Second Thought: Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Save Our Wealth

Forget the gas. Worry about water — and war.


Honey bees are disappearing. Nobody knows why. Perhaps another casualty of pollution and global warming.

You would think the recent announcement by the world’s leading scientists that global warming is well-nigh irreversible might inspire us at long last to put away the outmoded and childish artifacts of war and join hands with our brothers and sisters around the globe to try to halt what is happening to our beleaguered planet. But it doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

Instead of facts, it seems everyone is now operating on their “best guess,” from President Bush clear down to the mayor of “Bedford Falls.”

In my own Fort Worth, the mayor, the city council, and my neighbors are all abuzz over the money the gas tycoons are handing out to drill under their homes. For some reason, I’m reminded of the movie Giant — when James Dean, after his well comes in, shows up at the house of his oil-rich employer, played by Rock Hudson. Dean stands there grinning, drenched in black gumbo, and says, “I’m rich, Bick. I’m a rich’un. I’m a rich boy.” And he becomes a different person after that.

My neighbors won’t get rich, but somebody will. But what they’re not talking about is water. Here are some facts, near as I can ascertain them:

We’re in the midst of a drought, a trend that is apt to continue due to global warming.

It takes roughly four million gallons of water to “frac” one well one time.

The average well is fracced 17 times.

There are about 90 gas wells around the city of Fort Worth, with at least 70 more to come. As of 2005, there were 4,900 gas wells in the Barnett Shale.

So, we’re talking about billions of gallons of water down the bore hole. Did I mention we’re in a drought?

The drilling process ruins all that water, by the way. The ruined water is then put into injection wells, where, eventually, it could mingle with our groundwater. A short list of toxic chemicals includes: fumaric acid, ethylene glycol (antifreeze), methanol, toluene, and benzene. Very small amounts of benzene (a carcinogen) can contaminate millions of gallons of water.

By the way, did you know that four million gallons is enough to sustain a family of four for 27 years? Did you know it will slake the thirst of 220 dairy cows for a year?

I didn’t know these things. I found them out in Weatherford, where the townsfolk have been packing commissioners court meetings over the issue of gas drilling. And they’re angry. Who are they? Farmers, ranchers, real estate brokers, shopkeepers, retirees. Republicans and Democrats. Water-well drillers. They’re not looking for a payoff from the gas industry. They’re looking to save their most precious commodity — their water.

One Weatherford farmer jokingly wondered if those city people (in Fort Worth) actually knew where the water was coming from when they turn on their taps. The Tarrant Regional Water District is currently selling water to 62 gas drillers. A representative of TRWD told me the drillers are entitled to as much water as they can pay for. “We treat ’em just like any other customer,” he said.

I guess that means the gas boys could drain the blasted lake, if they wanted to — and damn the rest of us. Meanwhile, the water district is suing to get their hands on several million gallons per year of Oklahoma’s water — I suppose so they can turn around and sell it to the drillers.

Something else I didn’t know, though lots of other folks did: Out in the Texas Panhandle, T. Boone Pickens and other millionaires are buying up thousands of acres of land. The “rule of capture” will allow them to drain all the water from the aquifers under that land, water needed by farmers and ranchers, and sell it off to thirsty cities at colossal profits.

It doesn’t take a college degree to figure out what will happen to the price of water once it’s privatized. But wouldn’t it be ironic if the “windfall” Fort Worthers are getting now for their mineral rights ended up in the pockets of people like Pickens?

Here’s another figure: $192 million dollars a day. The cost of the Iraq War. Lost money. Like the water. Money we could use to adopt alternative forms of energy, like solar and wind, to heat and cool our homes and cook our food.

We could be doing this right now. Starting right here in our own Fort Worth. We could be leading the country, and thereby the world, toward saving it, instead of destroying our environment and throwing away our water, just so the guys in suits can wink and grin and say, “I’m a rich’un.”

Grayson Harper is a Fort Worth writer and artist.

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