Marcellus Shale Fails to Get Student Voters Fired Up

Marcellus Shale gas drilling is a big political issue in this mid-term election because of its environmental and economic effects. But does it mean much to young voters? The Allegheny Front's Estelle Tran asked around her college campus to see if deep shale production will be on the minds of students when they hit the polls.

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OPEN: Marcellus Shale gas drilling is a big political issue in this mid-term election because of its environmental and economic effects. But does it mean much to young voters? The Allegheny Front's Estelle Tran asked around her college campus to see if deep shale production will be on the minds of students when they hit the polls.

(OK everybody, welcome to the first debate of the year.)

TRAN: College Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians gather at the University of Pittsburgh for their monthly debate. Today's debate topic is energy. With the upcoming elections, these students are eager to talk about the BP oil spill and Marcellus Shale gas drilling.

Pitt student Dave Null speaks on behalf of the College Republicans, who favor deep shale gas production.

NULL: The majority of the regions throughout Pennsylvania that will benefit from this are those areas that have been mined for coal for years. They're generally very poor areas, and it would bring over 200,000 jobs. It would bring a lot of revenue into the state. I don't really know where the water issue is coming from.

CAFFEE: That is absolutely absurd.

TRAN: Alex Caffee, is the dissenting voice and vice president of the College Democrats. Caffee grew up in Pittsburgh, so she's familiar with local politics. She says the College Democrats work to keep students on top of the political situation, but that can be more of a challenge with the students who consider campus a temporary home.

CAFFEE: It's hard to get people to relate to it unless it affects them directly. You know, with students, it's hard to get them motivated. Which is why we actually invited a group from the Marcellus Shale Protest to come and speak with us because I knew they would just get all these kids fired up.

TRAN: So far only a couple candidates have come to Pitt to talk to students and only one has addressed Marcellus production. Representative Mike Doyle told students deep shale gas could be a part of the transition to clean energy. Representative Joe Sestak, who is running for senate, spoke on campus in October. Though he's one of the few politicians calling for a temporary moratorium on gas drilling, he focused the event on the economy. Caffee thinks politicians are reluctant to say they're against Marcellus exploration.

CAFFEE: I don't think any candidate is, besides the Green Party candidate, who actually dropped out. I agree with the severance tax. I think it's a step in the right direction, but I also think that it's not enough. I'm pretty sure that they would support a severance tax just because Democrats tend to like that sort of thing.

TRAN: Caffee says she's looking for a candidate who wants tougher regulations and shows that he's paying attention to the issue.

(Ambient sound of the In the Groove dance machine)
Across the street, Katie Daley, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, enjoys ice cream in the student union. She grew up in Somerset County . Daily first heard about Marcellus Shale drilling a few years ago. That's when her parents and neighbors were approached by an energy company that wanted to drill on their land.

DALEY: The upward mobility is slim, so the large amount of money that they had thrown out on the table was appealing.

TRAN: Daley hasn't heard much about the potentially harmful environmental effects of gas drilling and says that people in her area might not be aware of this problem either.

DALEY: I was a little surprised that my parents would be interested in something like that. But, I think that from a smaller area with less percentage of college graduates, the education about the environment or the pollution that would come from this wouldn't reach them. And it kind of wouldn't be in their interest. Money would be in their interest.

TRAN: Daley registered to vote in Pittsburgh for the 2008 general election, but she hasn't voted since. She seems to represent recent voting patterns. Pittsburgh's 4th ward, which includes the University of Pittsburgh and few other colleges, had almost 60 percent voter turnout in the 2008 presidential election, but in 2009, that figure dropped to about 11 percent.

DALEY: I'm not really an informed voter, so I don't plan on voting in the elections coming up in the next couple weeks. I'm not planning on staying in Allegheny County. It might affect my region, but it won't be affecting me. So, I doubt that I'll vote.

TRAN: Election day is November 2nd. Student leaders point out there's still time to read up on the candidates and the issues. For The Allegheny Front, I'm Estelle Tran.