Texas Style State of the World

October 22nd, 2012

By Jan Barry

lubbock_texasI’ve seen the future and it’s called Texas! That’s the gist of how a liberal environmental activist, a conservative Congressman and many other folks described the Lone Star State at the 22nd annual Society of Environmental Journalists conference that ended Sunday in Lubbock, Texas.

Here’s what the future looks like, according to an astounding variety of people who spoke with the assembled writers, television and radio personalities, journalism professors, environmental activists and industry representatives at the event, hosted by Texas Tech University. Besides panel discussions at the Overton Hotel and Conference Center, where I was a moderator of a lunch discussion, busloads of conference attendees fanned out from Lubbock across the Texas plains to see various places and issues first-hand. Here’re some highlights of what they heard and saw:

  • There’s plenty of water in drought-parched west Texas for oil and gas drilling and fracking operations, which use substantial amounts of water mixed with sand and chemicals to crack open shale formations deep underground, said an owner of an oil drilling operation near Midland, Texas.
  • With hundreds of cedar trees dead from drought, the water supply from the Texas hill country is in deep trouble, if the hottest and driest weather pattern on record continues, said a watershed researcher.
  • There’s plenty of beef in Texas, to judge by the heaping platters of meat set out for the hungry hordes of scribes.
  • Food suppliers predict that “meat is going to become a luxury item within a year,” said the manager of food services for scores of schools.
  • West Texas is “one of nature’s biggest working laboratories for agriculture, energy and water research,” said the region’s Congressman, Rep. Randy Neugebauer. “I think that West Texas can serve as an example to the rest of the country on how we can meet the challenges we face today.”
  • “We’re going to struggle in Texas if we have a decade like 2011”–the driest on record for the state, said a former EPA regional administrator, Alfredo Armendariz.
  • Oil and gas fracking operations provide good jobs and don’t harm the environment, said industry operators.
  • Oil and gas fracking operations are destroying the quality of life in a rural community near Midland, Texas, where many oil and gas workers live, said several angry residents.
  • “The climate is changing,” but who’s to say it’s not a natural cycle, said the West Texas Congressman.
  • “The vast majority of scientists are telling us it’s not a natural cycle,” said the former EPA administrator.
  • In any case, Texas and much of the US just experienced two summers of record heat waves, which cost “billions of dollars in health costs” as well as increased deaths, said a public health scientist.
  • Texas is booming with oil, gas, cotton farming, cattle ranching and many other businesses, said several speakers.
  • The future may look like the past unless major modifications are made to the intensive farming practices amid drought conditions that led to the “dust bowl” disaster across the Great Plains in the 1930s, suggested a new Ken Burns documentary, “The Dust Bowl,” shown at the conference. The film is scheduled to air on PBS next month.

Here’re some of the news reports that this eco-journalism spotlight on Texas generated:

“President of the Odessa Chamber of Commerce Mike George introduced Odessa to a group of environmental reporters in a unique way — calling the city the Clean Energy Capital of the World,” the Odessa American newspaper reported of the visit by a busload of Society of Environmental Journalists attendees.

“George then went on to talk about Duke Energy’s 95-turbine wind farm in Notrees and how it is the home to a 36-megawatt battery storage facility, the biggest battery storage unit for any wind farm in the world,” added Odessa American reporter Nathaniel Miller. Then he listed plans for a 500-acre solar farm. And then there’s the 400-megawatt “clean coal” electricity generating plant planned for next year with funding from the federal government and the Export-Import Bank of China that is “designed to capture 90 percent of the carbon dioxide it produces and sell the CO2 as enhanced oil-recovery, which will help companies bring more oil out of the ground.”

“Shane Leverett and his neighbors in Gardendale, Texas, are livid that their properties are now graced with tall white stakes, some less than 150 feet from their homes,” noted a reporter from Coloradoan.com, Bobby Magill. “Those stakes are signs that an oil company plans to come soon to drill their yards and ranch land in Gardendale, a ranching community on the broad mesquite flats between Midland and Odessa in the heart of the oil-rich Permian Basin.”

In contrast, Magill added, “Unlike Colorado, where the state regulations currently being amended determine oil and gas well setbacks, Texas allows cities to regulate setbacks and other oil and gas issues themselves. In dense urban areas, Colorado’s current setback is 350 feet from homes.”

“Brooks Hodges took over as general manager of Pitchfork Land & Cattle Co. last year in the midst of a drought and then had to deal with wildfire devouring 90,000 acres of native pasture,” noted an editor at AgFax.com, Chris Clayton.

“A group of journalists participating in the Society of Environmental Journalists annual meeting in Lubbock, Texas, toured the Pitchfork Ranch near Guthrie on Thursday as well as the Hale Center Feedyard outside Hale Center, Texas,” Clayton wrote. Here’s what they found:

“Drought recovery remains slow for cow-calf operators. There won’t be any official USDA numbers on whether ranchers are starting to rebuild their herds until January, but numbers earlier this year showed the Texas cow herd had 650,000 fewer head than a year earlier. Overall, the entire cattle herd in Texas declined from 13 million head to 11.9 million.”

(This article was also posted at EarthAirWater.)

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2 Responses to “Texas Style State of the World”

  1. Tom Carter |

    I live in Austin, Texas, and that isn’t representative of the entire state. Among other factors, there’s less environmental pollution, a better arts and culture environment, and the presence of a great (and very large) university. In particular, I wouldn’t recommend the Midland-Odessa area as a tourism destination.

    There are places I would rather live, despite being born in Texas and maintaining it as my official residence during all my years of wandering. Limiting those choices to the U.S., all of them have tax rates that are prohibitive. For example, there’s one place in Maryland I would prefer to be in, but the state and local taxes are so high that it doesn’t make sense. Roughly, it would cost me about one month of take-home pay per year to live there instead of in Texas. No difference in the quality of police, fire, and all other essential services … just higher taxes.

    And as long as we’re talking about the environment — I think most other states of any significant size and population have problems that are at least as serious.

  2. Jan |

    I enjoyed my (brief) stay in west Texas. Traffic was light compared with New Jersey! Previously been in Amarillo, Ft. Worth, Dallas and Houston. After driving across the US twice in recent years, I found I missed autumn leaves the most.

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