I grew up in West Texas, on the edge of the Permian Basin oilpatch, where we first heard about OPEC when gas shot up to almost a buck a gallon back in the 1970s; but I'm a Democrat, and I live in Lubbock. Our "leftist" news locally comes off Fox34. So I depend on news off the Internet. I'm thrilled when I see stuff like Mother Earth News' article showing how Texas leads the country in wind-energy production ...
But what's really important, here in Texas, are the stories like the one Texas Tribune delivered today in my regular digest of politically-related stories. Every day, Texas Tribune gathers up all sorts of news in the Lone Star State. If you live here and you're not reading them, you're missing out. They're the anti-Faux Noise. Stories about the University of Texas are pretty prominent today. This Roundup (yes. I'm deliberately riffing off the name of Congressman Randy "Baby Killer" Neugebauer's newsletter, which also regularly slams into my inbox) has me feeling really energized (pun intended) about UT's latest developments. One of 'em also shines a highly unfavorable light on UT's landmark scientific endorsement of hydraulic fracturing ...
So with my morning coffee and the Tribune digest, I see that the El Paso ISD has lost its authority in the wake of a cheating scandal its elected board decided to address by shutting its eyes and hoping things got better, the UT system is trying to turn a hodgepodge of its smaller institutions around Harlingen-Brownsville into a single university -- with a Medical School, no less, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, despite the growing burden of student debt here -- and then, as Madden would say, BOOM !!! -- there it is: right there, see it? BOOM !!!:
The principal author of this year's University of Texas study declaring that hydraulic fracturing (frac-ing, as we say in the oilpatch) doesn't pollute groundwater ... got more than a million bucks from the drilling company on whose board he sat while doing the study.
Conflict of interest much, Professor Groat? Ethical questionability much, President Orbach?
Over the gas flare for more ....
America's oilpatch is a moribund industry, although that's a hard pill to swallow. The future of energy, even in Texas, isn't in oil / gas; the stuff we could easily recover's pretty much gone, and we're coming to the end of the frac-able oil and gas even in the Permian Basin. Hence the scramble for shale plays in places like Pennsylvania ...and because we're talking about big money, huge profits, and an industry that virtually owns governments, to the extent it can demand and get wars to enable it to suck resources out of overseas reservoirs, as well as owning the government agencies charged with regulating its operations here -- on and offshore, this is a political as well as an environmental and work-safety issue, not to mention a financial concern and a national-security problem. Even in the aftermath of Deepwater Horizon, we're not dealing with this problem rationally. Instead we're turning to hydraulic fracturing.
As I mentioned before, I know the (inland) oilpatch: it smells, it's dangerous, there's spills all over the place, chemicals permeate the air, the rain, the land, and the groundwater to varying degrees of toxicity, the pipelines from wells to tank batteries to refineries go underground like spiderwebs and can unexpectedly explode like fuel-air bombs, huge trucks barrel through on roads intended for, you know, farmers driving 1940s-and-50s vintage vehicles carrying crops to market ...
Frac-ing isn't new in the oilpatch; Acid Engineering had a goldmine doing this stuff in the Permian Basin in the '60s and '70s, although the improved techniques developed for Permian Basin oil enabled, during the last dozen-or-so years, the oilpatch to creep into new and exotic parts of the country -- parts of the country where the sudden influx of drilling and piping and ditching and noise and really big trucks (oilpatch equipment comes in two sizes, essentially: oversized and omigod-humongous) and heavy traffic and some people getting oodles, gobs and great big wads of money while others didn't, not to mention the typical overestimate of jobs-to-be-had and energy to be found by these drilling processes with their associated foul smells, toxic waste, poor cleanup practices, deadly gas leaks and ability, from time to time, to light the water in your kitchen faucet on fire aren't "just the way things are."
Back in New Town at a gathering of a few local residents, we met rancher Donnie Nelson, who had just paid $7 for a gallon of milk, one example of price inflation here. He says patience here is wearing thin.Good luck with that, man. Your state's getting a pile of money from the oil tax. Of course, when the bust comes ... well, welcome to Texas' method of budgeting: slash and burn services.
"Just about anybody I talk to that's a neighbor — and some of them are getting wealthy — are sick of it. It's never going to be the same in this country, and they're starting to realize that we had it kind of good, even though we weren't No. 1 in oil and we weren't the No. 1 state economically," Nelson says. "We had a good life up here."
Nelson and others here still think it's possible for the old farming and ranching culture to co-exist with oil, but they say the state needs to get a grip on the chaos.
Well, okay, not so much creep into as run roughshod over.
Mineral rights -- the legal "split estate" property designation for what's under the ground you thought you owned so you could have a house or farm or ranch are often separated from surface rights: the right to the use of the surface of the land, where you live, farm, etc., -- and sometimes even those are separated from water rights (see the water laws in New Mexico). Here in Texas water comes with the land under the rule of capture, but we're about to have a good big fight over that in the Lege, what with the drought and the falling acquifer levels and, yeah, the effects of frac on the water, not to mention what a water hog fracing is; but that's beside the point today.
What did Professor Groat say?
The boom in Williston, Charles Groat says, is happening in spots across America. New drilling technology is also fueling boom towns in Texas, Louisiana, and Colorado. New drilling technologies mean companies can extract oil and natural gas from shale rock that was previously thought unreachable. "Horizontal drilling — accessing a huge area of reservoir — and then the fracking process, which props opens those cracks, and allows the liquid or gas to flow to the well," Groat says. "That's what's made shale gas and shale oil such a viable resource."The point today is, oil and gas money -- and oil and gas profits -- trump private citizens' rights six ways from Sunday. Starting with making even academic research highly fungible.
But those techniques also raise environmental concerns that Groat is studying. "There is a danger, here – the fact that we drill so many wells," he says. "If you look at the numbers of wells that have been drilled in North Dakota, just in recent times, the numbers of wells are huge, which increases the opportunity for bad things to happen environmentally or procedurally in developing the resource. We also are not dealing, of course, with the question of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide as we continue our hydrocarbon dependence."
As the Tribune blurb says:
On Thursday, the same day an independent panel released a report panning a controversial University of Texas fracking study, the university announced that the lead author of the study and the head of the institute that released it had resigned. As StateImpact Texasreports, while UT's conflict-of-interest policies have been updated since the controversy first arose, the report cast doubt on whether the new rules were "sufficiently comprehensive."Groat has retired from UT, effective 31 December, and the president of the UT Energy Institute, which didn't disclose Groat's connexions to oil-and-gas while producing a study certifying frac-ing as perfectly safe, has resigned as president.
But UT will keep him on; he's a tenured professor there.