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Fracking in Focus

Impact of hydraulic fracturing a rich research topic

By Susan Clarey


Michael-Anne Myrvang (center) and Dinah DeWald (right) received funding for their summer experiences from the James H. ’58 and Margaret C. Miller Summer Internship for Environmental Preservation. Photo by Laurence Kesterson

Half a world apart, Michael-Anne Myrvang ’13 and Dinah DeWald ’13 spent summer 2012 working toward the same goal: protecting the environment.

In New York City, DeWald signed on as an intern and activist with New Yorkers Against Fracking, an organization opposed to the controversial hydraulic fracturing technique used to extract petroleum and natural gas, including shale gas, from the earth.

“My job was very nimble,” she says. “I could be calling people to increase turnout to a rally, then the next minute putting up Facebook events and trying to boost our reach, then pulling together information for a press release we needed right away.

“One day the program director asked me if I wanted to hold up signs at an event where the governor was speaking. Ten minutes later I was out the door, driving with folks up to Westchester County,” she continues. “It was often last-minute and reactive, but it was exciting for me and added to the sense of urgency.”

Her biggest accomplishment was a report on conflict-of-interest violations in communities in New York’s southern tier, where fracking activity is concentrated. “In some towns, 80 percent of elected officials have gas leases while at the same time they are voting on resolutions that invite fracking into their communities,” she explains.

DeWald logged hours on the phone to bring her research to the attention of the offices of the state attorney general and comptroller. “When I was doing this work, I felt like a professional organizer, and the people I called treated me that way,” she says.

Three thousand miles away in China, Myrvang also focused on fracking—at the Beijing regional headquarters of the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental-action group.

For the first half of her internship, she conducted research into the process and unique issues facing China’s burgeoning shale-gas industry.

During the second half, she turned her attention to waste incineration.

“What surfaced through my research is that the Chinese government is actively promoting incineration as an environmentally and socially conscious solution to China’s waste program,” she says. “That is unfortunately far from the truth.”

Simultaneously, she adds, the Chinese government is offering financial incentives to support the operations of so-called waste- to-energy–plants. “These facilities generally emit dangerous levels of toxic dioxins despite China’s dioxin regulations, which are as stringent as those in the European Union.”

Captivated by the complexities of this issue, Myrvang is considering a future Fulbright research project that will delve more deeply into waste management in China.

For her part, DeWald will put her newfound organizing skills to work raising the profile of Swarthmore Frack Action on campus. Intrigued by the culture of activist communities, she will incorporate into her senior thesis a study of groups on campus and how their sense of community affects their ethical and behavioral approach to the environment.

“This internship also made me realize how much more involved I should be as a citizen,” she says. “How can I ask other people to make calls to the governor and meet with their elected officials if I don’t do it myself?”

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