Energy & Environment

Grassland To Gas Land: How Texas Ranches Could Help Offset Climate Change

Big oil companies are looking for ways to offset the greenhouse gases produced by refining oil and burning it. And they’re looking for help to do that by turning to another big, Texas industry: cattle ranching.

Grassland in West Harris County
Grassland in West Harris County

Cattles graze on grasslands that cover millions of acres across Texas. That fact caught the attention of a group of researchers at Shell Oil. Shell didn't want to get into cattle business. But it was interested in the grass the cattle were munching.

"If you start changing your grazing patterns, you start storing massive amounts of carbon," says Henk Mooiweer, who was part of the Shell research team and now is an innovation consultant in Houston.

"You can really make a huge impact," Mooiweer says, of how much carbon dioxide all that grass absorbs.

Researchers are finding that if cows graze just a little bit and are then moved to another field, it encourages the grass to grow deeper roots that store more of the carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere. Oil companies care about that because they're looking for ways to keep making their product that produces greenhouse gases.

So finding ways to off-set that by promoting something that absorbs greenhouse gases would be a good thing.

"There's lots of questions. This is not a done deal, so you need some research to make this happen," Mooiweer told News 88.7.

But how do you encourage industry to help pay, and for landowners to participate? We found some ideas at a conference at Rice University.

Scientists, lawyers, and landowners discussed a concept called the Texas Coastal Exchange. It would be a way for industry to help pay for specific projects like the cattle grazing idea.

"That would pay for an enormous amount of conservation activities on the Gulf Coast," says Tom Campbell, a Houston attorney who was one of the speakers at the Rice conference.

Campbell says a key component of the Exchange would be to have independent groups, like universities, that would certify that a company, say a refinery, is actually funding a carbon storage project that is actually off-setting pollution the company is creating.

"It's kind of like organic food. If it's got the organic seal, you know how it was produced. You think that's responsible and you are willing to pay a little extra to be able to buy it," Campbell says.

Landowners would have to be convinced that restoring their land with certain grasses or trees was in their best interests. Already on board is Kathleen Cynthia Pickett, an oil and gas attorney who bought 750 acres of coastal prairie east of Houston that she says will be restored and never developed.

"If we can encourage those kinds of practices we're going to be the state that shows the rest of the country how to have conservation and industry coexist," Pickett told News 88.7.

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Dave Fehling

Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

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