Daniel O'Connor/Contributing Photographer

Students stood in defiance outside the Glenn G. Bartle Library last week as they protested Binghamton University’s $1.4 million deal with natural gas drilling company Chesapeake Appalachia.

On Aug. 6, 2008 the Binghamton University Foundation, an educational and non-profit corporation that raises funds for the University, agreed to a five-year lease of a 562-acre property located in the town of Union for the use of hydraulic fracturing, a method of drilling for natural gas.

The $1.4 million lease will allow Chesapeake Appalachia, a branch of Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy and America’s second largest natural gas producer, to have mineral rights to the land, permitting them to explore for oil and natural gas.

The Environmental Protection Agency has said that natural gas plays a key role in the nation’s clean energy future, and hydraulic fracturing could be one way of accessing that resource.

But Joshua Darfler, a senior majoring in biology, said that areas in which natural gas drilling is occurring have already reported high measures of contamination, despite any regulations that have been in place.

Darfler, a member of Binghamton Environmental, a campus group coalition that raises awareness of environmental issues involving both the campus and community, said that all it takes is one accident for the water system to become contaminated with radioactive waste.

‘In Dimock, Penn., they haven’t had drinkable tap water for over two years now,’ he said. ‘Without access to clean water, how can one truly live? It is very scary stuff.’

The town of Union is located on the top of the Marcellus Shale, which extends down the eastern Atlantic coast and serves as a natural deposit of methane.

Gas companies are currently surveying the whole Marcellus Shale region, which includes Broome County, for future drilling plans.

‘Over the past few years, several key technical, economic and energy policy developments have spurred increased use of [hydraulic fracturing] for gas extraction over a wider diversity of geographic regions and geologic formations,’ according to information from the EPA.

‘Along with the expansion of [hydraulic fracturing], there has been increasing concerns about its potential impacts on drinking water resources, public health and environmental impacts in the vicinity of these facilities,’ the information states.

The EPA projected that shale gas will comprise over 20 percent of the total United States gas supply by 2020.

Mike Morosi, press secretary for Congressman Maurice Hinchey, who has been a staunch opponent of unregulated drilling, explained that every state has developed its own set of regulations to deal with hydraulic fracturing, with New York State having engaged in very thorough oversight and regulation.

Morosi added that the lack of a unified federal law encourages states to compete for oil and gas companies by lightening regulation and providing more incentives, which may have adverse environmental impact.

‘Every state where hydraulic fracturing is occurring is in this process to strike a right balance,’ Morosi said.

Morosi added that Congressman Hinchey has advocated for the FRAC Act, which inserts language into a congressional bill that proposes a baseline of federal regulations for the oil and gas industry.

‘There’s not a lot to ask for,’ Morosi said about the FRAC Act. ‘Obvious revisions to have in place ‘ play by the rules and tell us what you’re putting into the ground.’

In a statement to the Press & Sun-Bulletin, Marcia Craner, vice president for external affairs and executive director of the Binghamton Foundation, said that the agreement signed included a number of environmental protection clauses, including testing the water both before and after all drilling.

‘The potential revenue earned from the agreement will benefit the entire Binghamton University community,’ Craner said. ‘The Foundation’s board of directors will utilize these funds to support students and the University by enhancing educational opportunities now and in the future.’