While UT battled Oregon on the football field, another conflict unfolded on campus.
The first annual Fractivist Conference, organized by the Sierra Club, commenced Friday with workshops in the UC. Conference attendees were hosted by the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.
The conference focused on, as many see it, the failings of the industry to protect citizens and the environment.
Charles White, a recent graduate of MTSU with a degree in antropology, played a large role in coordinating the event.
"We really saw the need for more comprehensive plan for regional coordination against fracking in the Southeast, so we thought, you know, what better place than Knoxville," White said. "We've had this issue going on in Tennessee regarding the fracking research, so we thought it would be a cool place to do it with students from SPEAK, and the faculty members of UT really encouraged us to utilize the university for workshops."
Fracking is a method of retrieving oil and natural gas from the earth by shooting a pressurized mixture of sand, chemicals and water underground, releasing the valued hydrocarbons. Many environmental groups have spoken out about the process, not only because the relatively new technology is largely unregulated, but because of the health dangers posed by the process.
More than half of the chemicals used in the process are known mutagenic or carcinogenic compounds, many of which are deliberately hidden from the public as proprietary information by the industry.
Jannette Barth, an economist visiting from New York, expresses concerns beyond the environmental implications of fracking.
Barth's workshop, "The Economic Impact of Shale Gas vs. the Alternatives" highlights her work on the petroleum industry, in particular, their claims about job growth.
"An early, industry funded study ... had claimed that 88,000 jobs would be created in Pennsylvania in 2010 due to shale gas development," Barth said. "The reality there is that only 65,000 jobs were created statewide in all industries that year, and half of those were in Education and Health, and Leisure and Hospitality."
Terry Brewster, a Morgan County landowner, identifies himself as a direct victim of fracking. Brewster claims his 60-year-old well was polluted after a company fracked on the land surrounding his property, rendering water from his well not potable.
"Now it's got an oil film on the top of it, it doesn't taste good, and if I put some in a glass jar ... and let it set, this pink, rusty looking stuff will tend to grow," Brewster said. "I have no idea what it is. It's not easy when you have a problem like that to figure out who to go to."
In Tennessee, 50 percent of the landowners in a particular area must consent to allow fracking on their land. When this is achieved, companies are free to drill underground in any direction for approximately seven miles.
This policy, Brewster noted, allows neighboring property owners to drastically influence the future of his land. A landowner with a larger property more heavily influences the final decision regarding whether to permit fracking in the area, despite how smaller landowners – like Brewster – might feel about that verdict.
Brewster added, “If somebody owns 1,000 acres, and you rebut them with an acre or two, you’re far outweighed by it."