Activists protest UT land use in front of McRaven’s office

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Photo Credit: Mary Pistorius | Daily Texan Staff

Close to 15 pro-environment activists from Environment Texas dressed as zombies and polar bears from a post-global warming world and marched outside UT Chancellor William McRaven’s office Friday asking for cuts to methane emissions from oil and gas companies on land leased by UT in West Texas.

Environment Texas, an environmental advocacy group, hosted the protest, which lasted from 12 to 1 p.m., in hopes of bringing more attention to the methane emission issue. 

According to a report by Environment Texas from fall 2015, as many as 4,132 wells on the University-leased land have been subject to high-volume fracking which Environment Texas considers to be one of the “worst industry practices” due to its negative effects on the environment and public health. 

Director of Environment Texas Luke Metzger said he met with Mark Houser, CEO of the University Lands Office, who shared no interest in advancing the dialogue about decreasing methane emissions. Houser invited the group to visit the lands in West Texas earlier this month.

“We’re happy to [visit the University lands] if they’re interested in starting a dialogue about how they can act on our recommendations and do something to cut the pollution, but thus far they haven’t shown any interest and that’s why we’re really turning our attention to McRaven, [who] oversees University Lands,” Metzger said. 

McRaven had not responded to The Daily Texan at the time this article was published.

Government and history sophomore Juan de Hoyos joined Environment Texas as an intern after signing a petition created to bring attention to the pollution in West Texas. 

“I don’t know [McRaven’s] point of view, but there must be a good reason why he hasn’t said anything [regarding the pollution],” De Hoyos said.

A Student Government resolution calling for McRaven to publicly support cutting the methane emissions in half was passed in September with only three opposing votes.

University Lands manages 2.1 million acres of land in West Texas for the benefit of the Permanent University Fund, which is considered to be one of the largest University endowments in the U.S., benefiting over 20 institutions in the UT and Texas A&M Systems, according to their website. More than half of the land is leased to oil and
gas companies.

In a UT System press release in September, Houser said Environment Texas’ accusations are “unscientific” due to the lack of proper sourcing in their report. He also said in the release that University Lands follows EPA regulations as well as employing additional requirements.

“We go above and beyond what state and federal regulations require because it’s the right thing to do and because we will own these lands forever for the benefit of the state and public higher education,” Houser said in a press release. “Development activity on University Lands, primarily from oil and gas operations, has generated billions of dollars in revenue that, over the years, has and will continue to provide great opportunities at the twenty-plus UT and A&M institutions across the state.”