UPDATE: We have learned that the UT Board of Trustees will NOT vote on this issue on UTC's campus later this week. It seems the Tennessee State Building Commission (SBC) and the SBC Executive Subcommittee must approve the request to lease the minerals before the fracking proposal can go further. The next meeting of the SBC Executive Subcommittee is March 15 in Nashville. Our intent is to the send the names of all who have signed here, plus your comments, to members of the SBC Executive Subcommittee. The original petition follows:
ORIGINAL PETITION LANGUAGE: At its February 28 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): http://www.harpethriver.org/program/sm_files/HRWA%20comments%20to%20TDEC%20fracking%20Aug%203%202012%20final.pdf
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.
Who are the authors of this petition? Dr. Joe Wilferth is head of the English Department at UT-Chattanooga, where he teaches Environmental Rhetoric and writing courses that have as their focus place-based topics. Dr. Henry Spratt is a Biology professor at UT-Chattanooga, where he teaches courses including Bioremediation, Principles of Microbiology, and more. They are simply people who call Tennessee "home." They consider themselves environmentalists insofar as they understand the importance of clean water, clean air, and clean soil. It's that simple!
[If you sign the petition, please add your affiliation with the UT system—e.g., UT-Martin Class of 2002, UT-Knoxville Class of 2015, graduate student, administrative assistant, Professor of Economics, etc.]