TEXAS TECH: THE ENERGY UNIVERSITY

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TEXAS TECH: THE ENERGY UNIVERSITY

After thirty years in practice with two law firms, an oil-and-gas company, and my own firm, there were two aspects that made the offer to become a law-school professor at Texas Tech in 2014 intriguing to me: one was the law school’s emphasis on wanting to hire a practitioner, rather than an academic, to teach oil-and-gas law; and the other was the law school’s desire to build an energy-law program. My immediate observation, and one that should be all too obvious to anyone else, was that Texas Tech School of Law should absolutely have an energy-law program, most especially because Texas Tech is geographically the closest major university to the Permian Basin; and the Permian Basin is, by far, the most significant energy-producing area in the world. In 2019, the Permian Basin surpassed the mammoth Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia in total oil production (even after having already produced oil for the past one hundred years). It also is a significant reason why Texas is far and away the U.S. leader in wind energy. Now, it is also home to an explosion in new, utility-scale solar farms. Not only should Texas Tech’s law school have an energy-law program, but the school itself should be the energy-law school.

Over the past six years, we have built a substantial, intentional and practice-oriented energy-law program at Texas Tech that is producing well-informed, well-equipped graduates, who are continuing the proud tradition of Texas Tech School of Law by being practice-ready on day one. The energy-related course offerings continue to expand in number and improve in quality of content and instructor. We offer two levels of oil-and-gas law (basic and advanced) that I teach; but we also offer a course in wind law taught by the “father” of wind law in Texas, Rod Wetsel. Wetsel also teaches a very important course in mineral title, a skill set that is becoming harder to find in lawyers but that is becoming only more valuable, given the increasing number of wind and solar leases that are taking up residence with oil-and-gas leases. There are courses in energy law, water law, environmental law, and administrative law – all subjects that play key roles in an energy-law practice. We also offer an annual weekend “short course” in oil-and-gas lease negotiation and have offered short courses on other topics, like financing oil-and-gas deals, solar law and practicing before the Texas Railroad Commission and the Public Utility Commission. We are continuing to add more specialized energy-law courses, like one in oil-and-gas tax law; and we are planning to offer future courses in oil-and-gas transactions and electricity law. 

Not only are we providing more opportunities inside the classroom, but we are also giving our students abundant opportunities outside the classroom. I lead my oil-and-gas law students on a two-day field trip to Midland every semester, which allows students to hear from local professionals about living and working in the Midland-Odessa area, go on a private tour of the incredible Permian Basin Petroleum Museum, and cap it off with a site visit to active drilling and production operations in the area. I also lead students every semester on a local site visit to E&P operations in the Lubbock area. Rod Wetsel leads his wind-law students on a day trip to Sweetwater to visit a wind farm and operations center. Wetsel also leads his mineral-title students on a day trip to Colorado City and Sweetwater to visit those courthouses and a local abstract office to learn more about how to run titles.

We also bring in leaders in the energy industry to speak in our Energy Law Lecture Series, such as Allen Gilmer (founder of Drillinginfo – now Enverus), Alex Epstein (author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels), Phelim McAleer (producer/director of FrackNation), John Walker (CEO of EnerVest), Todd Staples (President of TXOGA), Corey Goulet (President of TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline), Bill Magness (CEO of ERCOT), and Texas Railroad Commissioners Christi Craddick, Wayne Christian and Ryan Sitton. We bring in energy-law practitioners in our Nuts & Bolts series to discuss the countless opportunities that exist in this area of practice.

We are well on our way to branding Texas Tech School of Law as an “energy” law school, and that initiative is now spreading beyond the law school, as we also embark on an intentional effort to brand Texas Tech as an “energy” university. The first tangible step in that effort is the launch of a new master’s degree that started this Fall. The Master of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies (MSIS) in Energy degree program was created in direct response to the private sector’s desire for Texas Tech to offer a professional degree that is premised on an interdisciplinary curriculum that prepares energy professionals for the challenges of the future. 

Students can complete three of any four offered modules to earn their degree. The four modules are in Oil & Gas, Renewables, Energy Law & Policy, and Energy Commerce. Each module consists of three courses taught by experienced Texas Tech faculty. Each module is offered during a given semester. All classes are offered online, allowing students maximum convenience and flexibility, along with two, in-person, on-campus weekend visits each semester, in order to permit students the opportunity to interact with their instructors and each other and make field visits to oil-and-gas and wind-farm operations. 

The program offers a “rolling” admission, which means that students can join the program at the beginning of any semester and start earning their degree right then. It is priced consistently with other professional-degree programs, but it is the only one that offers such a well-developed, cross-discipline experience. You can find out more information and see how to apply by visiting www.depts.ttu.edu/gradschool/Programs/energy/.

Texas Tech is the closest major university to the Permian Basin, the most prolific “triple threat” in energy production in the world. It only makes sense that Texas Tech should be the “energy” law school and the “energy” university. Texas Tech produces practice-ready graduates. Texas Tech students come to school to learn the energy business. Texas Tech continues to respond to what energy employers want and need in their employees. It is an exciting time to be in the energy business. The business might be changing, but it is only growing in importance. As author Alex Epstein says, the energy business is the business that runs every other business. 

Energy illiteracy abounds, unfortunately, throughout our population, and even in our educational institutions. We tolerate that illiteracy at our own risk. To lead effectively on energy matters requires informed and educated leaders. At Texas Tech, we are building tomorrow’s energy leaders today.  

About the author: About the author: Bill Keffer is a contributing columnist to SHALE Magazine. He teaches at the Texas Tech University School of Law and continues to consult. He also served in the Texas Legislature from 2003 to 2007.