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Do not support the UT lease for oil/gas drilling in the Cumberland Forest!

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At its February 28th meeting, the Board of Trustees for the University of Tennessee is scheduled to vote on a lease of 8,600 acres of public land in the Cumberland Forest to energy companies for the purpose of natural gas and oil drilling. While some countries (e.g., Germany) and certainly some states and counties here in the U.S. have placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking")—the process by which proprietary chemical mixtures or nitrogen gas is pumped into wells to extract natural gas and oil—Tennessee maintains extremely lax regulations on well sites to the detriment of the natural environment, to the detriment of wildlife and herd animals, and to the detriment of human health.

The reported purpose of this lease: to facilitate research between the UT Forest AgResearch & Education Center and oil/gas companies. Similar arrangements between oil/gas companies and universities like the University of Texas have historically resulted in bunk and discredited research, faculty resignations, and more.

Worse still, Tennessee's regulatory body, the Division of Water Pollution Control at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), maintains regulations that are not even on par with those endorsed by the American Petroleum Institute, despite efforts by the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Tennessee Clean Water Network, the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, the League of Women's Voters-TN, the Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), and the Harpeth River Watershed Association to push for regulations that are better suited for a state like Tennessee that has such diverse topography and geological formations. For a summary of the state's regulations and present environmental impact, including a case study of damage to Brush Creek in Williamson County, see the following PDF file. (Cut and paste into your preferred browser.)

Specifically, our state's regulations require a mere 200 feet of horizontal separation between an oil or gas well and an active drinking water well, 100 vertical feet separating the bottom of the protective well casing and the deepest aquifer, 200 feet from a home, and a mere 100 feet from a nearby stream—all without public notice. These regulations are NOT sufficient for pristine spaces like the Cumberland Forest; nor are they sufficient for the land throughout our counties. This is our home! It is where we fish, hunt, canoe, golf, climb, swim and live! Any UT lease of public land to energy companies for gas and oil drilling undermines the trust that the people of this great state put in higher education and its affiliated groups. Instead of pursuing fossil fuels and nonrenewable resources, UT could instead be a leader in researching renewable and sustainable energy.

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