40 Acres and Beyond: Protecting University Land

                                                By Nick Mitchell

The “40 acres” is a number that has become an emblem of our campus. It’s the name of a bus route, a festival, and is in many other ways an integral part of the past, present, and future of our university. It is not the only important acreage in our University however, nor the only one with an interesting and important history.

.In 1838, during the 3rd Congress of the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau Lamar (President of the Republic, and namesake of the road) beseeched the Congress of Texas to establish an education system for the brand new nation. Weeks later the legislature bequeathed 220,000 acres of public land for the establishment of a university worthy of Texas. As the years have gone by, the amount of land owned by this “Permanent University Fund” has increased. As of today 2.1 million acres are the sole property of the University of Texas. To give perspective, this means that our University owns more land than the combined areas of Delaware and Rhode Island.

 This land has proved bountiful for the University and the People of Texas. Farmers lease the grazing fields and underground wells to feed their herds and grow their crops. Oil and natural gas found under the land has provided over $1 billion dollars in this year alone, and has provided a massive economic benefit for our university through the ages.  

 Unfortunately, as the University has had its State funding cut and has been relying increasingly on utilizing its oil and gas reserves, it has begun to have a negative impact on the environment and the land that UT has been given stewardship over. The specific reason for this increase in risk has been the rise in the use of hydraulic fracking in order to gain access to deeper underwater gas reserves. The fracking process uses millions of gallons of water alongside chemical mixtures to produce cracks in underground aquifers through which the gas can escape. Unfortunately this process carries risks of potentially disastrous leakage of methane and chemical solvents if the fracking pipeline is not properly sealed. As of yet the University is still trying to implement methods to compel energy companies to adhere to strict safety guidelines when accessing fuel on University Lands.

 Furthermore, there is the issue that current state law exempts oil and gas companies for reporting and being accountable for water use in conjunction with exploration. This means that the millions of gallons used to acquire the energy resources may not be being efficiently recycled. In effect this means that UT Lands may be diminishing one of its precious natural resources in order to exploit another.

This year the Texas legislature is considering measures to require all energy companies on public land to record and account for water usage. If we, as students, want to protect the land that has given us so much over the years, and become such an integral part of our University’s identity. It is vital that we stand behind these measures. 

Science Links

Voices of Our Students