University of Tennessee "Frackademia" Program Put to Rest, For Now

Mon, 2013-09-09 14:47Steve Horn
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University of Tennessee "Frackademia" Program Put to Rest, For Now

University of Tennessee-Knoxville's “frackademia” program proposal - set to transform UT's Institute of Agriculture into a de facto fracking land leasing agency - has been put to rest for now, according to The Tennesseean. In short: the university's premiere leasing proposal for acreage didn't recieve a single bid.   

UT-Knoxville's proposed program - as revealed in a DeSmogBlog investigation - intended to research wells fracked on 8,600 acres of Cumberland Forest land owned by UT that sits on top of the Chattanooga Shale basin. UT-Knoxville would lease the acreage off to Big Oil under the nullified plan. 

The proposal called for an initial fee of $300,000 paid by companies interested in fracking, an additional $300,000 per year, 15-percent royalties on any gas sold and a minimum of $35 per acre paid to UT-Knoxville.

“It would create a rare, controlled environment in which experts could study the environmental impact of the controversial drilling technique, while also generating revenue to finance research,” explained a March 2013 New York Times article on the proposal.

For now, the “controlled environment” conception serves as merely a prologue, its future at UT-Knoxville - if any at all - still undetermined. 

At this point, I am unsure of the next steps, if any,” Kevin Hoyt, Director of UT's Forest Resources Ag­Research and Education Center - which manages the Cumberland Forest - said in a press statement. “Those decisions will be up to UT Institute of Agriculture leadership.”

It might also be up to other key important players, too: the Haslam family.  

Haslam Family Connections to Fracking

Republican Governor Bill Haslam - the former Mayor of Knoxville - took $398,110 from Big Oil before his Nov. 2010 gubernatorial race victory.

Tennessee GOP Gov. Bill Haslam; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Further, the Haslam family owns Pilot Flying J truck fueling stations, a corporation for which Bill Haslem used to serve as president and currently owned by Bill's brother, Jimmy. It's currently the 6th most profitable corporation in the U.S., earning over $29 billion in 2012.

Pilot Flying J also has 63 of its stations nationwide retrofitted with natural gas pumps for 18-wheelers owned by T. Boone Pickens' Clean Energy Fuels Corporation (CEF) as part of CEF's “America's Natural Gas Highway.” Some perspective: CEF currently has 67 U.S. fueling stations in total.

T. Boone Pickens; Photo Credit: David Shankbone | Wikimedia Commons

By the end of this year - an EcoWatch article explains - Pilot Flying J “plan[s] to have 100 truck stops capable of fueling 18-wheelers with…natural gas.”

Bill Haslam's father and Pilot founder, Jim Haslem - a co-chair of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Tennessee campaign and former member of the UT-Knoxville Board of Trustees - gave a $32.5 million donation to UT-Knoxville in 2006. It was the largest ever private donation to the university from an individual.

Icing on the cake: Bill Haslam Chairs UT-Knoxville's Board of Trustees, overseer of UT's fundraising efforts. 

It remains to be seen whether fracking on UT-Knoxville's land will morph into a centerpiece of the university's funding drives - led by Gov. Bill Haslam - going forward. For now, the Cumberland Forest lives another day unfracked. 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Comments

My guess is that nobody wants to research what's already known. Plus hiring lobbyists and PR flacks to manage regulations and messaging may be good enough at this moment in time.

 
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