With Earth Day upcoming, the UB Environmental Network was hard at work this weekend to make a green effort to save a local state park.
The inaugural Power Shift Regional Summit New York kicked off Friday. The UB Environmental Network, as well as representatives from various other colleges, hosted a three-day conference that helped raise awareness toward preserving an increasingly endangered environment.
The summit also featured a peaceful demonstration outside the Getzville headquarters of U.S. Energy Development Corporation, an oil-and-natural-gas drilling operator that is exploring drilling operations in Allegany State Park, the state's largest state park and one of its most bio-diverse forest ecosystems.
"We've been doing this all semester. We've basically just dumped all our resources and efforts into this," said Matt Candeias, senior ecology and evolutionary science major. "It's cool to see all of our efforts come together in some measured level of success."
Candeias believes that Power Shift NY provides a great opportunity for students to come together and build a strong network.
"We're just trying to inform people about healthy climate action, sustainability and kind of move towards a more progressive energy climate environmental movement in the country," Candeias said. "We're moving for healthy environmental action. Change the paradigm [on] the way people view the environment"
Over 60 speakers were on hand to discuss topics ranging from the Love Canal, to how to start a campus garden.
One of the largest efforts that Power Shift NY made was on Friday in a "Day of Action." Members of UBEN, as well as community members, were out in full force Friday at the U.S. Energy Department Corporation's local headquarters on Millersport Highway, protesting the efforts of the U.S. Energy Department Corporation to start stripping Allegany State Park of its resources.
"They're trying to drill for oil in Allegany State Park, and we don't want that to happen because they have a really [bad] track record," Candeias said.
According to Jason Mazurowski, a senior environmental studies and geology major, the U.S. Energy Department has been operating in Pennsylvania since the 1980s. Thousands of oil wells have been constructed in Allegany National Forest, which have destroyed one to five acres of forest. Within the past two years, the USEDC has been accused of 302 violations in the Allegany National Forest
If action isn't taken soon, Mazurowski fears that Allegany State Park in New York will suffer a similar fate.
"If we let the same thing happen to Allegany State Park, which is a fraction of the size [of Allegany National Forest], we're looking at a good portion of the park just totally in ruins," Mazurowski said.
Mazurowski also explained how a trail on Black Snack Mountain, located at the southernmost part of Allegany State Park, literally comes within feet of the state border with oil wells.
"It's like a slap to the face. They come up to the line as close as they can get," Mazurowski said.
Friday's protest will hopefully stop efforts to destroy local natural landmarks.
"We're going to basically ask them what they're planning on doing in Allegany State Park and why we should trust them after their previous violations," Mazurowski said. "This is not the right company, this is not the right place, [and] this is not the right time."
While the peaceful protest has already been held, Mazurowski believes that students can continue making a difference by forcing political leaders to become involved. The UBEN will be focusing on this aspect for the rest of the semester.
Environmental action is becoming a larger deal on campus, and events like Power Shift NY further exemplify that fact.
"It's being talked about more and more, and I think that's a healthy step," Candeias said. "I think with a lot of changes it's slow and steady. It's gaining momentum, [which is] reassuring."
According to powershift.org, Joseph M. Jayson, owner of U.S. Energy Development Corp. says he "has no intention of upsetting the natural state of the park and insists that his plan offers the opportunity to provide the county with domestic energy and put local people to work."
While this is the case for the company, Mazurowski recalls his first environmental experience was camping at Allegany State Park.
At the end of the day, most of the people at the rally had one common goal.
"To let [U.S. Energy Development Corporation] know that a big chunk of concerned citizens don't want them drilling," Candeias said. "[I'm] coming at them with the question ‘Is there nothing sacred?'"
Candeias suggests that students can make a large difference by networking with friends and being conscious of what is happening in their backyard. Power Shift NY isn't what will change the environment: people are.
Additional reporting by Jessica Bennett, Asst. News Editor.