By TIM THORNBERRY
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A volunteer advisory council has been formed by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture’s AgResearch for a proposed gas and oil research initiative.
According to information from UT, “The initiative calls for the study of environmental and other risk factors related to oil and gas development on the UT Forest Resources AgResearch and Education Center Cumberland Forest, located in Scott and Morgan counties.”
The council will include local and statewide representatives from many groups and sectors, including conservation organizations, government and the industry.
Landowners from the area in which the research would be conducted will also be included on the council, along with UT faculty members and graduate students.
Dr. Kevin Hoyt, director of the UT Forest Resources AgResearch and Education Center, said forming the council is one step in the process to ensure the community and interested parties are informed about and have input into the target research topic areas.
“I look forward to meeting with the council and to hear their thoughts and ideas about proposed research, how we move the project forward while soliciting their input and ideas on the target research topics,” he said.
There are two large land tracts in the area in which the gas and oil would be extracted if the initiative is approved. Hoyt said every effort has been made to look at all aspects of such a project to ensure it is done in an environmentally safe way and as efficiently as possible.
“What we are proposing to do, if we get approval to circulate a Request For Proposal (RFP) for this research project, all 8,600 acres will go out for industry partners to come forward and make proposals on how they would help us accomplish our proposed research project,” he said.
“Of course, we are going to be drilling gas and oil wells, as well, but we will be additionally evaluating the company proposals based on their respective environmental and safety programs, internal resources, corporate structure and those kinds of things. We are going to put them through a strong vetting process and hopefully we will have one that comes out on top that can meet the criteria we’re looking for.”
That approval came last Friday as the request for the RFP went before the State Building Commission Executive Subcommittee – and was granted.
UT released a statement regarding the decision that noted: “Our intention is science-based investigation. UT researchers will play a major role in development of best practices, including in forestry management and the most environmentally responsible methods of gas and oil extraction. We will move forward in a transparent manner, in which we will seek to engage and receive input from all interested parties.”
Hoyt said once the project moves forward and an industry partner is identified, the whole operational aspect of gas and oil extraction will be investigated to know how it is associated with the environment.
“The scientist will be on the ground and UT will drive the project, not the industry partner, and what we hope to find out is we can do this in a safe and in a light footprint, environmentally conscious manner,” he said.
Hoyt added UT initiated the project concept in January 2012, when a consortium of scientists were brought together. Five “areas of investigation” were identified through those discussions, including water quality, geological, air quality, terrestrial ecosystems and best management practices/community education.
Doug Edlund, with UT Ag Marketing and Communications, said there are proven gas and oil reserves in the area of discussion – in the Cumberland Forest in northeastern Tennessee – but this initiative is mainly about studying the effects on the environment and an industry partner is needed for that. He also said the first meeting of the advisory council has occurred, and water quality was discussed.
“It was a great meeting because we had a lot of good potential researchable questions developed there. It was really good to have a group of people like that get together at the table and share input from all sources. It really helps you form your research and researchable questions,” he explained.
As more domestic forms of energy are needed, this project has great potential for the area and is drawing the attention of many organizations willing to participate. Several state and federal organizations, as well as other universities, have expressed recent interest in collaborating on the project.
“We ultimately hope to establish best management practices applicable to the gas and oil industry, and hope to make some discoveries up there that may be applicable to other parts of the country,” stated UT.
For more information, visit https://ag.tennessee.edu/