UT System’s University Lands endorses Dark Skies Initiative

HOUSTON – The University of Texas System’s University Lands Office joined key industry associations recently in formally announcing its support of the McDonald Observatory’s Dark Skies Initiative.

A collaborative effort by UT Austin’s McDonald Observatory, the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, the Texas Oil & Gas Association, the American Petroleum Institute, and now, University Lands, the Dark Skies Initiative aims to minimize light pollution in West Texas through implementation of best practices in oil and gas lighting.

The McDonald Observatory is home to one of the world’s largest telescopes and is a leading center for astronomical research, teaching and public education. It’s located in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, which historically have offered some of the darkest night skies in the continental United States.

University Lands manages 2.1 million acres of land in West Texas to generate revenue for the Permanent University Fund, an endowment established in the late 1800s by the Texas Legislature to benefit Texas higher education. Today, more than 375,000 students across 25 institutions in the UT and A&M University systems benefit from the fund.

Mark Houser, CEO of University Lands, said University Lands is committed to helping ensure that West Texas’ skies stay dark.

“University Lands is one of the largest managers of surface and mineral interests in the West Texas region,” Houser said. “The first producing oil well in the Permian Basin was drilled on University Lands back in 1923, and we have had a strong presence in the region since. We are a long-term player, and we feel that adoption of best practices in all aspects of oil and gas operations – including lighting – is critical to the industry’s long-term sustainability.”

The Dark Skies Initiative recommends practices for oil and gas operations to minimize light pollution. As Permian Basin development has increased over the last decade, the night skies of West Texas have been challenged by 24-7 oil and gas operations steadily moving westward towards the Observatory.

While lighting is critical to safety in oil and gas development, the Initiative promotes simple changes, including switching out bluish-white lights in exchange for amber-colored lights, and pointing lights down toward the ground instead of up toward the sky. 

“The Dark Skies Initiative is a set of practical, low-cost, easy-to-implement recommendations that support science and will help ensure that the McDonald Observatory continues its world-leading research,” Houser said. “We will be encouraging all operators on University Lands to adopt these best practices.”

About The University of Texas System
For more than 130 years, The University of Texas System has been committed to improving the lives of Texans and people all over the world through education, research and health care. With 14 institutions, an enrollment of more than 235,000 students and an operating budget of $19.5 billion (FY 2019), the UT System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States. UT institutions produce nearly 59,000 graduates annually and award more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and almost two-thirds of its health professional degrees. Collectively, UT-owned and affiliated hospitals and clinics accounted for more than 7.8 million outpatient visits and 1.6 million hospital days last year. Across UT institutions, research and development expenditures total $2.7 billion – the second highest among U.S. public higher education systems – and the UT System is regularly ranked among the top 10 most innovative universities in the world. The UT System also is one of the largest employers in Texas, with more than 21,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates and members of the National Academies – and nearly 85,000 health care professionals, researchers, student advisors and support staff.

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News Contact Info

Karen Adler: kadler@utsystem.edu • 512-499-4360 (direct) • 210-912-8055 (cell)
Alyssa Ray, University Lands: aray@utsystem.edu • 713-352-3840