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UT's Dirty Little Secret

Goal: End dirty global warming pollution coming from University of Texas lands.
The University of Texas is involved in one of the largest oil and gas operations in America, accounting for more than 100,000 tons of Texas’ annual emissions of methane — a greenhouse gas far more dangerous and potent than carbon dioxide. UT’s policies on methane pollution don’t make the cut, so we're calling on University leaders to require companies to cut their pollution in half within 5 years.
UT must help solve global warming, not make it worse

We must change our dirty energy habits to combat the threat of global warming and ultimately move to 100% clean energy. The UT community understands this principle and prides itself on leading the way towards the clean, sustainable energy future we need.

But when it comes to controlling pollution that contributes to climate change from fracking operations on its own land, UT’s approach is stuck in the past.

The Santa Rita Oil Rig located on the UT Austin main campus via Flickr 2.0
UT’s oil and gas operations release potent greenhouse gases

Amid the sand dunes, grasslands and tumbleweeds of West Texas, lie a whopping 10,000 oil and gas wells managed by The University of Texas, making UT the fifth largest oil producer in the state. These wells, which span UT’s 2.1 million-acre endowment, come at a high environmental cost; they account for more than 100,000 tons of Texas’ annual emissions of methane — a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide

Invisible and odorless, methane is an incredibly powerful greenhouse gas that comes to the surface with recovered oil and leaks into the atmosphere. Methane gas is a lead contributor to our changing climate. It’s 84 times more powerful at absorbing heat than carbon dioxide within the 20 year period after it’s released — and, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, human-caused methane emissions account for at least 25 percent of the current effects of global warming such as hurricanes, droughts, wildfires and heatwaves. 

Environment Texas analysis shows that the equivalent of 11.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide leaked from UT land over a six year period in the form of methane. That’s the same climate impact as about 2.5 million cars.

The University of Texas isn’t blind to this problem. Its researchers have published study after study on the topic, its representatives have spoken out about it, and, in 2020, the university even convened a large group of experts for a workshop on problems with and solutions to methane flaring in the industry. Yet the university, and the 4,000 active oil and gas leases it manages, has not set a concrete limit on the amount of methane pollution that companies operating on its lands can release into our atmosphere. 

UT should be leader in sustainability

As a leader in the Texas energy market, UT faces a choice: stay the course of waste and pollution, modeling an approach that has led Texas to become the worst methane polluter in the country, or step up and lead, showcasing energy innovation and best practices with real, concrete, standards to reduce pollution on university lands. 

Simple and affordable modifications to oilfield operations can cut methane emissions dramatically. Other oil and gas states, like Colorado, California and Wyoming have started requiring companies to implement these strategies to reduce emissions, but companies that drill on UT land aren’t required to make them.

According to ICF International “...industry could cut methane emissions by 40% below projected 2018 levels at an average annual cost of less than one cent on average per thousand cubic feet of produced natural gas by adopting available emissions-control technologies and operating practices.

Together, we can get UT to act

For nearly 150 years, The University of Texas System has been a center innovation and leadership in our state. As one of the biggest players in the oil industry, it now has the opportunity to lead the way in meeting the greatest challenge of our time: the fight against climate change. UT System leaders should act immediately to rein in methane pollution on university-owned land.

The good news is, they’re already set up to do that. The University’s own sustainability policy states “the Board of Regents of the University of Texas is committed to stewardship of the environment and promotion of the principles of energy efficiency and sustainability” and directs institutions to “pursue the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” UT officials have told the press “the University Lands Office takes very seriously its role in ensuring all drilling is performed in a safe and sustainable manner.”

All we need is for UT to live up to its words and act to reduce this harmful pollution. So please, join us.

Legislative Solutions

Two UT alumni in the Texas Legislature are also working to get their alma mater to act. In February of 2021, State Representatives Gina Hinojosa and Sarah Eckhardt filed legislation in the Texas House and Senate to reduce methane pollution from university lands. The bills, known as the University Lands Flaring Acts, would direct the UT System to eliminate routine methane flaring on university lands by 2025. 

Like the thousands of UT students they represent in the Texas Legislature, Representative Hinojosa and Senator Eckhardt know that climate change is a major threat to all Texans. From the Hill Country to the Rio Grande Valley to the Permian Basin, our state is changing. Summers are getting hotter, hurricanes are getting stronger, droughts are getting longer, and the youngest members of our population — the ones who grew up watching it happen and who will have to live the longest with the aftermath — feel the strongest about it. 

As the states’ flagship university and a proponent of sustainability, The University of Texas should act immediately to rein in methane pollution on university-owned land — and, if they do not, the Legislature should.