Oil boom brings new focus, complaints about land owned by the University of Texas System

Associated Press

The University of Texas System owns 2.1 million acres of land, most of it in oil-rich West Texas where royalty payments have soared past $1 billion each year. But a consulting group and environmental advocates say the UT System needs to do more with a valuable public resource.

A report commissioned by the UT System found "significant core challenges" with its lands office based in Midland, where the recent oil boom has led to surging revenues, the Austin American-Statesman reported (http://bit.ly/1vTRKUd ). The report says the office has no engineering staff and not enough employees with industry knowledge.

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The report calls on the lands office to raise salaries, a costly move it says could be outweighed by the increased revenue an improved staff could generate, including the replacement of outdated leases that pay lower royalties.

The Board of Regents has also used its Permanent University Fund — financed in part by oil and gas proceeds — for more spending than recommended by the board's guidelines, which are non-binding.

The newspaper reports that the fund has paid out $512 million more than its guidelines allow over the last four years.

Still, the fund had an overall value of $17.4 billion at the end of August, which also takes into account the system's holdings of stocks, bonds and gold bullion.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said he considered the fund to be administered well. He said any changes should be small and enacted by the Texas Legislature.

"Maybe there's something that needs fixing," Patterson told the newspaper. "I'd be more comfortable fixing what we've got than coming up with something new and different."

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com