In the week before classes resume at the University of Colorado, around a dozen students will travel to the Western Slope to learn more about hydraulic fracturing.
The students, who left Friday on the week-long Alternative Breaks program at CU, plan to interview people, tour ghost towns and visit hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, sites near Garfield County. Their goal is to better understand the issue that has been especially prevalent along the Front Range in recent months.
This is also the first time that CU students have been able to participate in an alternative break program during winter break. In the past, students have traveled with the program over spring and summer breaks to learn about social and environmental justice issues and serve various communities around the world.
While many of the warmer-weather trips are service oriented, this winter trip will be more informative, said site leader and senior Kathryn Quinn.
"A huge part of our philosophy is we don't just want to volunteer, we want to be able to educate, then do service and also reflect," Quinn said. "On our fracking trip, there's not a lot of direct service to do. We're looking at the trip as an all-over educational experience. We'll try to spread awareness within our greater community" upon returning.
Quinn said many students don't know a lot about fracking, the oil and gas drilling process which appeared on the 2013 ballot in Colorado. Anti-fracking measures passed in Lafayette, Boulder and Fort Collins. In Broomfield, a five-year ban on fracking passed by 20 votes.
The group will spend time in Garfield County, which has more than 10,000 active oil and gas wells, where students hope to interview residents about how fracking affects them. The group will also talk with professionals on both sides of the fracking issue, including representatives from oil and gas companies and environmental protection groups.
Quinn said the group is considering writing a report or producing a documentary about the trip to compile the different stories and sides of fracking.
The addition of a winter trip this year is part of Alternative Breaks plan to expand its offerings to students. Quinn said the group is looking at adding weekend trips throughout the semester in addition to the longer trips students can take during academic breaks.
Over spring break this year, students can travel to Estes Park, Los Angeles, North Carolina, Ohio, New Orleans, California, West Virginia and Arizona. This summer a group of students will travel to Nicaragua.
The winter group returns Friday and classes resume at CU on Jan. 13. Miles Crane, who's also a site leader for the trip, said many of his friends have been asking why he'd want to spend the last week of winter break learning about fracking.
Crane, a senior studying political science and geology, said the only knowledge he has of fracking so far is what he's read. He wants to see and experience the issue by talking with real people and experts, Crane said.
"It does take away from winter break, but it's an investment," Crane said. "It's a subject I want to learn more about. I just want to basically take a closer look at something that I feel is spoken about a lot but I don't necessarily have firsthand knowledge of."