Frantz Continues Fracking Work in the Classroom and in the Field
Last fall, George Frantz, associate professor of the practice in CRP, led graduate students in his Environmental Impact Review class to western Bradford County, Pennsylvania, for a firsthand look at the effects of high-volume hydraulic fracturing — a horizontal boring method for extracting natural gas from rock. The field trip was just the most recent chapter in Frantz's ongoing involvement with the fracking debate at the state and regional level.
In his long-time professional planning and design practice, Frantz has participated in hundreds of environmental impact reviews that are required under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), which was established in 1975. His deep knowledge of urban and regional planning impacts to agriculture and agricultural land resources in New York led him to assist the American Farmland Trust in reviewing the first draft of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) Generic Environmental Impact Statement concerning fracking, issued in September 2011 as the Draft/Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS).
As New York state considered whether to permit fracking, between 2008–18 a gas drilling boom rose and fell just across the border in Pennsylvania. In his practice, Frantz completed a number of planning projects in the region. "My familiarity with the region provided me with the opportunity to study first-hand the land use–related impacts of gas drilling and fracking as well as the regulatory environment in which the industry operated," he says.
Frantz also brought the topic into the classroom, with outcomes that eventually affected the state's decision to ban fracking in 2014. Frantz's fall 2010 Land Use/Environmental Planning field workshop focused on drilling and fracking operations, their impacts on communities, and the regulatory environment in Pennsylvania through direct investigation in Bradford County. A report developed out of that workshop written by alumna Min Bu (B.S. URS '12, M.R.P. '14) and CALS student Sarita Upadhyay, "Visual Impacts of Natural Gas Drilling in the Marcellus Shale Region," was cited by the DEC as a reference in the revised dSGEIS that became the basis for the fracking ban in in New York.
"It was a very complex policy issue, with a large number of ramifications at both the local and regional levels," says Frantz. "And it was a successful example of the integration of public input into New York's SEQRA decision-making process — a key objective of the legislation that established the SEQRA process."
In his teaching, Frantz sees his primary role as providing students with experiential learning opportunities that enable them to apply planning theory to planning practice. "My job is to give students practical experience in land-use planning and bring contemporary professional practice into the classroom," he says.
Having students encounter political realities is a means to that end. Although the gas drilling industry has since moved away from Bradford County, the fall 2018 field trip gave five M.R.P. students and four from outside AAP an opportunity to see the impacts of fracking where it has been permitted. The day-long trip included stops at drilling sites, water withdrawal sites, and drilling businesses — including those that have been abandoned in the wake of the drilling bust and departure of the industry. The students observed impacts of drilling pads, impoundments, and pipeline infrastructure on agricultural lands; impacts on local road infrastructure; and impacts on communities from drilling-induced development.
Avi Gandhi (M.R.P. '19) expected to see scarring and devastation but came away with the sense that Pennsylvania laws regulating hydraulic fracturing were effective in eliminating negative damage caused by drillers. "What I saw instead was large expanses of family farms," Gandhi said in a CRP student blog post written by Grant Thompson (M.R.P. '19). "It felt like an expedition to track down an active site [and although] we didn't find any, we learned to look for the right clues."
"This experience allowed for the group to reflect on how the mining practices could be further regulated," Thompson wrote. "As planners, we must acknowledge our responsibility in ensuring that the preservation of the natural landscapes is upheld to the highest standards possible."
During the fall semester, the special topics class also touched on the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy, as well as impact statements for the Chain Works District in Ithaca and Cornell's West Campus Residential Initiative.
By Patti Witten