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.