Gas Company Agendas with College Contributions

by Duane Nichols on May 17, 2014

IOGA Check @ WV Wesleyan

The Gas Industry as College Benefactors With Some Strings Attached

Article by S. Tom Bond, Retired Chemistry Professor & Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV, May 15, 2014

In the years I attended the old Salem College, I was constantly aware of donors.  They spoke at commencement, and in my early years, at assembly.  If it wasn’t a minister, it was a potential donor.  At Jacksonville State, the Ohio University Branch at Marietta, and at WVU, I wasn’t close enough to the leadership to appreciate it, but once again at Kent State I was.  I have jokingly said to friends, “A college or university president should wear a saffron robe and carry a wooden bowl, like a Buddhist priest.”  (Who take a vow of such extreme poverty that is all they can own, the bowl and the robe – the bowl is to receive gifts of food).

 One of the principal jobs for the president of an institution of higher education is still to cultivate donors.  In this era of economic contraction, it is tougher than ever. People like Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin, who went no further than high school, are very busy cutting down academic institutions like the once mighty University of Wisconsin. 

Who has lots of money to spread around…. you guessed it.  Part of that extended umbrella to keep the rain of reality off the fracking industry goes to colleges and universities.

How is it given?  Cabot Oil and Gas, a notorious repeat violator of regulations, gave Lackawanna College School of Petroleum and Natural Gas $2.5 million.  The result is the school’s logo now contains the words, “Endowed by Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation.”  The School’s  mission statement includes creating “a campus that is focused and dedicated to the oil and gas industry.” Cabot is responsible for the mess at Dimock, Pennsylvania, too.

Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research has announced the funding provided by ExxonMobil will allow it to establish a “Shale Gas Regulators Training Program.”  Doubtless these guys will be trained just the way the state DEP (whose proper name would be “Department of Energy Production”) wants them to be.

No more jobs than are provided by state agencies, and with politics a major criterion of selection, they will be as useful as a Ph. D. in harpsichord. 

Of course, Pennsylvania is particularly bad because the industry owns it’s governor, Tom Corbett.  He is the guy who received more than $1.8 million in campaign funds from oil and gas company personnel.  Other state offcials bring that sum up to $8 million for the state and an additional $15.7 million went to lobbying!

Of course West Virginia is not exempt.  West Virginia Wesleyan, one of the finest small colleges in the nation, where three of my four children attended, has announced a new Bachelor of Science in Petroleum and Natural Gas Geophysics program to start in August of 2014.  The announcement on the college pages is discrete, and even the news articles do not mention where the money is coming from, but it doesn’t take much reading behind the lines to project the source. Small  donations for specific needs, like the contribution of the Jane Lew XTO office $30,000 to WVU to train firefighters in how to handle natural gas fires are not inappropriate, but open ended gifts in the millions are the ones that inhibit faculty from finding fault with fracking and  encourage others to make wild claims for the industry like this one from Economist Tom Witt’s March 23 op-ed in the Charleston Gazette which I answered in the Gazette here, and earlier statements by some WVU geologists.  It takes a pretty bold faculty member to miss the handwriting on the wall when they have millions coming in from a donor.

Sometimes a group can do it, though.  The union that represents the 6000 members if the faculty of the Pennsylvania system got fed up when Corbett stated 6 of the 14 universities of the state higher education system that sit on top of the Marcellus shale should allow gas drilling on campuses to help solve their financial problems in 2011.  This was when he was expected to cut $2 billion from education and reduce aid to colleges and universities by 50 percent, and had approved 3,800 new gas wells on PA state forest lands!  The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty (PASSHE)  passed a resolution in 2013 opposing drilling on campuses.  They said, ” [the committee] supports the position that PASSHE campuses are not appropriate locations for hydraulic fracturing (fracking), that given the environmental and health hazards of the fracking process, including all of its infrastructure and associated enterprises, its presence on PASSHE campuses is inconsistent and potentially deleterious to the PASSHE educational mission as well as to the health and welfare of PASSHE community members…. Having one of these sites near a home, school or business can be distracting, inconvenient, annoying, and disruptive.”

So basically, corporations donating to higher ed is much like contribution to politicians and lobbying, it’s money invested.  Giving money away doesn’t add to the bottom line, the purpose for which corporations are formed.  It must be an investment expected to add to the bottom line.  Simple, isn’t it?

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