Pro-industry group throws support behind drilling on Texas university land

A pro-industry group is firing back at calls by environmental advocates to restrict drilling on university land in Texas, arguing that oil and gas revenue has provided massive financial support for the University of Texas and Texas A&M.

North Texans for Natural Gas, a loose coalition of people who support natural gas development, is circulating a petition urging UT Chancellor William McRaven and Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp to support hydraulic fracturing and the extraction of oil and gas on University Lands, 2.1 million acres in West Texas set aside by the state’s constitution to create an endowment for the state’s two leading university systems.

“These funds have allowed the universities to keep tuition affordable and make investments in new facilities,” the petition by North Texans for Natural Gas says. “Now, a liberal environmental group is calling for a de facto end to drilling on lands that benefit both UT and A&M.”

Revenue from oil and gas leases helped push the Permanent University Fund to $19 billion last year, according to the Dallas Morning News. The two university systems saw their endowments swell by 70 in the past five years as the shale boom led to a flurry of drilling and production, the Morning News reported.

A joint report by Austin-based Environment Texas Research and Policy Center and the California-based Frontier Group released earlier this month argued that oil and gas development on the West Texas acreage, much of which sits atop the oil-rich Permian Basin, has harmed the environment and threatened public health. The flurry of hydraulic fracturing since 2005 consumed vast amounts of water during a drought, spilled 1.6 million gallons of pollutants and unleashed methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere, the report found.

“If UT is going to continue to allow fracking, it must, at the very least, act immediately to eliminate the worst industry practices and safeguard the environment and public health,” Luke Metzger, one of the report’s authors and Director of Environment Texas Research and Policy Center said in a statement.

The study has been denounced by University of Texas officials, who defended the environmental record of University Lands.

North Texans for Natural Gas, which receives support from the region’s four top energy companies, Devon Energy, EnerVest, EOG Resources and XTO Energy, dismissed the report as a fear campaign by a “small but committed group of critics.”

“Please stand with us by defending continued oil and natural gas development on University Lands and reject calls from those who are advocating for bans on American energy development,” the petition urges.