Chancellor urged to reduce methane emissions from UT oil lands


The retired president of Shell Oil Co. is among those urging creation of a task force to cut methane releases.

Methane is a major contributor to global warming.

In recent months and years, the Faculty Council, Staff Council and Student Government at the University of Texas have called on the UT System to cut emissions of methane, a major contributor to global warming, by 50 percent from its vast oil and natural gas lands in the western part of the state.

On Monday, the retired president of Shell Oil Co., a prominent Austin real estate developer and two other people called on the system’s chancellor, Bill McRaven, to convene a task force to reduce emissions.

“Let’s make the UT System a world leader in the responsible production of oil and gas,” said the letter signed by John Hofmeister, a retired Shell president now with Citizens for Affordable Energy; Perry Lorenz, an Austin developer; Trammell S. Crow, an environmentalist and businessman who founded EarthX, which organizes a major environmental expo in Dallas each year; and John Kerr, a lawyer who serves on the board of the Environmental Defense Action Fund, the lobbying partner of the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund.

McRaven has taken the letter writers’ request under advisement, said Karen Adler, a spokeswoman for the system.

Mark Houser, the system’s CEO of university lands, said in a statement that methane emissions from the lands have decreased almost 20 percent since 2014 even as production increased 7 percent.

“Public concern and existing industry efforts will ensure the decline continues,” he said.

Related: UT pumped millions into its oil institute, then pulled the plug

For decades, the UT System has leased its West Texas lands to oil and natural gas producers, a massive enterprise spanning 2.1 million acres with 9,000 operating wells. The system’s revenue peaked at $1.1 billion in the 2014 budget year, dipped to $512 million in 2016 and has risen steadily since then. It was projected recently to reach nearly $1 billion in the current budget year.

The revenue goes into the Permanent University Fund, an endowment benefiting UT System and Texas A&M University System campuses.

“With production on (university lands) expected to increase 50-100% in the coming years, it’s critical that we take action now to mitigate the environmental impacts. The good news is technology is available to significantly cut these emissions,” Hofmeister and the others wrote. “As the co-steward of these public lands, UT has a special responsibility to care for this resource and insist on use of the best practices for companies who lease this land.”

Environment Texas, an advocacy group, has been urging the UT System for some time to require its lessees to plug leaks and upgrade technology to trim methane releases. The group’s director, Luke Metzger, said he worked with the four signers of the McRaven letter.

The chancellor is stepping down at the end of this month for health reasons and to teach and write.

“There is still time for him to act and to create an important legacy,” Metzger said.

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