The Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) was founded by natural gas extraction pioneer George P. Mitchell in 1982. Mitchell, an engineer by training, founded the center to focus on magnet-energy research that would dovetail with work at a superconductor in North Texas. (The superconductor was never completed.) The Center was formed in partnership with Rice University, the University of Houston, Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin with hopes of making the area a high-tech hub like Silicon Valley.
In 2001, HARC revamped its mission to focus on research into air quality, water quality, and non-fossil-fuel energy. The center was originally known as the Houston Area Research Center. The name was changed in 1990.
The center’s energy program accounts for the lion’s share of the group’s work, $3.5 million out of $5.2 million in program service expenses in 2015. The center researches and works on technologies around solar energy, low-impact oil and gas exploration, and combined heat and power, a type of technology based on-site at a building to save the energy used in distribution over the electric grid. The center has worked on solar demonstration projects including a solar array at the George R. Brown Convention Center, as well as new technology using geothermal energy to extract resources from abandoned oil wells and assessments of a program to weatherize homes carried out by the city of Houston with federal money.
The center’s air program includes research into air quality, especially around the Gulf Coast’s refineries, and advocacy of more precise tools to measure greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the center partnered with the oil and gas company EnCana on a project using infrared cameras to locate methane leaks on pipelines.
The center releases an annual report card on the health of Galveston Bay, conducts research into non-native species such as aquarium fish, and works with government agencies on long-term plans to protect water quality. The Center in 2004 released a list of invasive species that could alter the ecosystem in Galveston Bay.
The Center was critical of water management rules released in 2011 by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, saying that they did not take into account ecological needs.
Houston Advanced Research Center receives significant government funding. The Center reported $3 million in government research grants in 2016, down from $5.1 million in 2015.
The Center received $16.8 million in federal contracts and awards from fiscal year 2008 through fiscal year 2017.
The center reported revenues of $7.2 million in 2015.
The Center’s funding declined 40 percent between 2010 and 2011. The Center reported $15.2 million in contributions and grants in 2010. The following year the Center reported $8.7 million in such gifts.
Oil-and-gas billionaire and philanthropist George Mitchell founded the Houston Advanced Research Center in 1982. Mitchell was known as “the father of fracking” for the advances he spearheaded in getting gas out of shale through the use of high-pressure water and other fluids. Mitchell developed a 20,000-acre master-planned community north of Houston called The Woodlands that “redefined the American suburb,” according to an opinion column in the Houston Chronicle. Mitchell died in 2013.
Mitchell’s son, Todd, served as the Center’s chairman of the board during a leadership change in 2001. Center President John Vasselli resigned abruptly following a period in which the center had struggled to define its mission, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Jim Lester, a board member, served as president of the Center from 2012 to 2016.
Lisa Gonzalez was appointed president in 2016. Gonzalez has conducted research on invasive plants and animals, freshwater inflows, and the health of the Galveston Bay.
Article Censorship Controversy
In 2011, Rice University oceanography professor John Anderson complained that a report on the Galveston Bay he had produced had been censored by state officials, with passages on sea level rise and the impact of humans on wetlands deleted. The report was funded by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which contracted with the Houston Advanced Research Center to produce it. Two officials with the center, vice-president Jim Lester and co-editor Lisa Gonzalez, were also critical of the deletions and said they did not want their names on the edited version.
The report was published in December 2011, including a chapter by Anderson on the physical form of the Bay and the role of sea level rise. It appears that most of the deletions that Anderson questioned remained in place, though the article does include a data point about sea level rise in the Gulf of Mexico which Anderson had said state officials had deleted.
The two officials with the Houston Advanced Research Center, Lester and Gonzalez, are listed as editors on the published report.
The Houston Advanced Research Center is associated with the GeoTechnology Research Institute (GTRI), a state entity housed in the center that conducts geoscience research.
The Houston Technology Center, a business incubator, has an office within the Houston Advanced Research Center.
The Endowment for Regional Sustainability Science exists to support the Research Center, and in 2016 awarded $3.3 million to the Center. In 2015, the endowment provided $1.8 million; in 2014, $2.1 million.