We welcome Duke University’s announcement of a delayed trustee vote on a campus-based methane gas plant that it had proposed to build in partnership with Duke Energy, ostensibly to guarantee an affordable energy supply over the next three decades.
This is an expensive way to save money. Methane gas is a powerful driver of climate change and leaks from the natural gas infrastructure are legion, as David Hughes and Robert Howarth demonstrated when they spoke at Duke University last year.
Although the adverse impacts of the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) gas extraction method wouldn’t be local, benefitting from the technology would contradict the values of an institution that prides itself on health leadership. Findings by Duke University’s own faculty are included in a compendium of 900 studies about fracking’s health and ecological harms published by Physicians for Social Responsibility. This evidence is so convincing that New York and Maryland have banned fracking altogether.
Moral arguments aside, the university should want to avoid contributing to climate change for the sake of its own healthcare system. The US Global Climate Change Research Program’s health assessment predicts that North Carolina awaits increases in respiratory, cardiovascular and insect-borne diseases, heat-related illness and threats to mental health from unfettered climate change.
We hope the university ultimately will reject the plan. We would be surprised and disappointed if it were to ignore the research on its own campus that confirms the urgent need to transition to clean, and increasingly affordable in its own right, renewable energy.