Report finds issues with fracking on UT System land

Matthew Adams

The Environment Texas Research & Policy Center and the Frontier Group reported issues with oil drilling on UT System land, such as excessive water usage and the release of chemicals during drilling, in a study released Tuesday. 

Luke Metzger, director of the advocacy group Environment Texas, said the group started looking into the matter after the Austin American-Statesman did a story last November featuring System owned lands.

Since 2005, the System has leased 1.3 million acres of land to oil and gas companies, Metzger said.

“[The] drilling and fracking has resulted in huge use of water,” Metzger said. “The pumping deep underground of millions of pounds of chemicals has released [these chemicals] into our airand soil.” 

According to the report, more than 6 billion gallons of water were used between 2012 and 2014, and 1.6 million gallons of wastewater spilled into both the soil and groundwater from the wells on System land.

Mark Houser, CEO of the University Lands office, said, despite not having a chance to look at the report beforehand, said people within his office look forward to reading what the report has to say.

“To the extent it contains helpful suggestions that can be realistically implemented, we will consider those thoughtfully,” Houser said. “This is consistent with our desire to be a model steward of natural resources and hold ourselves to a high standard for best practice.”

Houser said fracking is important, not only for higher education investment purposes, but for the Texas economy.

Houser said he agrees with some of the report’s general assertions for environmental safeguards but does not agree with the one-sided view against fracking.   

“The report states that fracking is so dangerous to the environment and human health that it should not occur anywhere,” Houser said. “With this statement, it appears Environment Texas is telling the people of Texas that they should not pursue oil and gas development on their land, as fracking is the dominant technique used in new oil and gas production in the U.S. We believe the people of Texas have the right to explore for oil and gas on privately and publicly owned lands.”

Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) said there are concerns surrounding fracking and hopes the System will address them.

“Fracking threatens the lands, resources and health of too many Texans,” Rodriguez said. “I hope University System leaders, energy producers and environmental experts act quickly and creatively to eliminate bad industry practices that threaten our health and environment.”

Rohit Mandalapu, Student Government vice president, said this report does not mean the System will stop fracking — it simply addresses the need to find more environmentally friendly alternatives.

“It’s in no way ending fracking — it is simply too much revenue for [the System], and that’s not what we want,” Mandalapu said. “All it asks is that we use less water and be careful with chemicals that have otherwise known to have harmful effects.”

Metzger said with the release of the report, he hopes UT will be willing to talk with Environment Texas and work to make some improvements.

“We hope this is just the beginning of a process that will result in [the System] taking action to write strong environmental leases,” Metzger said. “[Student Government President] Xavier Rotnofsky and Mandalapu have indicated they’re going to plan to bring it up in conversations with the administration, as well as discuss this with the other members of the
Student Government.”