Community Engagement & Service

Balancing Sustainable Economic Development and Human Rights in Pennsylvania 

Alternative Break Fracking 2013

A shale-gas drilling and fracking site in Dimock, Pennsylvania. Photo by Jacques del Conte

The Trip:
This trip is inspired by this year’s community text, The End of Country by Seamus McGraw. The Alternative Break Trip to Pennsylvania will focus on the relationship between sustainable economic development and environmental justice to better understand the motivations and reservations of hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking), a method to extract natural gas, is controversial due to its perceived economic benefits and negative impacts on the environment.

With the current economic status and movement towards domestic fuel sources, natural gas has gained attention in the United States and is widely believed to be our “bridge fuel.” This is because it may potentially increase job opportunities, decrease reliance on foreign oil, and has a lower carbon output than gasoline and oil when burned. However, the gas and oil industry may have exaggerated economic benefits and overlooked the true environmental impact fracking imposes. These negative environmental outputs include polluted ground and drinking water, increased air pollution, and high exposure to carcinogenic toxins.

This trip will not only examine the pros and cons of natural gas and why certain communities permit or oppose fracking, but will expose students to the environmental injustices fracking may have on communities due to development and learn how communities are standing up for their right to clean air and water. Participants will work with community partners, Food & Water Watch and Berks Gas Truth.

The Social Justice Issues:

Students will be exposed to the various issues communities in Pennsylvania, and around the world, are experiencing related to fracking, while learning about sustainable economic development and it’s relationship with environmental justice. Students will learn about both the negative and positive externalities that natural gas extraction may bring to a community, and why some communities will welcome or reject developers. For many towns that are still reeling from the economic recession in 2008, the prospect of development and jobs is very appealing. However, sometimes the developers are not wholly successful in improving the lives of the community. Residents of the communities we will be visiting must weigh the risk between gambling with hydraulic fracturing and continuing with their current circumstances, which may not be fulfilling. Students will also be exposed to grassroots organizing, in which the community bands together to exercise their rights over their own community to protect their clean water and air, at times against or with corporations.

The Trip Leaders:

Aliya Mejias is a junior majoring in Environmental Studies. She was a participant in the 2010-2011 Alternative Break Trip to Guatemala that focused on environmental injustices and rebuilding communities. Since that trip she has gained passions for environmental justice and community grassroots organizing.

Scotty Scott is a junior majoring in International Relations and Economics. Scotty is very interested in the balance between development and human rights. She hopes to help students learn about communities affected by hydraulic fracturing, and is excited to share her passion.

Tentative Itinerary (Subject to change)

Saturday 3/9  
Travel to Pennsylvania
Leader-lead orientation
Dinner with local guide

Sunday 3/10   
Meet with Berks Gas Truth, driving tour of the town and understanding community organizing
Group Dinner and Reflection

Monday 3/11     
Meet with the Susquehanna Historical Society
Group Dinner and Reflection

Tuesday 3/12     
Tour of polluted river/fracking site and meet with research center
Group Dinner and Reflection

Wednesday 3/13     
Meet with local group of concerned citizens working in the community/people who have leased land to allow fracking
Group Dinner and Reflection

Thursday 3/14  
All day Service Project
Group Dinner and Reflection

Friday 3/15   
All day Service Project & Meet with the Mayor
Group Dinner and Reflection

Saturday 3/16     
Talk with Food and Water Watch’s Pennsylvania organizer & Final Action planning

Sunday 3/17    
Travel Back to Washington, DC

Location: Pennsylvania

Dates of Trip: March 9- 17, 2013

Student Leaders: Aliya Mejias and Scotty Scott

Staff Advisor: Chris O’Brien, Director of Sustainability

Cost: $500

Cost includes food, accommodation, transportation, and all planned activities.