Knoxville, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee has submitted a proposal to the State Building Commission to lease approximately 8,500 acres of the Cumberland Forest to oil and gas companies for fracking. The land (located in Morgan and Scott Counties in the eastern part of the state) is part of a research station for the university’s forestry department. UT officials say that royalties from the production of natural gas would help fund a large-scale research project to study the effects of fracking as it relates to water quality, geologic formations, air quality, terrestrial ecosystems, best management practices and community education.
Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), along with other environmental and community groups throughout the state, are concerned about the quality and bias of this industry-funded research, the health and environmental impacts of fracking, and the opening up of public lands for controversial extraction practices.
“The University owes the people of Tennessee due diligence to ensure the lands the university oversees and the people that live around those lands are protected and preserved,” said Ann League, Chair of SOCM’s Energy, Ecology and Environmental Justice Committee.
At an Executive Subcommittee meeting of the Commission on January 31st, UT put forth an agenda item to allow the university to send out requests for proposals to lease its mineral rights with a waiver of appraisals. In addition to the aforementioned concerns, the waiver of independent appraisals of mineral rights sends the wrong message regarding openness and transparency on behalf of the university.
Ultimately, UT asked the Subcommittee to defer the agenda item for 30 days to allow for more public input. So far, no public meetings have been scheduled.