The University of Texas System owns 2.1 million acres of land in West Texas that accounts for $19.9 billion of the System’s endowment. The vast space, operated by University Lands, generates this enormous amount of money from leasing some land to oil, natural gas and mining companies. To minimize environmental consequences as the demand for fossil fuels grow, University Lands must regulate the methane emitted from its property.
Methane emissions can not be neglected. Methane traps heat 25 times more efficiently over a 100-year period and contributes to about 25 percent of the global warming experienced today. Methane pollution predominately comes from the production of natural gas and petroleum, so regulations by University Lands are vital to the fight against climate change.
Existing federal regulations for methane emissions are weak. They only apply to new, modified, or reconstructed equipment used in the production and transportation of natural gas. Since there is little change in ownership of certain plots, many of the companies operating on University Lands do not yet need to adhere to these requirements. Texas has no regulations, and University Lands only collects royalties on lost oil or gas. University Lands must create strong guidelines for methane emissions to hold their clients accountable for environmental damages.
The hundreds of petroleum and natural gas companies on University Lands emitted 344,352 metric tons of methane from 2009 to 2014. This is equivalent to almost 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. At a cost of $36 per metric ton, this carbon dioxide equivalent is beginning to drain Texas’s economy — Hurricane Harvey alone resulted in the loss of $190 billion. Regulations should be incredibly important to the state of Texas if it wants to be an economic powerhouse.
The House of Representatives recently voted to repeal the Bureau of Land Management’s methane regulations, leaving the Senate to decide whether or not President Donald Trump can cut the red tape. Fortunately, in a time where the bureau and Environmental Protection Agency’s federal regulations for methane emissions are threatened, private companies and institutions are beginning to adapt sensible regulations. For instance, Exxon Mobil and seven other oil giants acknowledged the dangers of methane and are in commitment to reduce emissions across their operations.
This is not enough. Smaller companies that operate on the UT System lands may not have the efficiencies to willingly and swiftly adapt new technologies. University Lands must hold drillers to strict methane standards even if it results in a few small companies terminating their contracts. This land is valuable, and methane regulations would not hurt the UT System. Increasing demand for oil and natural gas will allow for other companies who can afford the regulations to fill the vacancies.
The Faculty Council and Staff Council at UT-Austin recently approved a resolution to create a team of scientists and engineers to research emissions and implement practices to combat them. If Student Government passes the resolution, then University Lands and the UT System should seriously consider the demands of its biggest beneficiary.
Part of the UT System’s mission statement is to “improve the human condition in Texas, our nation and our world.” But the inaction to regulate methane emissions will continue to exacerbate water and food shortages, damage the atmosphere and create more catastrophic weather. The interests of University Lands’ companies must not come before the needs of the planet if the UT System truly wants to live up to its goals.
Kosinski is a journalism freshman from San Rafael, California.Follow him on Twitter @Willkosinski.