oil

Photo Credit: Connor Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

The stars in West Texas are now competing with the glow from oil drilling rigs and gas flares in the Permian Basin, the largest oil field in the state.

UT’s McDonald Observatory teamed up with Pioneer Energy Services to address the issue of light pollution interfering with the observatory’s research abilities. Last September, the two groups published a report on good light practices, including shielding light fixtures so that the glare does not face skyward.

Oil rigs line the northeast horizon of the observatory, and light fixtures illuminate their activity 24/7. High oil and gas prices initiated the increased construction of oil rigs in West Texas’ Permian Basin during the early part of the 2010s, said Stacy Locke, CEO of Pioneer Energy Services.

“If you go look at the price of oil and the rig count in the U.S., the Permian Basin had explosive growth starting from 2010 and then into 2012 to 2014 because the worldwide demand for oil really increased, which caused oil prices to shoot up,” Locke said. “As the oil price rose, the rig count rose with it.”

Observatory spokesman Bill Wren said he began noticing the additional light clouding the observatory in 2010.

“We have data going back to 2009 that shows the sky brightening before you could really see it visually,” Wren said. “It corresponds to the boom in oil and gas exploration around the Permian Basin. For decades, the brightest artificial source of light we could see was the combined lights of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez — 160 miles off west. Now it’s safe to say our northeast horizon [is the brightest].”

The oil companies are willing to help with reducing light pollution, Locke said.

“Once we proved we could make a drilling rig dark-sky compliant, we went out with Bill Wren, and I introduced him to a number of our oil and gas clients and explained to them this concern,” Locke said. “Once they became aware of the issues, they were willing and wanting to help fix the problem.”

The observatory is in the process of a $30 million upgrade to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope to study dark energy — an unknown force accelerating the expansion of the universe — but light pollution might thwart its efforts. Astronomy senior research scientist Matthew Shetrone said despite the telescope upgrade, light pollution might inhibit astronomers’ ability to study dark energy. 

“In order to study dark energy, we need to be able to detect galaxies so faint they can not be detected from imaging from the ground,” Shetrone said. “We will be using spectrography. There may be 30 photons we detect from that very, very distant galaxy, maybe 30 billion light years away. … So if we have a brighter sky because of light pollution, that adds noise to the 30 photons we want to collect from a distant galaxy and can get washed out.”

Kay Bailey Hutchison, former senator and president of the Texas Exes, spoke at the KBH Center Symposium Friday. The symposium offered an interdisciplinary take on Mexican energy issues, exploring UT’s potential role in drilling opportunities in Mexico.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

Former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison spoke at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center on Friday during the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center’s Symposium on North American energy security, an event designed to discuss geopolitical issues in North American energy. The symposium was part of UT Energy Week, a conference showcasing emerging research in the energy field. Hutchison discussed about the future of energy technologies and the effects of the energy reforms in Mexico. After the event, Hutchison sat down with The Daily Texan for a Q&A.   

Daily Texan: Where did the idea for the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center come from, and what unique perspective does a multidisciplinary study of the industry with business, law and engineering have to offer, specifically?

Former senator Kay Bailey Hutchison: Honestly, John Beckworth, associate dean of the UT law school, thought of a joint business and law school energy center. I immediately loved it because I have been general counsel of a corporation, and I know so often that the business people do not understand the legal needs to make sure everything in the transaction is right. Conversely, sometimes the lawyers do not understand the needs of the business people to complete a transaction in a timely way so that they do not lose their deal or their customer. So, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to have a joint center where law students in the energy field would learn about the business side and the business students would understand the legal side. [The Center] also has a particular focus on Latin America and the differences in the laws and legal systems. This could be very helpful for somebody who wants to explore or produce energy in another country. It was a perfect fit, and when they decided to name it after me, I was thrilled. 

DT: How would you gauge the success of the KBH center in achieving the goals that you mentioned?

KBH: Well, we have only been created since last summer, but we have come such a long way in a very short time. I think this inaugural symposium has been a huge success. We have had Mel Martínez, the former senator and cabinet member, and Bob Jordan, the former ambassador from the United States to Saudi Arabia. They have given great insights on international energy. Mel is the chairman of J.P. Morgan Latin America, so he showed us the corporate side. Bob Jordan was insightful because Saudi Arabia is doing so much right now to affect the price of oil globally. He also had some good insights on the new king and the new hierarchy in Saudi Arabia. The symposium has been a wonderful success. The panels have been good, the questions have been good. The audience is really asking questions and that is what you want in a good conference. 

DT: Has the KBH Center participated in the debate regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline?

KBH: I am a total supporter of the Keystone Pipeline, myself, but we have not taken a real position on that. It has been discussed in the symposium, and the [Obama] administration was represented here by an assistant secretary of state. The question has come up: Why would we not have a Keystone pipeline? Many in the room think that it would be an environmentally safer way to transport oil from Canada than the trucks that we are having to build new highways to accommodate. So that has been a real debate here and it has been very relevant.

DT: At a panel earlier this week, during UT’s Energy Week, experts agreed that for some issues, such as energy storage, regulatory agencies have fallen behind in developing regulation. Has the center tackled any of these issues and did you encounter any of these issues as a senator?

KBH: Absolutely. As a senator I encountered the new energy innovations. With solar energy, the biggest problem with using it was that it was so cyclical, and we could not store it. Even natural gas for cars. There has been so much that has emerged just in the last 10 years. I think the regulators are certainly trying to keep up with what is necessary in the regulatory field, but it is a work in progress. 

DT: Could you talk about some specific ways that you helped regulatory agencies catch up?

KBH: Well, for sure, the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center will be able to shed light on what is coming up in regulation in terms of what might be needed, what might not be needed, what would be a better way to regulate. We want to allow for creativity to grow and progress. [We] do not want to stifle creativity by regulating something that is not there yet because it is not ready. There has to be balance to assure that the new kinds of energy, clean energy especially, are not regulated to death before they are able to be useful. For instance, the lack of battery storage for solar panels is a problem. If we allowed battery storage we would be able to run manufacturing plants consistently rather than have to lessen output in peak hours. Battery storage is an area where the federal government is doing more research and it’s very important to develop that. But, we want to make sure that as we do, there are environmental rules that assure that we are doing it safely and in an environmentally friendly way. We want the creativity to emerge so we can start using solar energy more efficiently. The new technologies would apply in other areas as well.

DT: Obama has supported an all-of-the-above policy that supports natural gas as well as nuclear and other forms of energy. So, a lot of different forms of energy are being researched. What energy innovation are you most excited about?

KBH: I think it is essential to make sure that we are getting the oil and gas in an environmentally correct way so that we become energy independent. It is going to make us more competitive globally because our businesses will have lower-cost energy. This is an area where America has led. We creatively produce new ways to get oil and natural gas out of the ground and out of the water. So, I think oil and natural gas is probably the biggest area where we can move forward and truly towards energy independence. Solar power and wind power are also very promising. We do not have the mechanics yet to make it a big percentage of our energy use, but Texas is doing quite a bit in wind, as well as solar, and it is very efficient once it is up and going. If we could get the battery storage, it is going to be a real part of our overall energy independence. I am excited about that, and I am excited about Texas’ role in producing these new options. 

There is also another option — using currents in the oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. [We] can use currents to generate energy for use on land. That is something that is being experimented in the Galveston-Houston Area. The University of Houston is doing work in that area, as well as others.

DT: Today’s symposium has an international focus of stabilizing North America’s energy. What are specific energy initiatives in Mexico by Mexicans, Americans or private actors that you look forward to see implemented?

KBH: The exciting part of energy in Mexico is that they are opening it up. It used to be just PEMEX, the national oil company, that was able to produce oil and gas in Mexico. But President Nieto has certainly made strides in saying, “We want to open it up, we want foreign investment and we want more out of the ground, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.” He is making it happen, and the [Mexican Legislature] is going along with it, and they are in the regulatory stage now. I think the American companies are going to want to be a part of this. They are going to want to work, in some cases, with PEMEX, and, in some cases, independently. [The companies] are going to bid on leases in the northern part of Mexico that would be the continuation of the Eagle Ford find in South Texas that we think continues on in North Mexico. But also, in the Gulf of Mexico, there is a lot of opportunity. American and European countries are bidding and winning in the Gulf of Mexico for drilling in the deep water, but it is very expensive so that may be down the road because the price of oil is so low right now. But, the big question mark out there is safety and the drug cartels. No foreign company is going to want to come in if they are not going to be able to be safe and also be able to do business in a transparent way because we have laws that require that. This large criminal element in the drug cartels is really hurting so much of the tourism in Mexico, most certainly, and in some ways, business as well. 

Bruce Zimmerman, CEO of UTIMCO, met with UTIMCO board members Thursday morning. The conference covered topics such as UTIMCO investments and how foreign oil activities may affect the University’s endowment and the Permanent University Fund.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

University of Texas Investment Management Company officials released a report Thursday detailing the effects of falling oil prices on the Permanent University Fund (PUF). 

The PUF is an endowment containing 2.1 million acres in West Texas that was created by the Texas Constitution in 1876 to benefit the UT and Texas A&M University systems.

According to Mark Warner, managing director of natural resources investments, falling oil prices over the course of the last four months slightly hampered the assets UTIMCO manages, which total $34.5 billion. Domestic oil prices declined by 60 percent from a peak in late April 2014 before bottoming out in late November 2014. However, over the five months, the endowment maintained a return of 4 percent.

Bruce Zimmerman, UTIMCO chief executive officer and chief information officer, said the investments made under UTIMCO are made safely to protect the funds that support the UT System schools.

“Our first line of defense is a diversified portfolio because, generally, not everything is going up at the same time, and, generally, not everything is going down at the same time,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said falling oil prices from April to November could actually help raise the endowment’s value.

“Our best guess, our best projection, is that the supply shock — excess supply, lower prices — is actually a slight positive for the endowment,” Zimmerman said. “Now, it’s clearly a negative for the energy industry, clearly a negative for the state of Texas … but this really gets at around 10 percent of our exposure is in energy; 90 percent is outside of energy.”

Zimmerman said only 10 percent of the total investments made by UTIMCO are in the energy industry. The other 90 percent of investments are made in sectors of the economy that ordinarily improve when oil prices decline. For consumers, lower oil prices mean cheaper gas, cheaper goods and more spending money to stimulate the economy.

“Our investment returns, we think, will be slightly helped by the reduction in oil because there are more consumers than producers, and the consumers get a benefit,” Zimmerman said.

Warner, the managing director of natural resources investments, said he looked at the correlation between the value of the energy portfolio, the investments in the energy industry and the price of oil. The report established that, when the price of oil drops, the value of the portfolio drops 10 percent of the price. 

Warner said he has watched the energy industry’s downturn closely.

“What I can tell you is that we’ve looked back at history, particularly the ’08-’09 time frame, and this is historic by any measure,” Warner said.

According to Warner, lenders are more willing to make investments in the current economy because it is much healthier than it was during the 2008 recession. Warner said this makes him feel optimistic about the energy portfolio’s future value.

“We’re hoping our partners are able to be opportunistic; this way, they have the money to do it,” Warner said. “We’re very encouraged by where we are in the cycle and by the partnerships that we have.”

Decreasing international crude oil prices may affect the money available to the UT System, according to Bruce Zimmerman, CEO and CIO of the University of Texas Investment Management Company.

From June 2012 to June 2014, the market value of the Permanent University Fund, or PUF, increased from $13.1 billion to $17.2 billion, according to reports from UTIMCO, the organization that invests money for the System.

The PUF is an endowment containing 2.1 million acres in West Texas that was created by the Texas Constitution to benefit the UT and Texas A&M University systems. The proceeds from the sale of oil, gas, sulfur and water royalties are invested in the form of stocks, bonds and equity interest to establish the Available University Fund, or AUF. Two-thirds of these funds go toward the UT System, and one-third goes to the Texas A&M system.

Scott Kelley, executive vice president for business affairs at the UT System, said the PUF’s market value grew as a result of increased oil production in West Texas.

“The new technology and horizontal drilling and the ability to extract oil and gas from some of the shale that’s out there has just created a whole new wave of production,” Kelley said.

In August, United States crude oil production averaged an estimated 8.6 million barrels per day, the highest monthly production recorded since July 1986, according to a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The report also said demand for oil in industrialized economies is weakening, which may be causing oil prices to drop.

As the price of oil declines, Zimmerman said the revenue contributed to the PUF is also affected.

“Rising oil prices means more money coming into the endowment,” Zimmerman said. “Falling oil and gas prices mean less revenue.”

While the government report shows declining prices, Kelley said the market price for oil has remained steady for a number of years between $80 and $100 a barrel, allowing for an increase in production.

“If it were to drop to $50 a barrel or do something dramatic, then the drilling would likely be curtailed and even some of the production may stop,” Kelley said.

Zimmerman said even though the revenue from West Texas oil affects the PUF, UTIMCO does not invest heavily in natural gas and oil companies, making it less susceptible to the volatility of oil prices.

“We have a very diversified portfolio,” Zimmerman said. “It’s diversified globally. It’s diversified across stocks, bonds and real assets. It’s diversified across private equity and public equity [and] hedge funds. We have a relatively small amount of the endowment invested in oil and gas.”

Zimmerman said about 10 percent of PUF funds are invested in natural resources across the globe. He said UTIMCO tends to invest most heavily in stocks, since the System endowments are meant to last for an indefinite period of time.

“The biggest impact on the investment returns is whether the stock markets are going up or down,” Zimmerman said.

Claire Sembera is the project head of a group developing biodiesel fuel for the University’s own use.

Photo Credit: Cristina Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

UT students are using oil from University buildings to create their own biodiesel fuel that will eventually be used in University vehicles.

In 2013, a group of students from Engineers for a Sustainable World were awarded $15,000 by the Green Fee Committee — a University funded grant for projects
related to sustainability — to purchase a biodiesel reactor. UT graduate Kendall Ernst, author of the proposal and former project head, said the group will use the reactor to convert leftover grease from University dining halls and buildings into biodiesel for UT transportation vehicles.

Claire Sembera, current project head and civil engineering senior, was awarded $7,400 for continued production costs. She said the reactor is currently being assembled and stored at the Pickle Research Campus and she hopes to begin releasing test batches of the fuel by the end of October.

“We [will make] small 40-gallon batches, the size of our reactor, and producing those maybe once a month to try and get our quality right, then hopefully by fall 2015 we can start inputting it into vehicles,” Sembera said.

Sembera said the new funding will be used to buy chemicals and conduct maintenance on the reactor. She said the team will also hire a lab manager and an Austin biofuel expert to instruct the team and students in a seminar series

According to Ernst, the team spent last year getting approval from the University to buy a reactor, find a safe place to store it and find a fuel supply.

“Once we solved all of those hurdles, we actually had to order the reactor, and that took a lot longer than expected,” Ernst said.Ernst said biodiesel is a fuel created from biological materials that produce oil instead of fossil fuels or coal. He said using grease is sustainable because it is recycling waste.

“Instead of using a bunch of water and fertilizer to grow crops, we’re using a waste product that would normally be thrown away or turned into something else,” Ernst said. “Using that waste product, you create a fuel so you have a lesser overall environmental impact.”

UT Parking and Transportation Services currently offers biodiesel as a fueling option. Fleet manager Mark Kaligian, who has been working with the students, said that out of about 600 PTS vehicles, 50 take diesel and biodiesel fuel.  According to Kaligian, PTS’ biodiesel is bought from a state fuel contract.

“We use it seasonally. It tends to gel at very cold temperatures, and that will clog fuel filters,” Kaligian said. “So, typically we’ll use biodiesel from about mid-March to mid-September, when there’s warmer temperatures.”

Ernst said the actual process of creating the biodiesel is straightforward.

“Take the oil, you put it into a vat, then you add catalysts, which is a base like sodium hydroxide. Then you add methanol, which is an alcohol, and it undergoes this reaction called ‘transesterification,’” Ernst said. “Basically, the triglycerides in the oil get turned into fatty acid methyl esters, which are chemically equivalent to diesel fuel.”

Sembera said she thinks the recycling of waste to create biodiesel will provide another dimension to UT’s sustainability efforts.

“This is important because it’s taking that next step of reducing the fuel imprint, along with emissions and fuel intake at the University, making it a more sustainable campus,” Sembera said. 

An Iraqi soldier stands guard as security forces inspect the scene of a car bomb attack in Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad Sunday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The Daily Texan recently published a piece by fellow UT student Dolph Briscoe IV which argued that the U.S. must “avoid becoming trapped in another dangerous war in the Middle East.” This mentality is pervasive in the liberal corporate media, with the New York Times editorial board praising Obama for his cautious “balancing act on Iraq.” There are three major problems with this conception.

The first is that the liberals completely misunderstand the roots of Iraq’s current crisis, which is the past 10 years of U.S. imperialism in Iraq (under both former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama). It is now widely acknowledged that every single argument the Bush administration made for invading Iraq was false: Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, al-Qaeda wasn’t in Iraq and Iraqis did not greet the U.S. military as a liberator but instead resisted it as an occupying force. However, Briscoe is wrong in stating that the Bush administration’s goal was “establishing a democracy in Iraq.” The leaked 2002 Downing Street Memo, a UK intelligence document, stated that “military action [in Iraq] was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." So the Bush administration intentionally lied to Americans and the world, an undemocratic action whose end goal certainly was not democracy. In fact, it was control over oil.

Following the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. set up the Coalition Provisional Authority to govern the country, and within a few months privatized the Iraqi economy with Order 39. This allowed foreign investors and international financial institutions to buy out Iraqi enterprises, including its massive oil reserves and keep 100 percent of the profit. Strategic control over Iraqi oil had been a goal of the U.S. foreign policy establishment for over a decade even before Bush - the Clinton administration kept Hussein’s regime in check with deadly sanctions against Iraq. The neoconservatives had been pushing for regime change since the late ‘90s and got their chance during the Bush administration after 9/11. So U.S. imperialism in Iraq has been and continues to be a bipartisan project.

However, the neoconservatives underestimated the will of Iraqis to fight back against this wrecking of their economy and the U.S. military’s brutal violence during the occupation. The U.S. invasion precipitated a massive Iraqi resistance across Sunni and Shia lines. As Iraqi journalist Sami Ramadani explains, there is a “powerful secular tradition in Iraq that transcends all religions and sects,” and this led to “millions of Iraqis - of all sects and none - [marching] in the streets, denouncing the occupation.” In response to this, the U.S. (and its later client-state under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki) implemented sectarian policies that led to today’s divided Iraq.

This leads to the second problem, which is that rather than acknowledge the sectarian legacy of imperialism, the liberals (and neoconservatives) instead substitute Islamophobic logic. According to Briscoe, yet another “crisis plagues the Middle East” with no offered cause or context – according to the New York Times, the crisis is due to “Islam’s ancient sectarian rift.” In reality, the sectarian rift’s origins can be concretely located in the 2005 Iraqi Constitution, in which occupation authorities forced provisions that split Iraq’s governing structure along ethnic and religious lines, as part of the U.S.’s divide-and-rule strategy to control the flow of oil. As journalist Phyllis Bennis explained at that time, the lack of oil in Sunni areas “[insured] a future of impoverishment for the Sunni, secular and inter-mixed populations of Baghdad and Iraq’s center, and [set] the stage for a future of ethnic and religious strife.”

Briscoe correctly notes that these sectarian policies continued under Maliki, but its crimes are far greater than simply “[refusing] to bring Sunni Muslims into [the] government.” Before the rise to prominence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), there were mass Sunni petitions and protests against this sectarianism - Maliki’s response was to escalate to violence, ultimately attacking protest camps and killing protesters. More importantly, Briscoe fails to mention that Maliki was supported by the U.S. from the beginning as a client-state. Even with the supposedly liberal President Obama, this relationship continued for reasons that Maliki himself explained: Iraq has the “world’s fifth-largest proven crude oil reserves,” and in 2012, it “surpassed Iran to become OPEC’s second largest producer of crude oil.” Thus, as with the “Arab Spring” in Bahrain and Egypt, the Obama administration was allied with the oppressive state and against the calls for democracy. To understand Iraq’s current crisis, this history must be acknowledged: ISIS and its violent methods only became relevant after the U.S. implemented sectarian policies and its client-state militarized the conflict.

Failure to acknowledge the backdrop of U.S. imperialism leads to the third problem, which is that the liberals’ misconceptions are deadly – this can be seen in the current Israeli siege of Gaza. First, the imperial context: In 1967, Israel proved its worth to U.S. geopolitical strategy by, in Noam Chomsky’s words, “[destroying] the source of secular Arab nationalism – Nasser’s Egypt,” considered a major threat because “it might seek to take control of the immense resources of the region and use them for regional interest, rather than allow them to be centrally controlled and exploited by the United States.” Since then, Israel has been a key stronghold for U.S. geopolitics.

So despite the lopsided destruction that Israel has unleashed on Palestinians, the Obama administration continues to support Israel’s military operations and falsely equates the Israeli and Palestinian death tolls. When the UN Human Rights Council voted on July 23 to open inquiry into war crimes in Gaza, the U.S. was the only country to vote “no.” In lockstep, the New York Times squarely blames Hamas’s comparatively minimal violence for Israel’s brutality and also falsely equates the violence against civilians “on both sides of the border.” Similarly, Briscoe states that Israel is simply responding “in kind” to Hamas rockets.

However, Israel’s relentless destruction of Gaza and the lopsided death toll are becoming increasingly hard for reporters to deny, even in the liberal corporate media. NBC News pulled veteran correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin from Gaza after he reported on the murder of four young boys playing soccer on a Gaza beach by Israeli gunboats. Mohyeldin was returned to Gaza only after public uproar. MSNBC fired contributor Rula Jebreal after her on-air protest of the network’s slanted coverage, such as having “90 percent Israeli guests and 10 percent Palestinians.” The facts in Gaza clearly support Mohyeldin’s and Jebreal’s outrage: Israel’s bombing and invasion have overwhelmingly killed children and other civilians, with likely war crimes including the bombing of hospitals, other medical facilities, mosques, schools, and Gaza’s sole power plant. Despite rhetorical flourishes by the New York Times about “bombardments … of Israeli population centers,” Hamas, a democratically elected governing organization of Gaza, has committed violence with comparatively minimal civilian casualties and damage. This says less about the atrocities that Hamas has committed and more about the scale of Israeli brutality. In either case, Obama’s defense of Israel is rhetorically on the grounds that “no nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders” – if the liberals actually agree with this on principle, they should fully support the Palestinians’ right to resistance.

Rathi is a computer science honors junior from Austin.

Geology researchers at the University discovered that an Arkansas shale oil reserve will continue to be one of the country’s most prevalent sources of natural gas through 2050.

The Fayetteville Shale contains nearly 38 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to the study. Shale oil is extracted from fine grained sediment rock. The reserve produces approximately 1 trillion cubic feet per year. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. uses 23 trillion cubic feet of this resource each year.

“When you get into the scale of the amount of energy it takes to keep the country going, it is mind boggling,” said Eric Potter, an associate director in the Bureau of Economic Geology’s energy division. “On a cold day in Denver, it takes up to 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas to keep everyone warm.”

Potter and research associate Svetlana Ikonnikova both analyze the drilling private sector and helped determine the different technological approaches. Potter said the point of the study was to see the potential in the current techniques, and what the future holds for shale oil in Fayetteville, Ark., and across the country.

Natural gas supplies nearly one-fourth of all the energy in the U.S., and its consumption will increase 11 percent by 2030, according to the American Gas Association.

“Shale oil is very important,” Ikonnikova said. “Electricity is continuing to rely on natural gas, and how cheap it is really influences the industrial sector.”

According to the American Gas Association, natural gas is the cleanest and most efficient fossil fuel. Potter said it burns much cleaner than coal, and therefore is a better choice for the environment and atmosphere.

Sarah Seraj, civil engineering senior and president of Engineers for a Sustainable World, said natural gas doesn’t necessarily have a bad reputation among her organization. 

“Natural gas is not the worst option, but there is much room for improvement,” Seraj said. “The United States is studying renewable resources, which is good. Many places in Europe are 25 percent dependent on wind and solar power.”

According to Ikonnikova, natural gas is aiding society in multiple ways.

“Like any resource, there will be pluses and minuses for the environment,” Ikonnikova said. “But natural gas is helping the industry become more inventive.”

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

A UT professor and a visiting scientist found a correlation between gas injections into the ground and earthquakes in the city of Snyder, a small town in West Texas. Carbon dioxide injections are used to extract more oil from the ground and have been considered a possible solution to climate change because they prevent carbon dioxide from escaping into the atmosphere. 

Previously, no other study had found correlations between carbon dioxide injection and earthquakes of magnitudes greater than three, according to geosciences associate professor Cliff Frohlich, who worked on the project. 

Carbon dioxide injection in the West Texas wells have been used since the 1970s to increase oil and gas production. Frohlich said he and Wei Gan, a visiting scientist from China, were motivated to do the study because there had been earthquakes in the 1980s, followed by a 20-year absence before they started again in 2006. 

Frohlich said the results of his research may have implications for effectively dealing with climate change through exploring the consequences of the carbon capture process, which involves storing greenhouse gasses below the ground.

“Since a lot of carbon dioxide we’re putting into the atmosphere is localized, you could collect carbon dioxide, and it’s been proposed to inject carbon dioxide into the earth,” Frohlich said.

Frohlich said students should understand the consequences of carbon injection because of the state’s close ties to the oil and gas industry.

“Oil and gas is one of the primary revenues for Texas, one of the primary sources that funds the University,” Frohlich said. “Everyone has interests in doing this in a responsible way.”

Biochemistry junior Rafael Vidal said if further proof demonstrates carbon injections cause earthquakes, he would not be in favor of the practice.

“I don’t think I would support injections if they triggered earthquakes because there must be alternative ways to extract oil,“ Vidal said.

Although Frohlich and Gan found a correlation in one location, they also found that similar wells nearby did not experience earthquakes, though they had similar levels of carbon dioxide injections.

Gan said one possible explanation was a lack of fault lines near the similar wells. 

“For my personal thinking, there were no earthquakes because there were no pre-existing faults in the other oil fields,” Gan said.

Their study analyzed data collected from 2009 to 2010 when the EarthScope USArray program, a program funded by the National Science Foundation, stationed many temporary seismometers in Texas.

“We had an opportunity to get more accurate locations and locate much smaller quakes than normal,” Frohlich said.

A UT Energy Poll revealed several disconnects between public perception of energy issues and the way those issues exist in reality.

“[The poll] reflects that people don’t understand a lot of energy issues, a lot about technology, about how energy plays a role in their lives,” the poll's director Sheril Kirshenbaum said.

The poll is conducted twice a year by the McCombs School of Business’ Energy Management and Innovation Center.

While a majority of people polled said they would like to see the federal government focus on developing natural gas, the data showed a decrease in public support of hydraulic fracturing, an integral part of the natural gas extraction process.

Engineering communications professor Deborah Hempel-Medina worked in the energy industry for 20 years before joining the petroleum and geosystems engineering department at the University. Hempel-Medina said hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, has been the subject of negative media attention in recent years.

“It’s not a process that’s been talked about outside of industry until the past 10 years,” Hempel-Medina said. “I feel it’s gotten more into mainstream conversation because it was revolutionized in the DFW area. The public had some questions because oil and gas companies had previously not worked around urban areas.”

The results of the poll also revealed a wide-held misconception about the ways the United States imports its oil. Although Canada is the largest foreign supplier of American oil, a majority of poll respondents said they believed Saudi Arabia was the foremost supplier.

Hugh Daigle, petroleum and geosystems engineering assistant professor, said this misconception is likely a result of a lasting stigma from the Middle Eastern oil crisis in the 1970s. In 1973, several oil-exporting Arab countries declared an oil embargo in response to the United States’ support of the Israeli military, leading supply to plummet and sending gas prices sky-rocketing.

“At the time, there was a lot of emphasis and press about how the source of our oil was in the Middle East,” Daigle said. “Even though it was 40 years ago, those ideas have persisted. It’s true they export a lot of oil, but what we get in the U.S. isn’t correlated with that.”

Though the initial goal of the poll was to drive informed decisions on public policy, the results can be useful for business education or academic perspectives in general said Tanya Andrien, associate director of the center.

“The marketing department is looking at it from a marketing perspective,” Andrien said. “[The poll] tied in nicely with research and educational aspects as well as our desire to inform discussion about policy.”

A UT Energy Poll revealed several disconnects between public perception of energy issues and the way those issues exist in reality.

“[The poll] reflects that people don’t understand a lot of energy issues, a lot about technology, about how energy plays a role in their lives,” said Sheril Kirshenbaum, director of the UT energy poll.

The poll is conducted twice a year by the McCombs School of Business’ Energy Management and Innovation Center.

While a majority of people polled said they would like to see the federal government focus on developing natural gas, the data showed a decrease in public support of hydraulic fracturing, an integral part of the natural gas extraction process.

Engineering communications professor Deborah Hempel-Medina worked in the energy industry for 20 years before joining the petroleum and geosystems engineering department at the University. Hempel-Medina said hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, has been the subject of negative media attention in recent years.

“It’s not a process that’s been talked about outside of industry until the past 10 years,” Hempel-Medina said. “I feel it’s gotten more into mainstream conversation because it was revolutionized in the DFW area. The public had some questions because oil and gas companies had previously not worked around urban areas.”

The results of the poll also revealed a wide-held misconception about the ways the United States imports its oil. Although Canada is the largest foreign supplier of American oil, a majority of poll respondents said they believed Saudi Arabia was the foremost supplier.

Hugh Daigle, petroleum and geosystems engineering assistant professor, said this misconception is likely a result of a lasting stigma from the Middle Eastern oil crisis in the 1970s. In 1973, several oil-exporting Arab countries declared an oil embargo in response to the United States’ support of the Israeli military, leading supply to plummet and sending gas prices sky-rocketing.

“At the time, there was a lot of emphasis and press about how the source of our oil was in the Middle East,” Daigle said. “Even though it was 40 years ago, those ideas have persisted. It’s true they export a lot of oil, but what we get in the U.S. isn’t correlated with that.”

Though the initial goal of the poll was to drive informed decisions on public policy, the results can be useful for business education or academic perspectives in general said Tanya Andrien, associate
director of the center.

“The marketing department is looking at it from a marketing perspective,” Andrien said. “[The poll] tied in nicely with research and educational aspects as well as our desire to inform discussion about policy.”