The Santa Rita Oil Rig located on the UT Austin main campus. Photo by Pieter Edelman via Flickr.

San Antonio – At various UT System campuses Wednesday, Environment Texas called on University of Texas administrators to reduce the climate-damaging methane emissions occurring at oil and gas facilities on land managed by the UT System.

“Pollution from oil drilling on UT land is damaging our climate, putting Texas and future generations at risk,” said Emily Weisfeld, campaign organizer with Environment Texas. “Affordable technology and industry best practices could cut this pollution in half and UT needs to insist that the companies who make money off our lands start using it. This methane pollution is UT’s dirty little secret.”

Emily Weisfeld, campaign organizer for Environment Texas speaks at a media event at UTSA Wednesday, Sept. 21. Photo courtesy of Environment Texas.
Emily Weisfeld, campaign organizer for Environment Texas speaks at a media event at UTSA Wednesday, Sept. 21. Photo courtesy of Environment Texas.

Invisible and odorless, methane is a potent greenhouse gas 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide and is responsible for 25% of current global warming. Using EPA data, Environment Texas estimates that over the past few years, methane emissions on UT lands have nearly doubled. From 2009-2014, oil and gas produced the equivalent of 11.7 million tons of climate pollution. In one year, this pollution carries the same short term climate impact as 2.5 million cars or 3.4 coal-fired power plants.

“Cleaning up methane releases within the University of Texas system to limit greenhouse gases should have special resonance here in San Antonio,” said Peter Bella, former AACOG natural resources director. That’s because San Antonio is slated to be classified a dirty-air city by the Environmental Protection Agency in Oct. 2017. Just as unconventional oil and gas production releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, production also creates ozone precursors, which is air pollution that forms ozone.

“With non-attainment looming here and with climate change now becoming more severe, San Antonio should be first on the list of Texas cities to understand the need to clean up emissions from oil and gas development. The University of Texas system can and should be a leader in making the change.”

Special infrared video displays invisible methane as black smoke coming from oil and gas operations on UT Lands. The video confirms that drilling activity on UT lands is resulting in methane escaping into the air and worsening global warming. Shot in West Texas this past summer, the video shows methane being released from drilling wells, storage tanks and flares on UT lands.

“As concerned students,  we are deeply troubled by what our future will look like if we don’t take action to lessen the impacts of the dangerous methane emissions from oil and gas operations.” said Julia Shank,  student leader. “UT claims that they have a call to action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and their actions need to speak louder than their words.”

Simple and affordable modifications to oilfield operations can cut methane emissions dramatically and oil and gas producing states, like Colorado, California and Wyoming have started requiring companies to implement these cost-effective strategies. Environment Texas also announced plans to collect thousands of petition signatures from students and dozens of endorsements from faculty and staff from across the UT System, including at UT X campus. Environment Texas will also promote the infrared video through a paid advertising campaign on social media.

Top image: The Santa Rita Oil Rig located on the UT Austin main campus.  Photo by Pieter Edelman via Flickr. 

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Emily Weisfeld

Emily Weisfeld is currently a campaign organizer with Environment Texas. She recently graduate from Brandeis University with B.A in Environmental Studies and Public Health.