Mar 18 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The University of Tennessee wants to allow hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas on a state-owned tract of rolling woodland and use the revenue to fund research into the environmental impact of such drilling — a proposal that environmentalists condemn as a conflict of interest.
The unique proposal is being considered as national debate continues over “fracking.” Energy companies use the procedure to remove gas or oil from rock formations by forcing liquids underground at high pressure. Many universities say they lack the money to properly study its environmental implications.
Gwen Parker, a Nashville-based staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said her group is taking a lead in trying to block the move. She called the university’s proposal a “fundamental conflict of interest.”
“We have not been able to find any instances of a university drilling on their land and funding their research with revenues from the drilling activities,” Parker said.
Without an appraisal, it was unclear how much revenue such drilling could yield, though some said it could be in the range of millions of dollars annually.
The university wants state permission to allow an outside company to drill on about 8,000 acres of mature woodlands it maintains as an outdoor laboratory in the Cumberland Plateau — all while performing research on the effects on water quality, air quality and ground impacts.
University officials argue that because the property is state-owned, they can maintain control over the drilling project and provide independent scientific results in an area of the industry where many environmental questions remain.