Backyard Talk

The Oil Industry Does not Have an Elephant in Their Room, They Have Godzilla

By Jose Aguayo : November 26, 2014 12:56 pm

Fracking one natural gas well “typically is the equivalent of three to six Olympic swimming pools”, or so says the American Petroleum Institute (API). However, a new report published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) exposed that statement for what it is – rubbish! The report, titled Monster Wells, analyzed data from the industry-operated website, acquired by, and showed that between April 2010 and December 2013 there were 261 wells that used at least 10 million gallons of water each.

The Godzilla in the room of the gas and oil industry

These “monster wells” are the fully-grown, plasma-breathing and city-trashing Godzilla stacked in the oil industry’s room. They use more than 3.3 billion (yes, billions with a BIG B!) gallons of water for their operations, and about two-thirds them, amassing to a grand total of 2.1 billion gallons of water, were drilled in areas beset by drought or abnormally dry conditions. Overall, 137 monster wells were identified in locations experiencing drought, and in some of these areas fracking accounts for up to 25% of all water use.

I don’t know about you, but my immediate reaction to this is: How is it possible!? How is it allowed!?!?!? In these areas, water prices soar; crops wilt; and people die! Yet the industry uses more than four times the amount of water it claims to use to frack and pollute the environment. The county of Irion in Texas is smack in the middle of one of the most severely draught-affected areas in the nation, yet Monster Wells identified it as the county with the largest number of monster wells in the nation!

In Texas, the municipal water supply of the town of Barnhart ran dry in August 2013 after hundreds of water wells were drilled to supply fracking operations. In Pennsylvania, 17 water withdrawal permits were suspended to protect users from possible fracking contamination. In Colorado, oil and gas drillers are outbidding farmers at water auctions and depriving them from the resource needed to grow their crops. All of these stats coincide with the locations of the biggest monster wells in the nation, with Texas; Colorado; and Pennsylvania alone having 12 of the 17 largest wells in the nation.

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg. is a voluntary reporting system so thousands of wells across the nation do not care to report to it. Hidden in some remote (and probably drought-stricken) area may be wells of even greater gargantuan proportions than the ones analyzed in this report. The truth is that we have only seen the tail of the Godzilla in the oil and gas industry’s room. Let us just hope that by the time we realize the monster before us, it won’t be too late.

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17 Solutions to Transform America

By Stephen Lester : November 24, 2014 8:12 pm

Now that the elections are over and the results have sunken in, it’s time to reflect on some new and innovative ideas for dealing with the partisan political system that runs our country.  Consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader has written about 17 solutions “to improve American lives in an era when corporate profits are skyrocketing, but American workers and their families are poorer than they’ve been in decades.” In a book published 2 years ago, Nader presents bold new ideas that can transform America’s future.

Among these ideas are:

  • Reforming the tax system
  • Making our communities more self-reliant
  • Getting the corporations off welfare
  • Restoring our civil liberties
  • Cracking down on corporate crime
  • Using government procurement to spur innovation
  • Reclaiming science and technology for the people
  • Protecting the family
  • Reinvesting in public works

This book is Nader’s attempt to start a new conversation about the many problems we face. In Nader’s own words, he offers “fresh ideas on how to solve some of the deepest problems affecting our society today. Some of these ideas, like cracking down on corporate crime and ending corporate welfare, point to changing conditions on the ground. Others like electoral reforms, call for consumers, workers and small taxpayers to come together and use the available forums of justice to enact solid change. Still others respond to the assault on our earth’s fragile biosphere – the thin slice of soil, water, and air that sustains living beings on the planet.”

Nader emphasizes “a shift in power from the few to the many” that he feels will lead to more fairness, less corruption, and economic stability. He stresses the importance of gathering - a group of people getting together in one place, in real time, to turn their shared ideas into a call for action. Get enough people together, Nader says, and you can persuade a member of Congress or a state legislator to attend a town hall meeting exclusively devoted to your issue. Such gatherings can get your agenda on the front burner and generate media coverage. It can empower people by engaging them in decisions that affect their lives.

Not surprisingly these ideas have not been welcomed by the corporate world and the special interests that control our government. This should be reason alone to look into Nader’s 17 solutions, especially since many are grounded in fundamental organizing principles. When the people lead, the politicians will follow. For more information, see

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Sharon H.

Keystone: Much More than a Climate Question

By Sharon H. : November 17, 2014 11:56 pm

On the eve of the Senate’s vote to approve or deny the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline, NPR ran a segment addressing why this particular pipeline has become such a mobilizing force for protest. One correspondent suggests that in tackling climate change, “it’s easier to try to block a pipeline than to change people’s driving habits or get them to buy fluorescent lightbulbs or invest in green power, and so Keystone has become this larger-than-life political symbol, really out of proportion to its tangible impact on the climate.”

Graphic by Chris Spurlock, the Huffington Post

Keystone’s symbolic power is hard to deny, but this power is certainly not derived purely from political convenience. Nor should it be reduced to simply a climate change equation. Though discussion around the pipeline has largely been focused to its impacts (or lack thereof) on climate change, the project is representative of a wider range of environmental justice issues. In its route from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast oil refineries, Keystone’s proposed path carves a trail of environmental impacts – a spatial representation of the fossil fuel life cycle, from extraction to production, and the harms invoked along this journey.

The mining of the Athabasca Oil Sands, from which the crude oil carried by the pipeline will come, has had and will have a devastating effect on the health of First Nations communities. Native tribes in the United States, including the Oglala Lakota, stand to have the pipeline pass directly through their lands. And the density of oil refineries and petrochemical processing plants, many located in poor communities of color in Texas, stands to increase with the flow of tar sands oil. Some of these stories are profiled in a Huffington Post feature that highlights the experiences of people living along the proposed path for the Keystone pipeline.

Tomorrow, the pipeline’s final route may or may not be approved. Either way, those who limit the discussion to “intangible” climate impacts are missing the point. Increased tar sands oil production may well have an impact on our climate, but the extent of this impact is not the sole question at at play in this issue, nor is it the sole reason Keystone has become a mobilizing force for environmentalists and community activists. The symbolic power of Keystone is derived from its highly tangible community impacts – from land exploitation and pollution in Alberta, to air pollution in Houston  - which represent the full range of environmental justice issues caused by fossil fuel extraction and production. Keystone will affect each community along its route in a different way, but it affects them all – and the universality of these struggles is another powerful mobilizing force for change.

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Those who say it cannot be done, should get out of the way of those that are doing it.

By Lois : November 15, 2014 8:36 pm

Calvin Tillman, Mayor Emeritus, Town of DISH, TX wrote this note after a major win in Texas against the gas industry. I felt his words deserved to be heard beyond my and others in his networks in box. Thank you Mayor Tillman for your dedication to the people you served.

On November 4, 2014, there was a historical vote in Denton, TX, which of course was when the residents voted to ban hydraulic fracturing within the corporate limits of the city. This is a bit shocking considering the political make up of this area and the amount of funding that the industry sunk into defeating this measure. Another interesting thing is the margin of victory for this measure, for all the money that was sunk into this election by the industry, they were not even close to victory. What is also shocking is that candidate races in the area still went heavily to republicans. In the Texas State Representative race for House District 64 which encompasses Denton, the republican Myra Crownover easily won with 64 percent of the vote. So is clear that a large number of republicans supported this ban.

Many years ago, during a meeting with the industry, I voiced my displeasure with the manner in which they did business and told them that if they continued down this path, that no one would want this industry doing business near them. I hate to so I told you so, but I did. Now the question is will they ever learn, and the initial response is “no”, they will never learn. After getting their tails kicked pretty badly in an election where they had all of the advantages, they chose not to change their business practices, and truly try to be the good neighbors they say they are on TV, but they filed a lawsuit. This makes it clear that they’re never going to try and be a good neighbor. Instead of running to make amends for their wrong doings, they try force their way into the neighborhoods, continuing to be bad actors.

At least in places like Denton, this probably could have all been avoided if this industry had one ounce of compassion for the communities they do business in. However, they chose to violate the wishes of the community, resulting in the ban on a technique that was developed a few miles up the road from here. Denton is also a town that has a large industry presence, with several of these companies having offices and other facilities there. However, when you trample all over people private property rights, kill their property values, and destroy their quality of life, you should expect something like this.

Instead of trying to work with the communities that they were pissing all over, the industry runs to Austin for help. To which the Texas Railroad Commissioners came running with bells on. Unfortunately, the trio better known as the three stooges here in Texas, did nothing more than what the industry did, which was like pouring “gas” on a flame, and made the situation much worse. Did anybody ever give those who were working on the ban any respect for their complaints? No, they all just insulted them even more, accusing them being buddies with Putin, and other false and misleading statements, which of course didn’t work, but again fanned the flames.

I was taught something at young age which was; when you find yourself in a hole…stop digging. However, the oil and gas industry and their supporters must have missed that little piece of common sense. The results are that they gave a couple goofballs $800,000.00, which turned out to be a big waste of money. I know this may be a shock to those in the industry, but after years of misleading and lying to people, nobody trusts you. Therefore, when you give money to someone that lies on your behalf, that makes them paid liars, and even a fool can spot a paid liar.

What is even more damning for the industry is that the paid liars are losing the battle in other areas as well. A total of 4 bans on hydraulic fracturing were passed around the country. And these bans were not implement with millions of dollars from Russian backed environmental groups, but rather by a small group of local citizens. Normal people who have regular jobs, but are tired of seeing their property rights trampled all over by an industry who couldn’t care less. One of my most trusted advisers says “there is a billion dollars beneath our feet and they don’t care who they trample on to get it”. This is truly a case of Goliath being taken down with a slingshot and smooth stone.

Of course, the Texas Railroad Commission is not the only one running to the industry’s aid, the other prostitutes will come running with their aid as well. The Texas Land Office has joined the industry filing a lawsuit. The Texas Land Office mission states: “The Texas General Land Office serves the schoolchildren, veterans, and all people of Texas by preserving their history, protecting their environment, expanding economic opportunity, and maximizing state revenue through innovative administration and prudent stewardship of state lands and resources.” Not sure what makes them think they have dog in this fight, other than the fact that most of the Texas elected officials at the state level fight over the opportunity to pimp themselves out to this industry.

State Representative Phil King, of Texas House District 61, who serves on the Energy Resources Committee, has already committed to introducing legislation that removes a Texas municipality’s right to ban hydraulic fracturing. Of course Representative King, is another who will fight for the opportunity to pimp himself out to the industry, and never look his citizens in the eye while doing it. Texas House District 61 encompasses the Azle, TX area where they have had the rash of earthquakes caused by the fracking waste injection wells. However, Representative King did not show up at the meetings held by the state, and has thus far refused to talk with his citizens about these earthquakes. It must be noted that Representative King has multiple ethics violations and is therefore technically a “crook”. He also refuses to look me in the eye when I testify before the Energy Resources committee; therefore, I take him as a coward. He also refuses to take a stand to protect the property rights of hard working Texans.

It is strange that Representative King would choose to remove local control when on his website he states that “Local control and limited government must be the first resort not the last”. However, it is clear that those positions go out the window when we are talking about the Oil and Gas industry. When it comes to this subject, it appears that the Austin cronies are good with an overbearing state government, which takes away local control from municipalities. It is also clear that the Austin Cronies like Representative King, are more than willing to ignore a valid election, and overturn the will of the people. I guess when you are a prostitute for the oil and gas industry, things like local control and limited government, are just buzzwords.

One thing that is missed in all of this by the industry and their prostitutes is that the people who are affected by all of this have property rights also. Our private property rights start where our property line begins, so why doesn’t the industry consider keeping their noise, odors, bright lights, and hazardous chemicals on their side of the fence? They trespass their crap on our property and expect us to take it. The hardworking, honest Texans who voted for this ban don’t want a noisy, smelly industrial site, 200 feet from the backdoor, and those other than the industry and their cronies understand that fact.

The people of Denton passed an ordinance that would have helped protect people’s private property rights, and the industry ignored their wishes. What exactly did the industry expect? Don’t blame the people of Denton for this ban, blame the industry and the prostitutes who support them. Common sense tells you that you cannot keep ramming this stuff down the throats of the people without consequences. So if you’re in the oil and gas industry or are one of their elected prostitutes, it was you who got yourself into this, not environmental groups funded by Russia, but you. The blame is yours, so take the whipping that you deserve.

Calvin Tillman, Mayor Emeritus, Town of DISH, TX

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The Paradox of Science: Knowing so Much, yet so Little

By Stephen Lester : November 10, 2014 5:40 pm

One of the toughest questions to answer is whether a person’s cancer or birth defect was the result of growing up at Love Canal, or Pensacola, FL or at any of the hundreds of communities in this country where there’s a toxics legacy. People wonder at the genius of their smart phone or the marvelous engineering feat of sending a crew of astronauts to the moon and backing them safely back, and then naturally expect the health experts at ATSDR or EPA to know what happens when people are exposed to toxic chemicals.

But neither of these technological and engineering feats can hold a candle to the complexity of the human body and the intricacy of its biological functioning. In the engineering world, one plus one will always equal two. In the biological world of the life sciences, there is no such simple mathematics to lay the foundation of understanding. When it comes to the biology of the human body, scientists actually know very little about how and why the body responds to toxic chemicals the way it does.

This is the paradox of science when it comes to toxic chemicals: we know a great deal about the mechanism of action of some chemicals such as dioxin or lead, yet we don’t know is what is going to happen to an individual who is exposed to 5 parts per billion (ppb) of benzene in their drinking water, or to 56 parts per trillion (ppt) of dioxin in the air, or to a child who eats lead paint chips for 3 months. In some cases, scientists can predict symptoms to expect, but it’s rare that they can predict health outcomes. Add in the reality of cumulative exposures, not only in the number of chemicals a person might be exposed to, but the time over which exposures might occur, and the certainty over what is known becomes even smaller.

There are a number of factors that determine what happens when a person is exposed to chemicals. These factors include an individual’s susceptibility (this varies quite a lot from person to person), how long exposures occur, how many chemicals a person is exposed to, the concentration of these chemicals, and the toxicity of the chemicals. Even if you knew all of these factors (which is very rare), it’s still almost impossible to predict what will happen when a person is exposed.

In addition, many symptoms or diseases are not specific to a particular chemical. In most instances, there can be many causes of the symptoms that people are having. And few physicians have experience with exposures to toxic chemicals, and they often blame the victim for his or her situation rather than looking at chemicals as a possible explanation. Another problem is determining what the “normal” rate of illness or disease is in a community. Scientists simply can’t decide what’s normal, in large part because of the many uncertainties already discussed.

So if you have a health problem that you think might be related to some exposure to toxic chemicals, don’t expect the scientific community to have many answers for you. Scientists can give you their “best guess” on what they think will happen, or maybe they can give you a risk range or a probability of getting cancer, but don’t expect much more. No matter what they tell, they just don’t know.  No one does.

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