Archive | States RSS feed for this section

Can Oil and Water Mix?

Oil drilling in some parts of Texas is replacing ranching, as ranchers, farmers,  city and industrial water users vie with a growing oil shale fracking  industry for access to water, an increasingly scare resource.  One rancher compared the economic value of water used for irrigation with the same amount used for shale ‘fracking’ – a relatively new process the flushes high-pressured water deep within the earth to  unleash oil and natural gas found (and stuck!) in underground rock formations.

…it takes 407 million gallons to irrigate 640 acres and grow about $200,000 worth of corn on the arid land. The same amount of water, he says, could be used to frack enough wells to generate $2.5 billion worth of oil. “No water, no frack, no wealth,” says Mr. Brownlow, who has leased his cattle ranch for oil exploration.

It took only three years for one oil field to support 12,000 jobs and account for 6% of South Texas economic output.  Those are a lot of jobs, and in fact, are a big component of Governor Perry’s claim to have created one million jobs during his administration.

Texas and other states are experiencing mini-oil booms.  Once considered much too expensive to support a commercial extraction industry, with oil hovering between $80-100, fracking has become economically feasible.  In fact, experts predict there is enough oil to be ‘fracked’ to help reduce US dependence on outside sources.

I worked on water issues and water rights in California during most of the ’90s when the water wars between farmers and cities were waging.   The dynamics prevailed:  farmers selling water rights to supply growing cities and water tables that needed to be replenished.  New technologies to recyle and reuse water abounded.

It seems the shale extraction industry is already working on ways to recycle the water it uses or to use non-potable and highly saline water for their processes.

The oil industry has long believed that its thirst for water could cause problems. The American Petroleum Institute, a Washington-based industry trade association, warned against using fresh water for fracking in its 2010 best-practices advice. In an email, the institute said the industry should consider nonpotable water “whenever practicable,” but decisions must be made on a “case-by-case basis.”

Some companies are taking steps to use less potable water. Corp. says it is exploring whether it could extract water from a deep, salty aquifer unfit for people or crops. Corp. has begun recycling a small percentage of the water it uses for fracking

The key problem will be who doesn’t get the water that the shale industry uses.  People all over Texas, including farmers and ranchers, are selling rights to the minerals underneath their property to shale companies.  My cousins in Forte Worth sold the rights to minerals under their suburban home two years ago.

While it looks attractive to farm the upper layers of soil and ‘moonlight’ by selling mineral rights, that does not always solve the problem.  Some farmers sell their land for water wells to feed the fracking as well.   Some accuse the oil industry of poaching off municipal water aquifers and drawing down water tables throughout a watershed area.

Ranchers and the oil industry fought fiercely in the original oil boom.  That was mainly on how to use the land.  Those fights were popularized with “Dallas”, “Giant” and other era classics.

But the competition for water usage may become an even larger conflict with shale fracking than the proliferation of oil rigs on former ranch land was in the ’40s and 50s.

So far, however, it seems that nobody wants the fracking industry to leave Texas.  All seem to want to figure out how to use water efficiently and with the least harm to the key water resources themselves.

(Much of this information is from the , which charges for access.)



Comments { 0 }

Immigrants Taking American Jobs: Think Again

The profiles a 71-year old Vietnam vet growing onions and corn on his Western Colorado 1000 acre farm.  John Harold brought up seasonal workers from Mexico legally under the H-2A  ‘guest worker’ program.  This year, because the  program’s minimal wage had been raised, he took a risk of hiring only 2/3 of his usual Mexican contingent, figuring he could hire the other 1/3 locally.

“It didn’t take me six hours to realize I’d made a heck of a mistake,” Mr. Harold said, standing in his onion field on a recent afternoon as a crew of workers from Mexico cut the tops off yellow onions and bagged them.

Six hours was enough, between the 6 a.m. start time and noon lunch break, for the first wave of local workers to quit. Some simply never came back and gave no reason. Twenty-five of them said specifically, according to farm records, that the work was too hard. On the Harold farm, pickers walk the rows alongside a huge harvest vehicle called a mule train, plucking ears of corn and handing them up to workers on the mule who box them and lift the crates, each weighing 45 to 50 pounds.

Harold scrambled and was able to get more H-2A  workers before his crops rotted.  While politicians charge that ‘illegal’ immigrants take good American jobs, the reality is that Americans really don’t want those jobs.  And at least in some cases, small farmers are the first to suffer.

The H-2A program, in particular, in trying to avoid displacing American citizens from jobs, strongly encourages farmers to hire locally if they can, with a requirement that they advertise in at least three states. That forces participants to take huge risks in guessing where a moving target might land — how many locals, how many foreigners — often with an entire season’s revenue at stake. Survival, not civic virtue, drives the equation, they say.

Only 56,000 workers come to the US for seasonal farm work, a fraction of the number needed.  So when ‘locals’, – meaning white, Asian and black locals – don’t want the jobs farmers have little choice but hire from the huge pools of Mexican labor available to them outside the H-2A program.

Comments { 2 }

State Legislation Banning Sharia Law

Elected officials in several states have introduced laws to ban judges from using Sharia Law in court cases.  The deceit of this campaign is beyond opportunism.  There is no evidence than any US judges have used Sharia Law as a basis for any decisions.  The right-wing in this country is setting up a red-herring as part of a larger attempt to convince Americans that Islam, as Newt Gingrich says, is a ‘grave danger’ to American freedoms.  I assume that if Muslims want a judgement as to whether certain practices comply with Sharia, they ask their Iman, just as Jews seeks the advice of rabbis and Catholics the advice of priests when they have questions regarding religious canons.

I’ve worked with state legislatures most of my career.  Every year we see identical or similar bills introduced in several state legislatures simultaneously.  These can be around gun control, farmers’ markets or prisons and probably most center on environmental issues.  Most are pushed by interest groups who believe that having a number of states pass ‘model legislation’ on their issue will help them get it passed by Congress.

Some of these laws make good public policy.  Several years ago, ‘model’ wastewater laws for septic tanks, as an example, were introduced by the industry to increase professionalism among contractors.  Others are extreme.  A Massachusetts law mandating that manufacturers collect used hearing aid batteries comes to mind. (Instead, hearing aid marketers offer a disposal service to customers instead of mandating a new law.)

But both Federal and state legislators are free to introduce anything they want.  Many introduce bills they know will never pass to appease favored constituencies.  But in 25 years, I haven’t seen any states introduce, much less pass, legislation for purely propaganda purposes.

The federal and state legislative processes are mistrusted enough by the American public.  They have become forums for the most base sectarian fighting between parties and caucuses.  But using the legislative process for a witch-hunt on an issue that doesn’t even exist should be an offense to all Americans.


Comments { 0 }