UT puts a hold on fracking plans

The University of Tennessee has halted plans to conduct fracking research on the Cumberland Plateau after the school failed to generate interest from oil and gas companies, reports the News Sentinel.

UT Institute of Agriculture officials announced Friday they may revisit the project “if there continues to be a need” for such research, but did not give a timetable on when or if they would re-evaluate the proposal.

UT also cancelled a presentation on the project planned for the October board of trustees meeting.

“What ultimately drives the project is going to be if we can put science on the ground and if we have a need,” said Bill Brown, dean of AgResearch,the institute’s research arm. “The reasons for us to drill in the future would be those we saw this time, and that was public interest and public concern relative to environmental aspects like water quality, air quality, terrestrial ecosystems and the potential for impacts that gas and oil extraction has on those components.”

Whether the university decides to revisit the research could depend on the price of natural gas, which has seen record lows in recent years.

….Environmentalists said they were relieved the plan is at least on hold, but said they would not be surprised to see the university pursue drilling in the future. UT has explored oil and gas extraction at the Cumberland Research Forest off and on for more than a decade.

Annetta Watson, a resident of Coalfield whose land shares a boundary with UT in Morgan County, said the school has treated the land “as a commodity rather than public trust land.”

“The industry’s no bid response confirms what many UT neighbors and concerned community groups have repeatedly stated for many months, and that is the university’s proposal to frack public lands in Tennessee is not viable and should not move forward,” she said, adding that CNX and other companies already operate on hundreds of thousands of nearby acres.