There are over 290,000 active wells in the state of Texas, a great many of which are located on University Lands. The University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems own millions of acres of land all across the state and, in turn, own thousands upon thousands of oil wells. A recent study shows that the UT system is making revenue figures in the billions just from the oil drilled in the Permian Basin.
These lands allow higher education facilities such as UT to maintain their status as high quality universities. However, in a study conducted by the environmental conservationist organization Environment Texas, the data reveals that while the University Lands turn an enormous profit with the amount of black gold they obtain, it comes at a cost on a global scale.
Fracking on University Lands has caused devastating consequences, such as the exponential increase in the release of methane, a highly powerful greenhouse gas. The EPA has a standard on how much methane can be emitted by individual companies, and at present, University Lands is going high above it. Methane, although not quite as long-lasting as carbon dioxide, can trap heat at a much faster rate, which allows it to cause more damage in a shorter amount of time. In fact, methane is responsible for about one-fourth of the man-made global warming we experience today.
“Over the last six years, the emissions from University Lands alone are equivalent to about one and a half million cars on the road,” said Cyrus Rautman, an operative of Environment Texas. This is a daunting figure that represents how immense the damage caused by methane is.
But there are solutions, which the University Lands chooses to ignore. Rautman said there are “simple and affordable modifications to oilfield operations that can cut methane emissions drastically,” and there are companies that have implemented these modifications throughout the country. However, the companies that drill on UT land are not required to make them if they choose not to.
Although members of Environment Texas have met with the CEO of University Lands, Mark Houser, and several administrators, “nothing came of those meetings,” Rautman said. But the campaign to fight methane emissions has gained a considerable amount of traction and is obtaining support from both students and faculty at UT alike, with over 600 signatures on his petition. Rautman plans to extend his campaign into other universities across the state.
The vitality of natural gas and oil in Texas is abundantly clear, and Rautman said that his goal is not to shut down these factories completely, as that would be highly improbable, but instead have them use safer and cleaner practices to reduce the amount of devastating greenhouse gas being released into our atmosphere.
It’s time for UT to demand the same commitment to best practices from the oil companies that drill on its land as it demands from the professors and students that fill its lecture halls.
Bak is a radio-television-film freshman from Eagle Pass. Follow him on Twitter @JaeYBak