The University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) is seeking an industry partner for a proposed research project to investigate impacts of natural gas and oil exploration, as well as development from shale formations, in East Tennessee and the wider region.

A request for proposals (RFP) that was issued last week to lease oil and gas interests in 8,600 acres in Morgan and Scott counties “is intended to identify a potential industry source to conduct the drilling component” of the research project at the university’s Forest Resources AgResearch and Education Center. That acreage is “documented to have reserves of natural gas and oil, and UTIA scientists say it is an ideal location for university-based research into societal concerns regarding natural gas and oil development,” according to the university.

The proposed investigation would seek to answer research questions regarding the relationships between the development of gas and oil resources through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and groundwater quality, wildlife habitat, soil disturbance, geological shale and individual species of flora and fauna.

“UTIA’s research initiative seeks to provide baseline data to advance best management practices specific to extracting natural gas and petroleum resources from the shale formations common throughout East Tennessee and the region,” UT said. “The university is seeking a lease agreement with private industry to extract the resources from its Cumberland Forest while scientists study the methodologies and their environmental effects.”

According to the RFP, the contract would be awarded for five years, with three five-year renewals possible. Revenue to the university would include a $300,000 lease bonus, $35/acre in rent and at least a 15% royalty on any of the gas produced on the Cumberland Forest. UT would also receive free natural gas and $500,000 a year in research project funding. The State Building Commission approved the bidding proposal in March.

The university has sought ways to generate revenue from the Cumberland Forest research area for more than a decade, according to Nashville’s Tennessean newspaper. The Southern Environmental Law Center and Sierra Club oppose the research proposal, which they say is an attempted shortcut to fracking at the research center.

A pre-bid proposal conference and limited site tour for prospective partners is scheduled to be held June 21 at the Cumberland Forest headquarters in Oliver Springs, TN. The university will accept sealed proposals until Aug. 7. Information about the RFP and conference are available at Follow the “Bidding Information” link to advertised proposals; the project is listed under Collective Number 30001591.