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Grant-Funded Research Gets Students Out on the Range

While greatly involved in the recent oil boom, the Shell Oil Exploration and Production Company searched for ways to give back to the West Texas area through its environmental grant program, and Angelo State University proved to be an ideal match.

  • At the check presentation were: (from left) Dr. Cody Scott and Dr. Mike Salisbury, Department of Agriculture; ASU Presiden...
    At the check presentation were: (from left) Dr. Cody Scott and Dr. Mike Salisbury, Department of Agriculture; ASU President Brian J. May; Nancy Tootle, Shell Oil; and Dr. James Ward, Department of Physics and Geosciences.
    Photo by Danny Meyer

In March, Shell presented the university a $116,500 grant to fund a rangeland reclamation research project conducted jointly by ASU’s Department of Agriculture and Department of Physics and Geosciences.

Dr. James Ward, assistant professor of geology, and Dr. Cody Scott, professor of animal science and range scientist, are leading students in the yearlong project to develop research and strategies for reclaiming rangelands damaged by salt water spillage and contaminated shallow aquifers as a result of oil field operations.

“The project started in Tom Green County with a 14.5 acre dead zone,” said Ward. “We now have multiple sites, branching out into Irion County and Reagan County.”

Results of the project could benefit ranchers across West Texas, and just as important is the hands-on, practical research experience for the students that will help them launch their careers or continue their education in top graduate programs.

ASU senior William Bond of Brownwood, who has a degree in natural resource management and is working on a second bachelor’s in geology, spent much of the summer on the reclamation project.

“We’ve been trying to set up different types of plant species that will survive the conditions,” he said, “including drought and heat. The drought actually increases the amount of salts the plants are bringing to the surface.”

The idea is that cattle or other herbivores will eat the plants, lowering the salt content of the soil to the point it is once again conducive to the growth of native plants and grasses.

“This is a really good way to get ready for grad school,” Bond said. “We’re doing a lot of the kind of work we would be expected to do in graduate school right here and now.”

Senior geology major Michael Foust of Sweetwater is in charge of one team’s geographic information system, which captures and stores all types of spatial or geographical data in a digital form.

“I create maps and input data so we can analyze it more efficiently,” Foust said. “This work has really put me on a path to what I really enjoy doing. I know now what I want to look for in a graduate school. It’s been a great experience.”

The Shell gift covers research costs and allows students and faculty to travel to present results at professional conferences. Ward and Scott are also incorporating the project in their classrooms to benefit students not directly involved in the research.

“The best way to learn is through a hands-on approach,” Ward said, “and this is a perfect way to provide an active learning environment for all our students.” 

 

  • Laurel Scott

    Laurel Scott

    Laurel Scott is a news and information specialist at Angelo State University. 
    E-mail Laurel at laurel.scott@angelo.edu.