Corbett to Pa. colleges: Drill down

HARRISBURG - Gov. Corbett is proposing a novel solution to state higher education funding: drilling for dollars.

Not a gas tax, but gas rigs. Right on campus.

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Gov. Corbett encouraged gas drilling on college properties.

Corbett told a meeting of a state college trustees' group Thursday that schools could address revenue shortfalls by tapping the riches of the Marcellus Shale beneath their campuses.

Speaking in Edinboro, Pa., Corbett said six campuses in the State System of Higher Education sit on the lucrative Marcellus Shale natural gas formation.

Spokesman Kevin Harley said the governor told the association that "we need to think differently and we need to act differently."

"We are not talking about drilling on top of 'Old Main,'" Harley said, "but a lot of these schools have a lot of land, separate and apart from the academic buildings."

Corbett's remarks - which went viral on the Internet almost as quickly as he made them - came as he is proposing to slice about $550 million, or 50 percent, of state funding for colleges and universities in his 2011-12 spending plan.

That plan does not call for a tax on the extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. Corbett has steadfastly opposed such a tax, even as the idea has gained popularity in statewide polls.

Corbett's suggestion for drilling on college lands would require a change in the law to allow those schools to keep the money. Harley said Thursday legislation was in the works to do that.

It could not immediately be learned how officials of the six colleges in question reacted to Corbett's suggestion.

Drilling for gas in shale deposits is not a simple matter. It requires injecting huge volumes of water underground to help shatter the rock - a process called hydraulic fracturing. How to balance that process with college life is a question mark.

Corbett's words left at least one leader of a school that isn't in the shale region wondering how her campus would benefit.

"We are not fortunate enough to have that asset on our campus," said Karen Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College, "and I think to fund higher education, we should be looking at more sustainable and steady sources of state funding."

Stout said colleges need to think outside the box and become more entrepreneurial in raising much-needed revenue. But, she added, she believes in "a public obligation to help with public higher education. It is an imperative of a civil society."

 


Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.