Tag Archives: texas

Oil & Gas and Water

Safe Climate Caucus Forum, 10 am, September 17, 2013:  

Hugh Fitzsimons, Carrizo Springs, TX

My name is Hugh Fitzsimons. I ranch in Dimmit County, Texas, a hundred and fifty miles southwest of San Antonio and nine miles east of the Rio Grande River. We are dead on the 100th meridian, the historic dividing line between wet and dry. The Spanish maps from the early 18th century labeled this country the “despoblado” …. “no man’s land.” No one wanted it, save for the native Coahuiltecans, who fit with a land forever on the edge of drought. It’s long been a land of environmental extremes – feast or famine – but a reckoning now seems at hand.
My grandfather bought the ranch in 1932 for two things a cattleman needs:
abundant native grasses and good, clean, underground water. He came to it after roping wild steers on the prairies and river bottoms of Gonzales County, Texas. But he had an itch to get rich, so in 1901 he hung up his rope to head for Texas’ thriving oil field: Spindletop. That oil field ushered in the internal combustion engine.
By the 1930’s, tired of the oil business, grandfather started life anew. For twenty five years, he raised registered Hereford and Angus cattle and summered steers in the flint hills of Kansas, selling them grass fat to the U.S. Army.
But in 1951, we began what has been called the “drought of record” — a seven year stretch without moisture. One day, on the front porch of the bunkhouse, my grandfather declared: “I am leaving this ranch, and I am not coming back till it rains.” He never came back, and we had no significant rain for another three years. My father recognized the signs. For the next thirty years, he ran a Hereford and Red Brahma cow calf operation – and leased land for hunting and for exploration of oil and gas.
After a career teaching Texas history, I moved back to the ranch fifteen years ago, in 1998, to work with nature, not against her. I settled on two avenues of production.
For the first, I chose the American Buffalo or bison, an indigenous animal with the means to survive. Here was a low-maintenance, self-sustaining herbivore, whose 10,000-year evolution prepared it for what climate change was sending my way.
For the second, I chose honey. I contracted with beekeepers to harvest the nectar of our native guajillo bush. All that was required was water, bees, and the guajillo blooms. In a normal year, we will make fifty to one hundred pounds per colony of bees.
Thirteen years ago, in 2000, things changed: less rainfall, milder winters and blazing hot summers. The wake-up call came in 2011 –the single worst drought year in Texas history. We had plummeting water wells,the desiccation of our rivers and surface water, and a punishing summer of over 100 degrees for three solid months. The bison were getting worried; the bees were starving to death.
By April of last year, when we should have seen seventy to one hundred baby bison calves nursing their mothers, but we had a grand total of: seven. It was so dry, the female bison wouldn’t go into estrus. I had to cull over two thirds of the herd. We burned pear for the remainder, and the remaining bison ate mesquite beans from July to September.
And while a normal honey crop for me is around seventy-five barrels, by this spring, I made a grand total of: two. The fall without rain last year dried up the moisture the guajillo needed to set a bloom– something no regional beekeeper had ever seen. There is always at least some bloom. Not any more.
At the same time, one of the largest oil and gas plays in the world has landed in Dimmit County. Fracking in the Eagle Ford shale has wrought more change in two years than the past two hundred. Our tax revenue, population, and public school enrollment are surging like a runaway eighteen-wheeler. Oil and gas production are up 134% over a year ago. Most of the oil workers are imports from East Texas. The price of a rental house is now out of reach for most citizens of Dimmit County.
But the hard facts are these: 1/3 of our available groundwater in Dimmit County per year is being lost to fracking. Because the water used to inject the chemicals is absorbed by the formation, this process is 100% consumptive, unless the 20% that returns as flowback water is recycled, all that water is lost. Unlike agricultural irrigation, fracking wastewater is lost completely. In short, we have a new, man-made water crisis etched atop the man-made crisis of climate change that produced the drought.
For years our normal rainfall was around 21 inches a year. A hydrologist tells me that unless we get between 15 to 17 inches of rain a year,there is no recharge. So we are now using up 1/3 of our groundwater a year, when we’ve had virtually no recharge for three years. We’re running on empty. The forecast under climate change, is for 12 to 15 inches of rain a year. In short, our water is being drained to produce the oil and gas that have produced a worldwide climate crisis.

There are moments in life that turn you. Mine came in spring a year ago, when I flipped on the switch for my irrigation pump and got half the water I’d been producing before.
From my irrigation pump, I could see no fewer than four drilling rigs, each of them sucking 3-5 million gallons of fresh water per frack. My fresh water was being drained, and there seemed nothing I could do about it.
My anger made me run for office as a director of the Wintergarden Water Conservation District. Somehow, I prevailed and started to learn water law, rule of capture, and how to start the energy companies conserving water. The problem is, in our district, oil and gas are exempt from the permitting process. In other words, we, the designated water authorities, are nearly powerless to conserve and protect the water on which all of life depends.
Dimmitt County, as you may have gathered, has never been well off. Now, we face two new threats. First, is the vacuuming up of our water for fracking, and removing it from the hydrologic cycle. The second threat is just as serious. Because the riches of oil and gas production are falling like manna from heaven, no one wants to talk about our water – least of all, state regulators — even if our water’s disappearing.
To explain: in order to dispose of toxic wastewater from fracking, wells are injected deep into the earth. If the wells are correctly constructed and in the right geologic formation, they’re reasonably safe. The problem is: there are from 10,000 to 100,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in the state, and Texas regulators have no idea where and how many there are. But if an injection well for fracking wastewater is drilled near an abandoned old well, and its well casing or cement job gives way, toxic waste from the disposal can migrate to the old well, flow up the pipe, and contaminate the groundwater.
Our water district has made protesting these injection wells a top priority. But when I last appeared this summer before state regulators, they didn’t want to hear about it, The examiner and judge labeled our hydrologist’s questions “hearsay,” and my invoking those questions was stricken from the record. In other words, denial is not just a river in Egypt. It was one thing to have the disposal well company ignore our questions. When the judge declared the disposal well company didn’t have to answer our questions because the law didn’t require it, it became clear that the denial in our state is as deep as the injection wells.
One subject I feel fairly comfortable with is Texas history. From that history, it’s clear the oil business is here to stay. For the time being, so am I.
What we need is hydrocarbon extraction, under responsible rules and regulation that protect our vanishing groundwater. Without it, over-extraction will become the epitaph of the American West. As the poet Gary Snyder once said: “Just remember, nature bats last.”

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Coal Pollution Effects on Human Health

Coal fired power plants are the single largest source of pollution in any country. http://saferenvironment.wordpress.com/2008/09/05/coal-fired-power-plants-and-pollution/

Coal fired power plants are the single largest source of pollution in any country.

Coal-fired power plant emissions contribute to global warming, ozone smog, acid rain, regional haze, and – perhaps most consequential of all from a public health standpoint- fine particle pollution. Emissions from the U.S. power sector cause tens of thousands of premature deaths each year, and hundreds of thousands of heart attacks, asthma attacks, hospital admissions, and lost workdays. So why are these power plants still up and running, and more importantly, why are there still planned developments of new plants?

To simplify things, public health concerns have focused, for at least the last decade, on the role of very small airborne particles in causing or contributing to various forms of respiratory and cardiopulmonary ailments and increasing the risk of premature death. These fine particles are particularly dangerous because they can bypass your body’s defensive mechanisms and become lodged deep inside your lungs. In fact, research also indicates that short-term exposures to fine particle pollution is linked to cardiac effects, including increased risk of heart attack. Meanwhile, long-term exposure to fine particle pollution has been shown to increase the risk of death from cardiac and respiratory diseases and lung cancer, resulting in shorter life-expectancy for people living in the most polluted cities. So who are the people that are most likely to be exposed to these health risks? In general, the poor, minority groups, and people who live in the areas downwind of multiple power plants. And unfortunately, persistent elevated levels of fine particle pollution are common across wide areas of the U.S., mainly in the east.

The adverse effects, including abnormally high levels of mortality, occur even at low ambient concentrations of fine particles—suggesting there is no “safe” threshold for this type of pollution. Since most fine particle-related deaths are thought to occur within a year or two of exposure, reducing power plant pollution will have almost immediate benefits. Below is a very nice table that I found from Physicians for Social Responsibility, outlining various diseases/conditions connected to coal pollutants.

Coal Pollution vs human Health

As it stands, we are at a turning point for determining the U.S.’s future energy policies. The health consequences tied to coal production are vast and have major impacts. We need to address the issue of coal-fired energy production, and we need to address it now. There should be NO new construction of coal fired power plants, and we must initiate plans to retire as many coal plants as possible that are currently in production.

Finally, as a nation, we must develop our capacity to produce energy from clean, safe, renewable sources in order to phase out the existing coal plants without compromising the ability to meet the nations energy needs. Instead of investing any more of our money into coal, the U.S. should fund conservation measures, energy efficiency, and renewable energy sources such as wind energy and solar power, which don’t have such a negative effect on public health.

Written by: Courtney Dunphy

Renewable Roundup and Green Living Fair 2013

Mark you calendars everyone. The Renewable Energy Roundup and Green Living Fair of 2013 is just around the corner. This event is set to begin Friday, September the 27th  in beautiful Fredericksburg, Texas and plans to live up to the title of the largest all-sustainable event in the south, and the best!  This fair is a wonderful opportunity to have a great time with the family and see the newest up-and-coming developments for our environment.  The focus of the event is to present the latest information and technology concerning renewable energy, alternative transportation solutions, sustainable farming, and new efficient building technologies. As such, you can learn how to create and save your own energy, attend informative talks from a variety of green living experts, learn about the next generation in personal transportation technology, talk with the vendors about cutting-edge green living and sustainability practices, and – of course – take home or order some of the many products and services offered at the fair.

The fair will be taking place over the course of three days, Friday, September the 27th through Sunday the 29th and will be located in the MarketPlaza (100 East Main Street, 78624 Fredericksburg, Texas). If you’re curious about what you will be experiencing on any given day be prepared for exhibits and on-going demonstrations, fun learning activities for the kids, local and delicious eats, live musical performances and dozens of speakers all neighboring the beautiful Fredericksburg shopping district. For those who want to be closer into the action you can volunteer and contribute your time and skills all while earning a weekend pass and a one of a kind commemorative t-shirt with a unique design created by artist Hunter Ratcliff especially for the fair. You can choose to join and be alongside the hundred plus companies, agencies, and non-profit organizations spread out across the fairgrounds presenting this one of a kind event. You can also apply for an opportunity to speak at the fair and join the talented speakers who will be featuring hands-on information for consumers, the latest in green technology developments, and much more. There will be a wide variety of speakers giving presentations such as “Help Secure Your Future with a 100% Life Sustaining Capable Home,” “Waste to Water For Texas,” “Honey Bee Rescue and Rehabilitation,” “Growing Organic Vegetables all Winter,” “Saving Water through Solar Living,”  “Shifting our Economy by Investing in Local Food Systems,” “Air, Water, and Solar Power on the International Space Station,” and many more.  For more information on how to volunteer, have an exhibit of your own, or be a speaker you can go to theroundup.org to learn more. And for those who care to partake, there will be new Belgium, 100 percent wind-powered brewery’s beers and ales for sale. Also please remember to bring your own reusable water bottle to keep with the theme of the event as filtered water stations will be provided throughout the grounds.     

Not only is this fair a chance to get out of the house and have a fun time with the family, but also a chance to learn something new and take a step towards a healthy environment at the same time. This event fosters greater self-reliance and a more sustainable Texas for a growing population. For more details and information you can visit the official Renewable Energy Roundup and Green Living Fair website and be sure to come out for a fun and informative good time.

Written by: Christina Farrell

 

Teaching Kids to Care

The Beyond Coal project is the top topic in the Lone Star Chapter, and rightfully so. With the Rally for Renewables last Thursday, I had planned on blogging specifically about the Fayette Coal Plant and the potential follow-up options after its future closing. Yeah, sure, why not? It seemed the obvious choice. Until some youngster indicated otherwise.

While filming the rally, I ran into a kid who, despite his fatigue from the heat, readily answered my questions on the state of the environment. I’m afraid that I cannot upload any video here yet, but to provide a quick summary, this little guy said he thought coal is bad for the environment and that people shouldn’t have to breathe the chemicals and ash it pumps into the air. He also said he would want wind and solar energy instead. And he has hardly entered the first grade.

The fact that the kid didn’t have to stop and think about his answers (and that his dad wasn’t prompting him) impressed me most with this interview. His readiness made me recall the importance of raising awareness of the environment in students in primary education. As part of UT Austin’s Club for Environmental Outreach, I have focused on this issue for some time. So, I think the time has come for me to shed some light on this issue.

We at the Sierra Club understand the significance of educating the public on the environment, and we pursue that end tirelessly – just as global conditions tirelessly worsen. The millennials will have the greatest challenge yet in confronting this mounting terror. Should we not focus on involving them in the future of the environment, for their own safety if not for anything else? Many have leapt up in an effort to do this, but not before many sprung up to prevent America’s failing education system from crashing altogether.

I came across a recent NPR article about the popular new “Common Core” standards that have been adopted in 45 states. They might not address scientific educational standards that would include environmental curricula, but these changes at least show some desire to redirect the US education system. It would seem that some hope lay in sight for the nation’s posterity.

But for the generations of future Texans, such hope is about as visible as Rick Perry is credible. Just look to this map of the 45 continental states that have given the green light to Common Core (credit goes to corestandards.org); it probably won’t surprise:

Screen Shot 2013-06-30 at 11.03.29 PM

Yes, Texas stands alone in the South as one of the 5 stubborn states opposing Common Core. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that a step forward for Texas education will come soon in science, of all things; I still fear that my nephew will ask me for help with drawing a venn diagram comparing Evolution and Creationism (all eyes still on the Texas State BoE).

On the subject of young students, however, I return to the importance of educating future generations about their environment and how to be eco-friendly. Clearly, the public education system at large cannot commit to this, especially in Texas. So, it is the duty of environmentalists – as members of our local and state communities, as teachers, as big brothers and sisters, as parents, aunts, and uncles – to inform future generations of the looming (and melting) obstacles ahead. If we do not, they might run into calamities of titanic proportions.

Still, the full force of environmentalism cannot inform these students if their core educational principles do not change. So let us take a step back: if public schools cannot educate students on such important issues as the environment, what can it do? Well, for a start, it might better learn how to teach future voters how to form a caring opinion. The voter turn out in the US is increasingly deplorable, and that is no secret. Perhaps this stems from the education system’s paranoia of politics and appearing to take a particular stance. Sorry, Everytown ISD – time to grow a backbone.

No need to herald some political leaning or endorse a candidate here. Just teach kids the importance of forming their own opinions – it’s part of teaching citizenship. More importantly, teach students to inform themselves of their own free will. I do realize that environmentalism ideally would not be considered a “political” issue, since it concerns forces that affect all humans and that no government can control or alter. However, with that in mind, the ideal result of teaching students the value of seeking information in earnest would generate general support for environmentalism. Even more ideally, the US Government would run far more smoothly and voter turn-out would improve as citizens rushed to provide their involved, informed consent at the polls.

I salute the aims of Common Core, but the true goal may be missed here: the time has come for the public education system  to start teaching students how to choose and how to inform themselves with care. Once such values are in place, then we environmentalists can truly turn these millennials into little green men and women by involving and informing them. Perhaps then the government that all too often slows the will of the people, would drive us to a more agreeable – and hopefully, greener – future.

– Harry Watson, Conservation Intern

Texas Water Fluoridation Controversy

When you turn on the water faucet in your kitchen to fill up a water bottle, you don’t usually think about the origin of the water you’re about to drink, how it was treated, and what may have been added to it. The only thing you’re really thinking about is how thirsty you are. We all need water, so we’re all used to just drinking whatever water we can get, as long as it looks clean and comes from a home, business, or water bottle. So it’s not surprising that most people have no idea that fluoride is put into their drinking water every day for dental hygienic reasons, not water treatment.

Woman Drinking Glass of Water

                Water fluoridation started in the 1940’s, when tooth decay was a problem and scientists had been researching the differences in natural fluoride concentrations in water sources. What they found was that areas with moderate amounts of fluoride in the water had fewer cases of tooth decay than those with water sources with lower amounts of fluoride. While they also found that excessive amounts of fluoride could cause things like dental fluorosis, communities started adding moderate amounts of fluoride into their drinking water to keep teeth healthy, at the recommendation of several dental associations as well as the FDA.

Today, water fluoridation has stirred some controversy. The side that promotes water fluoridation states that the benefits of fluoridated water completely outweigh the negatives. Fluoridation costs about fifty cents a year per person, which is cheaper than dental visits, and it has been proven to prevent tooth decay, reducing a person’s risk by about 25%. People who oppose community water fluoridation state that the government should not be in control of medicating communities through public resources because it does not allow people to make the choice of whether or not they want to be medicated, especially since the amount of fluoride one should have for dental use differs per person depending on age, etc. They also state that with increased public knowledge of dental hygiene, there is no longer any reason for the public to be given extra amounts of fluoride. Lastly, they state that many countries in Europe and the US have similar amounts of tooth decay, but most countries in Europe do not use fluoridated water, so the true effectiveness may vary.

Here in Texas, around 80% of the population that uses public water drinks water that is fluoridated. Some communities, including places like College Station, Lago Vista, and Alamo Heights, have voted against water fluoridation, and many more have groups that are trying to end fluoridation. Whichever side you stand on for community water fluoridation, water is our most important resource, so continue to be educated about what is in your water and how it affects you.

Want to Spend the Summer in Austin Fighting Climate Change?

Are you looking for a meaningful, professional internship in Austin this summer? Great! We’re looking for Summer interns!

Austin, TX

Austin, TX

As you may know, The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the country. The Texas chapter focuses on many environmental issues including but not limited to energy efficiency, fossil fuel dependency, endangered species, and water conservation. Interns will have the opportunity to help organize a grassroots campaign, work in communications, and conduct policy research. Interns will also learn real skills through professional training workshops and work with a professional staffer as a mentor and resource.

Qualifications: A passion for environmental issues and social change, strong communication and people skills, and a desire to develop campaign organizing skills. No previous experience required.

Interns and Volunteers Making a Difference

Interns and Volunteers Making a Difference

Check out our Craigslist post!

To apply: Please send your resume and cover letter to Student Outreach Coordinator Tansy Stobart at tansystobartsc@gmail.com and CC Internship Manager Lydia Avila at lydia.avila@sierraclub.org. Applications are due Wednesday, May 8th at 12:00 PM.

We hope to hear from you soon!

Strong Texas Wind Industry Bolsters Triple Bottom Line

Technicians work to install a wind turbine in West Texas. (Photo credit: New York Times)

Technicians work to install a wind turbine in West Texas. (Photo credit: New York Times)

Due to the economic difficulty of the past several years, much of our country has become enveloped by a sense of urgency to recover from recession. Obviously, the central focus of this urgency is to create jobs, and, as some might suggest, create them even at the expense of the environment. Indeed, economic recovery and environmental protection seem to be pitted against one another with astonishing frequency. However, an increasing amount of evidence suggests that we can accomplish one without compromising the other – and that we already are, to some extent. In fact, by simply looking within our own state, we see proof of a renewable energy industry – led by wind power generation – that is creating a wealth of economic opportunities for Texans.

Since the revision of the Texas Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) in 2005, which mandated an expansion of the state’s renewable energy capacity to 10,000 MW by 2025, there has been increased emphasis on fostering a strong renewable energy industry in Texas. This effort, aided by state programs and incentives, has enjoyed its share of success. In fact, Texas renewables blew the lid off of the aforementioned target in spectacular fashion – by 2010, wind energy capacity alone surpassed the 10,000 MW goal that was set for all renewables to achieve by 2025. Consequently, Texas has become the leading state for wind energy production and accounts for over 22% of the nation’s installed wind capacity. Accordingly, this large investment in Texas wind power has come to support many high-quality jobs for skilled workers. According to a report by the Governor’s office, wind energy-related employment in Texas accounted for 25,798 jobs as of the fourth quarter of 2011. Furthermore, the average annual wage was $61,908 – a figure that is well above the average income for Texans.

The prospect for continued growth in wind industry employment is promising, as well. According to a report by the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, the wind and solar energy industries are projected to add 6,000 jobs per year in Texas through 2020 (with a strong likelihood that a larger proportion of these will be created by wind energy). Such strong growth in renewable energy employment goes hand-in-hand with the increasing competitiveness of renewables in the Texas energy market. According to a recent study by ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas), wind and solar energy in Texas will enjoy much more significant growth over the next 20 years than they had previously expected – a conclusion that was reached after recalculating wind and solar competitiveness using more recent cost and energy output measures.

ERCOT's updated capacity forecast is located on the right side of the graph. Their previous capacity assumptions are on the left side. (Illustration credit: EDF)

ERCOT’s updated capacity forecast is located on the right side of the graph. Their previous capacity forecast is on the left side. (Illustration credit: EDF)

If ERCOT’s assumptions about the Texas wind industry are correct, investors and employees alike will be pleased, but so will rural Texans, who will continue to benefit from the economic development that wind farms bring to their communities. Landowners, including farmers and ranchers, are able to lease their properties to wind developers for an extra source of income. Property values in rural communities that are suited for wind development continue to rise. Local businesses in rural Texas have received new customers to serve in businessmen and turbine technicians alike. Furthermore, increased tax revenues for previously cash-strapped rural governments have provided some financial flexibility.

This trend bodes well for the Texas workforce, which will benefit from an increase in well-paying jobs. Moreover, meeting new demand through drought-resistant energy resources will provide tremendous benefits to the state in saved water resources and curbed toxic emissions (both of which help prevent environmental and economic losses), and will also help prevent pollution-related health problems for our citizens. As renewable energy projects grow in numbers, our state’s capacity to positively affect the triple bottom line (economy, environment, social responsibility) will only grow larger, which should make renewable energy development a policy priority moving forward.

Written by Diego Atencio