Urub Khawaja , The Paisano
Of the 2.1 million acres the UT system land owns across the region of West Texas, 95% of the land has been leased for the purpose of fracking or high-volume hydraulic fracturing, according to a report by the nonprofit organization Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. Approximately 4,132 wells have been fracked on.
Joined by the UTSA Green Society, UT Student Government and the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, Environment Texas called on the UT Board of Regents in the report to enforce stricter leasing and fracking regulations on these lands.
The process of fracking is as such: drilling a well approximately one mile deep into shale rock, pumping a highly pressurized combination of water, sand and other chemicals to create micro-fractures into the shale rock and then extracting the shale gas through the well system. Shale gas is a natural gas that is used to generate about 25% of the electricity and heat in the United States.
Other than the problem of leasing land for fracking, the report billboarded the amount of water used during the entire fracking process. Environment Texas reported that between February 2010 and December 2014, the wells used at least six billion gallons of water. Those six billion gallons of water being used for fracking could instead be used for human consumption. Fracking threatens local water supplies because the water used for fracking is no longer potable and ultimately dumped into toxic waste wells. Water contamination is a main concern to these environmental groups, who called for the installation of a system that tracks toxic chemicals with hopes of preventing leakage into neighboring aquifers.
Speaking on the subject of water usage, Secretary of the UTSA Green Society Eleni Pancheco said, “We are calling for Texas to adopt best management practices (BMP’s) that other states have adopted. It’s kind of like ‘hey, there are other people that are doing this, and they are doing it safer and healthier.’ Ultimately, we want to limit the number of wells that are being drilled, and of course have no wells at all. But we have to start small.”
Environment Texas reports that 92.5 million pounds of hydrochloric acid and 8.5 million pounds of methanol have been used during the ten-year process of fracking.
Hydrochloric acid is a highly acidic solution that is known by the United States Environmental Protection Agency to lead to irritation in the respiratory tract and pulmonary edema if inhaled. Methanol is a colorless solution that is known to cause blurred vision and nauseous in humans and birth defects in animals according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
University Lands CEO Mark Houser said, “We are leaders in environmental standards and stewardship and as the drilling technology evolves, our practices will evolve as well. We are committed to maintaining our reputation as leaders and stewardship and we will continue to set the standard for oil and gas exploration across the state.”
Forty-one endangered and threatened species– including the gray wolf, whooping crane, Pecos sunflower and the black bear– live on university owned land, and the fracking process has expended their water sources, putting them at a greater risk of extinction.
The University of Texas stated at the press conference that the university would carefully consider the solutions provided by Environment Texas.
Scott Kelley –Executive Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs at UT System– stated, “With the caveat of not being an engineer or a geologist, we certainly are not casual in our stewardship responsibilities for these lands. We understand that they were given to us in perpetuity and we want to preserve them.”
The endowment produced from the leasing of the West Texas land generates approximately 600 million dollars a year. Last year’s endowment helped fund the infrastructure of the Dell Medical School at UT Austin’s campus as well as a medical school at the UT Rio Grande Valley Campus.