Guest Column: Energy Education is Essential to Our Future

August 13, 2021

By William R. Keffer, Janet Scivally and David Copeland Endowed Professor of Energy Law – Texas Tech University School of Law

Question: What is the one essential thing that we all need – and expect – all the time in everything we do, and yet know precious little about?

Answer: Energy.

In an era of having access to all past and present knowledge ever created in all of recorded history, how is it that we can know and appreciate so little about the one thing that makes modern life in 2021 possible? Energy education is not only beneficial to those who seek it – it is also absolutely critical to our collective survival.

Energy, and access to it, determines the economic wealth or poverty of every nation in the world. And energy is so much more than just putting gas in the tank of our cars. In addition to gasoline for our cars and trucks, there is jet fuel for our airplanes, diesel fuel for our ships, trains, and trucks, and propane for home heating, not to mention a long list of other energy-creating compounds contained in oil and natural gas alone.

Then, there is electricity. The need and demand for dependable, continuous, affordable electricity in this high-tech world are only growing and doing so exponentially. Whether the energy sources for that electricity are natural gas, wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, or all of the above, we in the developed countries expect it at all times, and those in developing countries understandably aspire to that expectation, too.

The recent collapse in the Texas electricity grid, however, was a painful – but clarifying – lesson on the importance of understanding the role energy plays in our daily lives, and even our survival. At least for now, Texans have become much more interested in how we create energy, where it comes from, the advantages and disadvantages different energy sources present, and who makes the decisions on our access to the energy we need every day. Is it better to simply depend on our leaders, or shouldn’t we know more about the subject ourselves?

American universities are increasingly aware of the need to offer more courses, programs, and degrees that expand our understanding and knowledge of the importance of energy and how we get it. One such tangible step in that effort is the launch of new degrees, like the master’s degree recently started at Texas Tech University. The Master of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies (MSIS) in Energy degree program was created in direct response to the private sector’s desire for universities to offer a professional degree that is premised on an interdisciplinary curriculum that prepares energy professionals for the challenges of the future. In fact, over 150 American universities have just come together to create a new national organization called “Universities with Energy Institutes Collaborative” (UEIC). The private sector, government policy makers, and individual students are seeking more and better education on energy topics, and universities are taking meaningful steps to respond.

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 education might sound abstract and theoretical, but it is perhaps the most necessary and practical education of all. Most people in the U.S. are the beneficiaries of such a well-developed economy that they have been lulled into having energy at their fingertips and never having to think twice about what makes that possible.

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 educated leaders. Energy knowledge leads to more informed and effective energy policy. Universities are the obvious institutions to take on this critical task of educating our next generation on energy. If we don’t, who will? Ignorance leads to dependence; and dependence leads to a place none of us should want to go.

This column originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News.

William R. Keffer, Janet Scivally and David Copeland Endowed Professor of Energy Law – Texas Tech University School of Law

Before joining the faculty in 2014, Bill Keffer was in practice for thirty years. After obtaining his BA in History from SMU in 1981 and his JD from the University of Texas in 1984, Mr. Keffer’s first position was with the Dallas law firm of Vial, Hamilton, Koch & Knox, where he had a general litigation practice. His next position was as in-house litigation-management counsel with ARCO Oil & Gas Company, where he presided over a national docket of over 120 cases. While at ARCO, he began specializing in oilfield-pollution cases and handled all kinds of environmental claims in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, California, Kansas, and offshore Gulf of Mexico. After leaving ARCO and joining the Dallas law firm of Gardere & Wynne (now known as Foley Gardere), Mr. Keffer’s practice focused exclusively on oilfield-pollution litigation, and he represented various energy companies, such as ARCO, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and Vastar. Mr. Keffer also, on occasion, successfully represented various landowners in prosecuting their oilfield-pollution claims, including ranch families in the Permian Basin and South Texas, as well as rural landowners in the Barnett shale in North Texas. After leaving Gardere, Mr. Keffer had his own practice in Dallas for thirteen years, where he continued to focus on environmental matters involving the oil-and-gas industry. During that time, he also served in the Texas legislature for two terms from 2003 to 2007, representing House District 107 in Northeast Dallas County.

Professional Activities and Memberships:

Mr. Keffer is a charter member and former president of the Dallas Chapter of the Federalist Society. He is a member of the Board of Advisors for the Maguire Energy Institute, which is part of the Cox School of Business at SMU. He is a member of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC). He is also a neutral for the American Arbitration Association. He writes a regular column for Shale magazine.

Courses:

He teaches courses in oil-and-gas law and legislative process. He is the Director of Energy Law Programs at the law school. He is also Director of Texas Tech Graduate School’s Master of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies (MSIS) in Energy degree program.