Eagle Ford Shale: The Dark Side of the Boom tour
June 14, 2011
Despite my dislike of predawn hours, I met Calvin Tillman, former mayor of Dish, TX, in the parking lot Friday morning and we were loaded and rolling by 6:30 AM, south bound, on the "Dark Side of the Boom" Eagle Ford Shale (EFS) tour. Unfortunately, Tim Ruggiero had to cancel at the last minute.
Just south of Waco the air seemed clearer and air flowed in and out my nose for a change. But that feeling didn't last long. We saw the first man-camps and flares just south of San Antonio and the familiar layer of ground level ozone obscured the far horizon.
Dozens of man-camps dot the sides of the roads. Many of the man-camps use of the same type FEMA trailers that were used after Katrina. What's a little formaldehyde to roughnecks who work with dangerous chemicals all day long?
We rolled into Laredo about 2:30 PM and thanks to Trisha Cortez, Safe Fracking Coalition, found a wonderful place to eat some fresh Tex-Mex. I can't remember the name but the restaurant sits right on the intersection after you take exit 2. It's a fast food place but they make everything fresh including the corn tortillas right there. YUM!
The Town Hall meeting was held at the beautiful UTHSC-SA Laredo extension campus. Featured speakers were Robert Mace, Deputy Executive Administrator, Texas Water Development Board; Gil Bujano, Assistant Director, Railroad Commission of Texas, Calvin Tillman, former Mayor of Dish, and me.
The room was packed with standing room only. It was a professionally run meeting and the attendees asked some great questions that prove the vast majority are concerned about fracking and drilling and were even before the meeting. The Safe Fracking Coalition takes an academic approach to their research and they have done an amazing job of raising awareness in a short time.
I would love to have a tape of Mr. Bujano's presentation so I could do a true, false, misleading analysis. Many of his claims would get the "Pants on Fire" award.
After the meeting, we went to eat Sushi. I've never seen such a high concentration of Sushi restaurants anywhere else.
At 7:30 AM Saturday, we headed out for our next meeting in Pleasanton. After passing countless photo opportunities where nasty injection wells and compressor stations were right next to the road begging to be exposed, we learned our haste was for naught because the Pleasanton paper "forgot" to run the ad about the town hall meeting there. I guess the oil and gas advertising dollars are pretty good. With no one to speak to except a couple of industry guys sitting in their shiny, new, white suburbans watching, we headed to Cuero for a 3:00 PM town hall.
Cuero is a quaint, clean town with a vibrant downtown area, and a stunningly beautiful courthouse. It's the kind of place where I could spend the day just walking around on the main drag. I regret that I didn't take more pictures of the town.
There was a crowd of about 50 at the town hall meeting with only two or maybe three industry types sitting at the back of the room. Most everyone there is deeply concerned about water. These are handshake people whose word you can take to the bank and who live close to the land. They know from direct experience what's most important. They are desperately worried about the fracking impacts and the mineral owners have "buyers remorse" and only want to know what they can do now that they "made a poor decision." Handshake people are the most vulnerable to predatory landmen.
This is some heartbreaking stuff watching people who feel like they are being run over by the largest, most powerful corporation on the planet. But the worst moment came when Toby Frederick stood up and showed us the gallon jug of water he brought to the meeting.
The reddish-orange water has a very strong odor like gasoline or diesel fuel yet, as Frederick states in the above video, Texas Railroad Commission testing found nothing wrong and their toxicologist told him the water was safe. Further testing by B-Environmental found "eight unusual compounds of benzene" according to an email from Mark Krueger, Texas Groundwater Solutions. To watch a follow up news report about Fredrick's water click here.
The email from Krueger goes on to describe another call he received from a young man who is "experiencing liver and kidney problems" and whose children were "throwing up after showing." The family cannot afford water testing but Krueger determined the orange water is contaminated with iron bacteria and who knows what else. He "shocked the well with bleach and circulated it for a couple of hours." The lack of improvement in the water indicates the problem is in the aquifer and not isolated to the well. Krueger speculates that water drawdown due to several oil and gas wells that were drilled nearby, shifted the flow of the aquifer. The landowner lives only about a quarter mile from the river. Krueger's email states, "The only levels of iron and iron bacteria I have seen to this extent are right on the river "
It was hard to leave Cuero but, with a three-hour drive to College Station, we needed to get on the road. We headed out with the gallon jug of Fredrick's water that we contemplated using as a tiger in the tank when the gauge was on empty and no stations were in sight.
Calvin and I were shocked at the build out of infrastructure in the area. The area is covered in pipelines, compressor stations, processing facilities, man-camps, pipe yards and There must be a lot of sour gas in the EFS because many well sites had the windsocks so workers will know which way to run to save their lives in case a release of H2S happens.
Sunday we attended a showing of Gasland at the Unitarian Church in College Station. One man's face looked familiar and his attire stood out from the rest of the crowd. David Burnett, Director of Technology for Global Petroleum Research Institute, an industry funded research cooperative with TAMU, introduced himself. He asked if he could speak after Gasland to give people a more accurate idea of what was taking place. Jere Locke, board member for Texas Drought Project, said that he could certainly ask questions during the Q&A like the other attendees.
During my brief remarks before the Q&A session, I made use of one of my favorite quotes from Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it." I should also have quoted Jessie Jackson: "Never look down on a man unless you are helping him up." The first quote was for the audience in advance of Burnett's questions. The second quote is something Burnett needs to consider.
Burnett was aggressive, rude and condescending. I believe he missed an opportunity to provide some information about his desalinization research because, in his haste to take control of the meeting, to discount and discredit any other information, the audience distrusted his motives. There was one brilliant man in the audience who is also an impacted landowner. His rude treatment of this man was hard to stomach.
The advice that Calvin and I gave at each meeting:
- Get baseline air and water testing done immediately.
- Make sure your municipality has a strong drilling ordinance in place. Unless, of course, you want drill rigs in your neighborhood.
- If you plan to lease your minerals, use OGAP's Texas Model Lease and Texas Model Surface Use Agreement.
- Know who represents you and contact them often to let them know you want clean air and safe water.
- Organize your area and inform your neighbors.
- Sign up for our eAlerts.
- Stay in touch!
Here are some links to some of the media coverage:
- Bloomberg coverage of Laredo town hall.
- Blog coverage of Laredo town hall HERE and HERE
- There was an article in the Laredo Morning Times but it requires a subscription.
- KAVU TV Channel 25 coverage before the tour.
- Victoria Advocate coverage of the meeting in Cuero.
- KAVU TV coverage after the meeting in Cuero.
- Blog coverage of Cuero meeting at Texas is gonna be toast
Thank you to the Texas Drought Project for initiating and planning the "Dark Side of the Boom" Eagle Ford Shale tour.
Thank you to the Safe Fracking Coalition for hosting us in Laredo.
Thank you to Sister Elizabeth Riebschlaeger for arranging the Cuero meeting.
Thank you to the College Station Unitarian Church for hosting the Gasland showing.