Wind Energy in, Fracked Oil Out, Oil Companies Make Bank

Corruption in government exploits Texas natural resources
Pecos, TX – Getty Images
I moved to Texas in July 2016. I had never previously lived in the “South.” Dallas may differ from rural parts of the state, yet its policies and attitudes towards energy are on par with the rest of Texas. I live one and a half miles from the headquarters of Energy Transfer Partners, the company that is building the Dakota Access Pipeline. In the fall of 2016, I travelled to Cannonball, North Dakota to witness the camp and support the Standing Rock Sioux. In January 2017, I travelled to Marfa, Texas where another Indigenous camp is currently protesting the Trans-Pecos Pipeline (TPPL), which Energy Transfer Partners is also constructing near the U.S.-Mexico border.
As a child, I remember cheering for the NFL quarterback Warren Moon of the Houston Oilers. I never fully understood the significance of its team mascot until moving to Texas. From Dallas, I have driven through Shreveport (LA), Amarillo, Lubbock, and now most recently Big Bend State Forest by way of Midland. I have visited 48 of the 50 states but never in my life had I seen an oil drill until this past year.

Texas loves its oil. Texas is like the Middle East of the United States. The funny thing is that Texas also loves its wind energy. Texas creates more wind power than any other U.S. state. The Longhorn State produces 36% of U.S. oil, and it operates 27 refineries. About half of Texas oil is fracked, a process that blasts toxic materials and salt water into the earth to force oil out of shale rock. The process yields the filthiest oil on earth, and massive amounts of poisonous waste water. The waste water, unfit for normal disposal, is sent through injection tubes deep underneath the earth’s surface past a non-permeable confining layer of rock.
West Texas
This waste water negatively impacts the earth. It creates harmful emissions; the waste water leaks into aquifers; and the toxic waste water lubricates tectonic plates, resulting in artificially induced earthquakes. The United States has become the largest oil producer in the world. Much of this is because of the fracking industry in Texas (and Oklahoma). Texas produces so much oil that it cannot use it all. The Trans-Pecos Pipeline has been designed to carry 1.4 billion cubic feet of oil per day to Mexico in cooperation with Comisión Federal de Electricidad, the Mexican federal electricity commission.
What this means is that Texas oil companies, such as Energy Transfer Partners are polluting the environment in Texas to produce oil that we do not need, and the profits will find themselves in the hands of a few fortunate billionaires whose families made shrewd real estate and business investments.
Texas hails the second-largest landmass of any U.S. state, and the state is home to many different ecosystems. East Texas’s appearance, particularly near Houston, is not too different from Louisiana. Many East Texans eat crawfish and live in bayou forests. West Texas, on the other hand, looks more like New Mexico. The Guadalupe Mountain’s rugged dusty brown peaks remind west-going travelers that they are about to enter the Rocky Mountains. Texas businesses have constructed over 100,000 wind turbines, all of which are in West Texas. These wind turbines create much of the energy that Texans use. Driving on these rugged roads, I saw wind turbines which dotted the mountain landscapes which overlook oil drills (or pump jacks), extracting energy below among fields of cotton and cattle.
Near Midland, TX
Texans treat land like a sponge to be wrung out. Cattle-ranchers, farmers, and energy-producers seek to extract the most amount of profit from the land as possible. The city of Midland is an energy hub. As I drove through the city I saw countless pump jacks. I became frightened, because I thought that the gas was leaking from my car. I rolled down the window and realized that the city of Midland just smells of oil. Pump jacks dot most of Texas, but not like Midland. I cannot estimate how many pump jacks lie within a thirty-mile radius of the central Texas town, just as I cannot estimate how spaghetti noodles are sold in Manhattan’s Little Italy. I am sure that someone knows those numbers, but these figures are not readily available.
Marfa, TX
Many right-leaning Texans that I speak to are very critical of alternative energy. Wind power certainly has its issues; however, I wonder how many Texans realize that their state is being fueled by the wind. The controversy of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline lies in the fact that Texas uses alternative energy for itself, and exports gas to Central and South America. I left Midland and drove south to the U.S.-Mexico border, near the town of Marfa. Marfa is an adorable western getaway that caters to the rich that want to enjoy the beauty of the Big Bend National Park. There are no wind turbines near Big Bend, neither are there pump jacks. Many consider Big Bend the “last frontier of Texas.” Big Bend is no frontier to the Indigenous community that calls the beautiful land their home. However, from an energy worldview, the terrain is seen as undeveloped.
Big Bend National Park, TX
Energy Transfer Partners projects to complete the Trans-Pecos Pipeline in March 2017. The pipeline will run from Waha to the border town of Presido. It will pass through Marfa, Alpine, Fort Stockton, and lots of beautiful “undeveloped” Texas land near the national park. I visited the Two Rivers Camp, which is a community of Indigenous people, local ranchers who are fear that eminent domain will take their family land, and environmentalists who seek to prevent the completion of the pipeline in order to preserve the earth. According to the Two Rivers Camp Facebook page, their reasons for halting the TPPL include: it will pose a threat to the Chihuahuan Desert (one of the most biologically diverse arid regions on Earth); it will threaten and destroy ecology in the U.S. and Mexico; the pipeline will be built under the Rio Grande, which will release toxins into the river and aquifers; and the camp does not support fracking and pressure testing that require millions of gallons of water.
Two Rivers Camp – Outside Big Bend National Park
The size of the Two Rivers Camp was a sliver of that of the Standing Rock Sioux camps. I saw about fifteen tents set up. I asked Josh, the camp’s chef who travelled from Idaho Falls, how many water protectors were stationed at the camp. He told me that fifteen people were currently actively protesting the pipeline. He said that there were a few other groups of twenty or so people that did not affiliate with Two Rivers Camp. He said that they expect that the numbers will rise following the March for Women in Washington D.C. The Standing Rock Sioux, on the other hand, hosted tens of thousands at any given time. Two Rivers Camp’s numbers are few, but their message is not too different than other water protector movements. They want water protection for the people, and they want to stop oil companies, such as Energy Transfer Partners, that threaten Indigenous and American ways of life.

Two Rivers Campsite

With Donald Trump’s recent presidential victory, he has assembled the oiliest cabinet in U.S. Presidential history. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is the CEO of Exxon-Mobile. Upon leaving office as Texas Governor, Rick Perry has invested in Energy Transfer Partners and became a board member. He is now the nominee to head the Department of Energy. Wilbur Ross, Trump’s nominee for Commerce Secretary, is a hedge-fund investor who invests in oil. Scott Pruitt is the Oklahoma Attorney General and lawyer who has lobbied for oil and sued the EPA to reduce smog restrictions in Oklahoma. Pending confirmation, he will run the EPA. Representative Ryan Zinke of Montana has been nominated as Interior Secretary, which will oversee oil and gas on public lands, and he is a denier of climate change. Donald Trump himself has invested in oil, particularly in Energy Transfer Partners, the company that is building these two pipelines. Since Trump has taken office, he has signed Executive Orders to further progress on the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline. Trump and his cabinet will financially benefit from passing and selling as much oil as possible.

Oil certainly plays an important role in American society. It runs our vehicles, furnaces, and lights. Oil creates plastics, building materials, lubricants, nylons, and even fertilizers. The problem with oil is that it pollutes the environment, wrecking and eroding the earth, waters, and lands that sustain all life. At the rate that Americans use oil, there will not be enough for future generations. Oil companies, such as Energy Transfer Partners deepen socio-economic disparities, inequalities, and injustices by selling unnecessary oil at the expense of the environment. Environmentalist and water protectors are constantly asking where we can cut back on oil consumption. By properly reducing and regulating oil production and infrastructure, the land and life will be put into balance. Fire, in the right hands, has the power to warm a home. In excess, that same fire has the power to burn it down. America requires checks and balances on oil to sustain and maintain our homelands. With such checks on oil, the United States will be in a better position to invest in sustainable energy sources, which is the direction of the future.
Ranchers and Native Americans Unite Against TPPL
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