At a Q&A session with students in October of 2012, University of North Texas President Veldon Rawlins told students that there was no fracking on University property.
The following summer, two Eagleridge Inc. frack wells were installed next to Apogee stadium and the adjacent athletic dorms. The wells aren’t technically on UNT property, but the university owns 75 of the 224 acres of mineral rights covered under that lease. “UNT System” and “the UNT Foundation Inc.” are listed as lessors on the drilling permits.
Recently, students uncovered even more direct evidence that Rawlins lied about fracking. They found an old permit, dating back to 2002, for a fracking well on University property near the Denton airport and the Rafes Astronomy Center.
Rawlins wasn’t president at the time, so he may be able to claim ignorance, but it still begs the question: why weren’t students consulted or at least informed about these fracking projects?
“It’s insulting to know that an entity I’ve been paying $4,000 in yearly tuition is also responsible for my deteriorating health,” says student Rebekah Hinojosa. “I’m in debt $20,000 and now I learn that I’ve been continuously poisoned for four years.”
With millions of dollars of their endowment invested in the petrochemical industry, and several members of the Board of Regents also working as oil & gas executives, it’s not surprising that UNT uses its institutional prowess to promote the industry. Even so, allowing Eagleridge to drill next to a 31,000 seat stadium seems incautious at best.
Eagleridge has been criticized for its poor safety record, but regulators and institutions have done little in response. When Eagleridge was caught dumping fracking wastewater into a stream which runs into Lake Lewisville, the water source for Denton, the company was fined a whopping $1,875 by the Texas Railroad Commission.
In April of this year, Eagleridge waited nine hours before reporting a dangerous blowout that sent a benzene plume into a Denton neighborhood.
The city of Denton is already home to 463 fracking wells, with over 4,100 wells permitted in Denton County as a whole. Denton already has among the worst air in the country, receiving the same “F” rating from the American Lung Association as Houston, Tex.
Hinojosa says that people advocating for the health of their communities must contend with massively funded ad campaigns. “Our pamphlets are competing with nationalistic and apple-pie-sounding fracking company commercials. There’s always at least one Texas flag waving on top of the frack well,” she says.
Hinojosa has criticized UNT for engaging in the same style of greenwashing as the fracking companies themselves. “UNT is always boasting about their three wind turbines that power 14 percent of the football stadium and their 'We Mean Green' slogan is plastered everywhere," she says. "In reality, UNT is profiting off drilling.”
Meanwhile, according to student Angie Halliday, many UNT students don’t feel safe attending events at Apogee stadium, and she’s concerned about the health of students assigned to the athletic dorm near the frack wells.
President Rawlins’s office was contacted but declined to comment publicly for this piece.