McDonald Observatory, Oil and Gas Organizations Collaborate to Protect Night Skies

FORT DAVIS, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory has collaborated with the Permian Basin Petroleum Association (PBPA) and the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA) to reduce light shining into the sky from drilling rigs and related activities in West Texas. The excess light has the potential to drown out the light from stars and galaxies, and threatens to reduce the effectiveness of the observatory’s research telescopes to study the mysteries of the universe.

“This partnership of PBPA and TXOGA with McDonald Observatory to protect dark skies in its vicinity is vital to the research of the universe taking place at McDonald,” said Taft Armandroff, director of the observatory.

The collaboration’s “Recommended Lighting Practices” document details best lighting practices for drilling rigs and other oilfield structures, including what types of lighting work best and how to reduce glare and improve visibility. These practices will increase the amount of light shining down on worksites, thus increasing safety while decreasing the amount of light pollution in the sky. Reducing excess light helps the observatory and also decreases electricity costs for the oil and gas producers.

The document specifically targets oil and gas operations in the seven counties with existing outdoor lighting ordinances surrounding the McDonald Observatory: Brewster, Culberson, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Pecos, Presidio and Reeves. However, the recommendations can be beneficial across the industry.

A new video that helps to introduce the recommendations to oil and gas companies is now available. It features the observatory’s Bill Wren explaining the importance of dark skies, and how lighting practices can both preserve dark skies and improve safety for oilfield workers. The video was produced with the support of the Apache Corporation, following the company’s extensive collaboration with observatory staff and implementation of these practices with their assets in the area. It is available to watch and share at: https://mcdonaldobservatory.org/news/releases/20180709

“For years, the PBPA and the McDonald Observatory have worked together on educating members of the Permian Basin oil and gas community about the Dark Skies Initiative and the possible impact lighting practices can have on the observatory’s work,” said PBPA President Ben Shepperd. “About two years ago, the PBPA board of directors agreed to support the creation of lighting recommendations. We decided a great way to educate members of the industry on how they could provide a positive impact on this issue was through the utilization of such recommended practices.

“So we began work with the observatory to publish recommended lighting practices and have since worked to educate our members and those outside the oil and gas industry on the recommendations through presentations, seminars, articles in magazines and newspapers, and even one-on-one conversations,” Shepperd said.

Recently, the Texas Oil and Gas Association joined the collaboration.

“The Texas Oil and Gas Association recognizes that production practices and protecting the environment are in no way mutually exclusive,” TXOGA President Todd Staples said. “The Recommended Lighting Practices collaborative effort allows for the oil and natural gas industry to continue the work vital to our economy and our future, and for the simultaneous reduction to our ecological footprint.”

In April, the observatory’s Dark Skies Initiative was named one of six Texan by Nature Conservation Wrangler projects for 2018. Texan by Nature, a Texas-led conservation nonprofit founded by former first lady Laura Bush, brings business and conservation together through select programs that engage Texans in stewardship of land and communities.

The award will provide the observatory connections to technical expertise, industry support, publicity, and more for its Dark Skies Initiative.

“Our Conservation Wrangler program recognizes innovative and transformative conservation projects across the state of Texas,” said Joni Carswell, the organization’s executive director. “Each Conservation Wrangler project positively impacts people, prosperity and natural resources.”

Notes for Editors: Links to the video and the “Recommended Lighting Practices” document are available with this text at: https://mcdonaldobservatory.org/news/releases/20180709.