8,600 acres of the Cumberland Forest owned by University of Tennessee-Knoxville will be leased off to the oil and gas industry this August in a new form of “frackademia” - and one of the top financial beneficiaries will be the family of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who sits on UT-Knoxville's Board of Trustees.
“Frackademia” is usually thought of as “studies” conducted by university-based “frackademic” researchers and funded by Big Oil, the old “Tobacco Playbook” in action. But UT-Knoxville has taken the game to a whole new level, leasing off land it owns so that it can study “best practices” for fracking in the Volunteer State.
“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 New York Times article on the proposal.
The deal with the oil and gas industry for the acerage includes an initial fee of $300,000, plus $300,000 per year, 15-percent royalties on any gas sold and a minimum of $35 per acre paid to UT-Knoxville.
The 8,600 acres sits within the Chattanooga Shale basin, a field still untapped by the industry via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the toxic horizontal drilling process through which oil and gas is obtained from shale rock basins. Atlas Energy - purchased as a subsidiary by Chevron in Nov. 2010 - owns 105,000 acres in the Chattanooga, a clear example the industry has its cross-hairs on the untapped Chattanooga basin.
UT-Knoxville's new “leasing agency” program will be run under the auspices of the university's Institute of Agriculture, officially referred to as the UT Institute of Agriculture Gas and Oil Research Initiative and a pre-bid proposal conference for prospective industry partners is set for June 21. Leases will be five years long, with a maximum allowance of three renewals, or 20 years total.