UT Fracking plans draw no bidders; just a letter

No companies submitted proposals by Friday’s deadline to drill for natural gas on University of Tennessee land as part of a fracking research proposal in the Cumberland Forest, reports the News Sentinel.

The university received one response: a letter from CNX Gas, a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania-based CONSOL Energy, insisting that the current lease terms are not financially feasible for the company.

The letter asked for a lease with a drilling schedule and royalties that are tied to monthly gas prices. It also asked that its research and development department collaborate with UT scientists on “mutually beneficial research.”

It’s not yet clear whether UT will revise the lease terms and rebid the project in the research forest, which includes two tracts of land in Scott and Morgan counties.

“No decision has been made on next steps at this time,” said Gina Stafford, a UT spokeswoman. “At the first opportunity, the appropriate leadership from within the university will consider available options and make a determination about the future of this venture.”

Environmental groups said they are pleased, though cautious, about the lack of interest from oil and gas companies.

“It’s extremely encouraging to us, and what we hope is that UT will put this thing to bed and not go forward with any research on fracking or oil and gas drilling on property,” said Anne Davis, managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Nashville offices. “I am concerned — and certainly the university has indicated for over 10 years now — that it wants to enter into a deal here to do oil and gas fracking on its property.”

Activists are worried that the university could revise the request for proposals, or RFP, and relax the requirements surrounding the oil and gas research.