Fossil Free Texas lobbies Chancellor McRaven for environmental accountability

Lisa Dreher and Paul Cobler

Fossil Free Texas president Matthew Chovanec said he takes UT’s motto, “What starts here changes the world,” very seriously when it comes to combating climate change.

Chovanec, a Middle Eastern languages and cultures graduate student, has been working on a grassroots movement at UT to lobby the UT System into imposing stricter regulations on oil and gas companies using UT lands in West Texas.

In a press conference Wednesday morning, Fossil Free Texas and Environment Texas released a video showing methane being released by drilling on UT lands.

Chovanec said Fossil Free Texas was first made aware of methane emissions on UT lands last year, and since have been working on this campaign.

“All of our jaws dropped,” Chovanec said. “Suddenly we were handed the terrible truth that not only UT owns land on which fossil fuel extraction is happening directly, but it’s not even abiding by the least decent practices and leading to these methane emissions.”

Fossil Free Texas has also been partnering with Environment Texas, a statewide environmental activism group, to gather petition signatures at UT-Austin, UT-San Antonio and UT-Arlington. The petition calls on UT System Chancellor William McRaven to require oil and gas companies drilling on UT lands to cut their methane emissions in half within the next five years, and Chovanec said they have gathered over 2,200 signatures.

“Methane is UT’s dirty little secret,” said Lena Wright, the campaign organizer for Environment Texas. “UT administrators should hold gas and oil companies who make money off this land accountable.”

Business freshman Diana Camacho said the University should hold oil and gas companies drilling on its lands to the same standard of environmental awareness that it holds its students.

“We’re making a small impact by recycling and doing all that, but by holding the companies accountable and decreasing the amount of greenhouses gases in the air, they could have a huge impact,” Camacho said. “We all should be more conscious about the environment and every little step that we can take towards having less emissions of carbon dioxide or any greenhouse gases into the atmosphere could help.”

Chovanec said climate change and the work Fossil Free Texas is doing is becoming more and more urgent for the University to react to.

“We believe it’s a moral obligation of us as students as a part of being in the University, being in the knowledge community and wanting to start something here that is going to change the world.”