AUSTIN - More than 50 faculty members of the Texas A&M University System sent a letter to Chancellor John Sharp today urging him to work to reduce global warming pollution from oil and gas operations on two million acres of land administered by the Texas A&M University and University of Texas Systems. The letter states that “in 2017, emissions from University Lands were eighteen times more than that of the Texas A&M campus.”
“Texas A&M is at the forefront of research showing that fossil fuel emissions represent a clear and present danger to Texas and to our planet, and at the forefront of research on how to contain the effects of climate change. This is a historic opportunity for us to lead by example.” said Dr. Gil Rosenthal, professor of biology and of ecology and evolutionary biology at Texas A&M University.
University Lands (UL) manages the surface and mineral interests of 2.1 million acres of land in West Texas and leases more than 9,000 oil and gas wells to more than 300 operators. If these wells were pooled into one entity, it would be the fifth largest oil company in Texas. The revenue gathered from the university-owned lands is split between the two systems with two-thirds going towards UT and one-third going to A&M.
“It would set a welcome example if UL were to require procedures that minimize resource waste at oil and gas production sites,” said Gunnar Schade, an Associate Professor in the University's Atmospheric Science Department who studies air quality issues in Texas' shale production areas.
Studies, including those done by A&M researchers, show that methane - a powerful greenhouse gas - is often released or escapes into the atmosphere during the production of oil and natural gas. Technology and industry practices exist now and are currently deployed by some companies to affordably detect, reduce or prevent methane leaks. By simply requiring oil and gas producers to use industry best practices on the land it manages, the letter states, UL could make drastic cuts to current methane emissions.
“Our university’s sustainability efforts are truly impressive, TAMU has a Gold Stars rating. However, much greater attention is needed to its greenhouse gas emissions and externalized costs,” said Tazim Jamal, a Professor in the University’s Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Department. “TAMU’s leadership in reducing its carbon footprint and methane emissions on university lands is crucially important and ethically the right thing to do for climate justice."
Today’s letter is the latest step in a multi-year effort by UT students, faculty, and alumni to get UL to act, but the first to involve the A&M System. In response to these efforts, UL has taken some steps to address methane emissions, including the purchase of an infrared camera to spot the invisible gas and a promised review of best practices for emissions reductions. But the A&M letter notes that “UL has no plan in place to accurately quantify and characterize emissions and guarantee emissions are reduced”.
Jacob Slaughter, the president of a newly formed student organization at A&M, Aggies for Climate Justice, supports the efforts to reduce methane emissions on University Lands, and other climate actions at the university. He says, “The only moral thing for the university to do is to decarbonize, and divest from fossil fuels.”
The letter also comes amid efforts by the Trump Administration to roll back standards on methane pollution from new oil and gas wells. The EPA will hold a hearing in Dallas on October 17 to hear public comment on the proposed rollback.
“The EPA should maintain its current regulations on methane emissions,” said Emma Pabst, Global Warming Solutions Organizer for Environment Texas. “But whatever the feds decide, A&M and UT should insist that drillers on our public lands are held to high standards and not allowed to pollute."