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Though the move will surely face some backlash. One Mansfield professor said the proposal would turn ivy-festooned college campuses into industrial zones. A Lock Haven professor worried about potential accidents, fires, and chemical spills. In addition, college students have never seemed particularly hesitant about taking to the streets in protest.

That said, it’s not a new concept for Keystone State schools. Indiana University of Pennsylania previously drilled four gas wells, which helped to power the campus in the late 1970s and ‘80s. In addition, Corbett has floated the possibility of tapping gas reserves under state forests and prisons.