Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fracking Guzzles Water and Hurts People and Other Living Things

It was good to see that the El Paso Times finally caught on to the story about fracking next to El Paso. It is also good to see that they are reading this blog and published its URL.  The article did bang the booming business drum as elpasonaturally previously predicted it would. The Times previously printed this editorial cartoon:

Opposing big oil makes us conservationists and environmentalists "nutjobs" and "extremists". I suggest that the real nutjobs are those who think petrol jobs outweigh the damage to the public health, safety and welfare and the damage to the environment (which further erodes the public health, safety and welfare.) Create jobs, yes. But create jobs that don't wreak havoc with our lives, water and environment.

So, on the same day that I read the Times piece, I was emailed (thanks, Marshall) this story from Reader Supported News:

Fracking Wells Guzzle Water in Drought-Stricken Regions
By Anastasia Pantsios, EcoWatch
26 November 14

The fracking industry likes to minimize the sector’s bottomless thirst for often-scarce water resources, saying it takes about 2-4 million gallons of water to frack the average well, an amount the American Petroleum Institute describes as “the equivalent of three to six Olympic swimming pools.” That’s close to the figure cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well.

But a new report released by Environmental Working Group (EWG) located 261 “monster” wells that consumed between 10 and 25 million gallons of water to drill each well. Among the conclusions EWG teased out of data reported by the industry itself and posted at is that between April 2010 and December 2013, these 261 wells consumed 3.3 billions of water between them, a average of 12.7 million gallons each. And 14 of the wells topped 20 million gallons each.

“It’s far more relevant to compare those figures to basic human needs for water, rather than to swimming pools or golf courses,” said EWG’s report. “The 3.3 billion gallons consumed by the monster wells was almost twice as much water as is needed each year by the people of Atascosa County, Texas, in the heart of the Eagle Ford shale formation, one of the most intensively drilled gas and oil fields in the country.”

And proving that everything really is bigger in Texas, that’s where most of these monster wells were located, hosting 149 of them. Between them they consumed 1.8 billion gallons of water. The largest was located in Harrison County on the east Texas border, where in March 2013, Sabine Oil & Gas LLC drilled a well using more than 24.8 million gallons of water. Irion County in west central Texas had the most monster wells with 19 averaging water use of 12.9 each. And Texas also had what EWG described as the “dubious distinction” of using more fresh water in fracking, consuming 21 million gallons in 2011 alone.

Pennsylvania had the second largest number of these monster wells with 39 located in that fracking-boom state atop the Marcellus shale formation. It was followed by Colorado (30, including 8 of the 15 biggest water consumers), Oklahoma (24), North Dakota (11), Louisiana and Mississippi (3 each) and Michigan (2).

EWG also found that 2/3rds of the monster wells were in areas suffering from extreme drought, including 137 of the ones in Texas.

“Like almost all of the Lone Star State, Atascosa County, south of San Antonio, is in a severe and prolonged drought,” said EWG. “Last year, the state water agency cited oil and gas exploration and production as a factor in the dramatic drop of groundwater levels in the aquifer underlying the Eagle Ford formation.”

That’s a huge problem for a state with a growing population and a big agriculture industry, including a large, water-intensive cattle-raising sector, resulting in conflicts over water use likely to intensify in the future.

The EWG report cautions that their estimates of fracking water use may be low.

“There is no way of knowing just how much water is being used for fracking, however, because while the controversial well stimulation technique is known to be used in 36 states, only 15 require reporting to FracFocus, and none of the numbers that do get reported are vetted by any kind of regulatory agency or independent authority,” it said. “Even the data that does get reported is incomplete. EWG says that for 38 of the 261 monster wells, FracFocus did not even identify such basic information as whether the wells were drilled for oil or natural gas, or what kind of water they used.”

By the way, read Doing the Math by elpasonaturally if you want to get a good picture of just how much water Torchlight Energy Resources will consume for fracking up the Diablo Plateau.

Who are the nutjobs?

Fracking, Wasting Water, Keeping Promises to Sprawlers

It was good to see last week that Keagan Harsha and KTSM-TV News picked up our story and petition about fracking coming just east of El Paso. Read the story and see the video HERE.

Astoundingly someone by the name of "mike b" commented on an unrelated post about fracking: "There is no evidence that fracking is harmful.....Just hysteria from radical enviros.....They deal in emotion, not logic..." 

Assuming that "mike b" has some gray matter, he might want to read other posts HERE and HERE

No matter how much the fracking industry attempts to deceive the public, fracking depletes and ruins ground water. To understand how the recklessness of their actions, just note what is happening to groundwater all over the world. Satellite surveys paint a bleak picture. See the MAP.

Climate change and excessive use of water without any proper water planning is to blame. Sensible city planning can help the situation. Yet, in our City, Council members are in the deep pockets of the urban sprawlers. They have shelved Plan El Paso and are making every attempt to force the sale of PSB managed land in smaller lots. Not long ago, City Councilwoman, Cortney Niland, was heard to say that the City needed $3.2 Million to keep a promise made to developers. Amazing how that $3.2 Million is exactly what she and the Mayor propose to take from that portion of the stormwater fee meant to go to open space over the next couple of years. The item comes up for discussion and action this coming Tuesday at City Council. See Item 13-2 on the agenda. Note that the item says nothing about the agreement to limit pilfering of open space funds to just $3.2 Million.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Good morning.  I have been updating my take action page at  If you want to suggest additions to this section please let me know.  The site also has a new a slide show featuring some of my favorite wildlife pictures over the past year.  Here is the Coahuilan box turtle, the only box turtle that I know of anywhere that swims under water.   Most of the land turtles and tortoises in North America like the desert box turtle here in El Paso are land dwellers only.  

The Coahuilan box turtle is from Cuatro CiĆ©negas Biosphere Reserve in Coahuila, Mexico, an endangered habitat in the Chihuahuan Desert.  This endangered species spends 90% of its time in the water and is threatened because of wetland habitat loss.
The Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute has a podcast about this area at

The El Paso Zoo is planning a new exhibit for Coahuilan box turtles scheduled to open next summer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Texas Water Captains

Not long ago I was contacted by the Rev. Sam Brannon from the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy. I forget how he got my name but he thought that I would be someone interested in their Water Captains Program and help it get going here in El Paso. He was correct.

In brief, the program is a means to promote water conservation around Texas and to involve local people directly in the decision-making of regional planning groups and indirectly in the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). On that Board are a whopping three members from Brownsville, Austin and Beaumont. (None from West Texas.) They were all appointed by outgoing (finally) Gov. Rick Perry which should tell you a lot. The membership on the Region E (which includes El Paso) Planning Group is a bit deeper. A list of that group's voting members can be found HERE. Non-voting members are HERE.

The Texas Water Development Board has extensive responsibilities and power. They collect the data from regional water plans and formulate the Texas State Water Plan every 5 years. With the passage of Proposition 2 - the State Water Implementation Fund, the Board's influence over Texas water policy dramatically increased. Proposition 2 formed SWIFT by taking $2 Billion from the State's rainy day fund (how ironic) to be loaned out for water projects. I voted against this proposition because I saw it trying to conserve water the wrong way - more big holes and concrete dams around the Lone Star State - money in the pockets of huge corporate contractors for the most part. With Perry's three member board administering the fund, you know that the voices of just local folk are going to be muted which was the case when the TWDB had a work session in El Paso in May. That's where the Water Captains program comes in.

What is ingenious about the program is that it harnesses the power of local faith-based communities to disseminate information about water conservation and to find regional "armies" of folk who can help shape regional water planning. Nine of us met with Sam yesterday at the Columban Mission Center (MAP) to learn more about the program. We plan to meet there again on December 16th at Noon. If you are interested, please contact me at Our goal is to get ready for a visit to the next Regional Water Planning Group meeting to be held in Alpine, Texas on Thursday, Februrary 12, 2015 at 1:30 PM. 

One doesn't have to be a member of a faith-based community to get involved. At our meeting yesterday I knew that there was one person who was not such a member but nevertheless has an extensive network of "just folk" whose voices should be heard. However, working through faith groups can be very powerful. I have often wondered how those of us interested in the environment and conservation in El Paso can best get our message to El Pasoans as a whole. Water Captains may be an excellent template.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sign and Share the Petition against Fracking next to El Paso

Map taken from El Paso Inc., Searching for Shale Oil in Hudspeth County, Edgar Gonzalez, graphic artist. Note that the "prospect" is just over the hill literally from Hueco Tanks. Click on the image to enlarge.

Of the 172,000 acres Torchlight Energy Resources has leased for fracking in Hudspeth County next to El Paso, most of the land is owned by the University of Texas System. Click on the image to enlarge. 

Stop Fracking next to El Paso, Texas

Sign and Share the Petition

Fracking endangers the health, safety and welfare of people, pollutes the air and ground, results in rising crime and social and medical costs, utterly destroys ecosystems and permanently contaminates underground aquifers with toxic compounds and consumes billions of gallons of water. Yet, just a few minutes away from the city limits of El Paso, Texas a major metropolitan area of 675,000 people, and a few miles from the farming community of Dell City, Texas, the University of Texas System has leased over a hundred thousand acres to Torchlight Energy Resources, Inc. for the sole purpose of fracking. Torchlight Energy says that it may drill up to as many as 2500 wells on this area immediately east of El Paso called the Diablo Plateau which, with the Otero Mesa in New Mexico, forms a rich ecosystem of plants and animals. Torchlight Energy Resources must not drill there. The University of Texas Lands System must not allow them.

Please sign and share this petition.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

So what happened?

Yesterday by a vote of 6-1 OSAB recommended to City Council that the 10% of the stormwater fee for open space/stormwater projects be diverted to immediate flood control projects. Two points: the key words in the recommendation (and in the Mayor's proposal) are "up to $3.2 million". That is the amount that, under the current stormwater fee, will be collected over the next two years for open space. In our conversations with the Mayor and again at yesterday's OSAB meeting, I wanted to make it clear that we were only talking about the $3.2 million and not more revenue expected because the stormwater fee is most certainly going to be raised. The Mayor was on hand to give his presentation (a first as far as I know for a Mayor to come to the Board) and he personally stated that his request was for what will be collected in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 under the current rate. The rest he assured us goes into the open space coffers. 

The second point is this: much of what OSAB has sought to preserve as natural open space with stormwater function has now closed or soon will close. There is money on hand. Making this so is largely the result of EPWU attorney Lupe Cuellar's efforts for which she is to be showered with kudos. Here is her report from yesterday:

Click on the icon with the 4 arrows at bottom right to enlarge and scroll.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Open Space Moratorium Makes Sense

At its stormwater budget review meeting last night, the PSB recommended raising the stormwater fee by 8% over the next several years. Mayor Leeser proposed that for the years 2015-2017, that portion of stormwater fees that goes to the purchase of open space be diverted to other flood prevention projects which have become immediate priorities following the recent September rainstorms flooding. Identified projects include Fairbanks, the Diana Ditch and the Fort Bliss Slump. You can read more about these proposals in today's Times story.

I first became aware of the Mayor's proposal at an October 22 meeting. He invited Charlie Wakeem, Rick Bonart, Richard Teschner and myself to meet with him and Rep. Niland to discuss their proposal and get our feedback. Initially he was proposing a 5-year moratorium. With feedback from EPWU officials and ourselves, the 2-year proposal seemed more appropriate. We met again as a group on November 3rd. The proposal comes up tomorrow at the 3 PM meeting of OSAB of which I am a member. The meeting is held in the Trost Conference Room in the basement of the City 3 Building, 801 Texas Avenue. MAP

I have had reservations about the proposal all along. I was mainly concerned about the impact that it might have on future open space funding. However, I had decided to vote for it on OSAB because I had given my word to the Mayor and he and I agreed that we were only discussing a difference in how one does their arithmetic with the money - not the sum.

Although I could not attend last night's budget review meeting, Charlie Wakeem did. He reported to me this morning that he felt very positive about supporting the Mayor's proposal. What he reported to me also removed doubts in my mind. Here is what he said in an email to me and others just a little while ago:


"Attached is the Open Space portion of the Storm Water Workshop presentation.  As Jim said, he and I both struggled with the proposal to support suspending the 10% for open space for 2 years.  I wanted assurances on 3 things before I could make up my mind, (1) A guarantee that the 10% suspension would last only 2 years with no extensions, (2) that the $3 million [$3.2 million] would be used for immediate public safety needs, and (3) and most importantly, that Lupe has sufficient funds to complete the open space acquisitions on the current OSAB list.

"I went to the Storm Water Workshop Monday evening with an open mind. After Marcella's [Navarrete] presentation I decided to support the mayor's proposal for the 2 year suspension.  The third slide shows the status of the open space acquisitions. It's the slide that convinced me not to oppose the 2 year suspension.  This is a good way to show the community that we want what's best for the city and not ourselves.


Here is the presentation from last night's meeting:

Charlie got the assurances that he was looking for and now so have I. I will vote for the Mayor's proposal tomorrow at OSAB.

Kudos to Mayor Leeser for an inclusive leadership style.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Celebration of Our Mountains, Special Desert Program, 7:00-9am, Saturday, November 15

by Rick LoBello

One of El Paso’s best kept secrets has been in the works and evolving completely on its own for thousands of years. Not long after the last ice age during the Pleistocene, the climate changed dramatically in this part of North America and the ensuing aridity made way for a desert landscape. Today, biologists call this unique eco-region the Chihuahuan Desert, an area of North America covering the surface of our planet for nearly 400,000 square miles. You and your family and friends can discover it and learn more about this important part of our natural heritage by joining me on a two hour short trip to Franklin Mountains State Park. I will lead a car caravan to the park on Saturday morning, November 15 at 7:00am. The group is limited to 20 people and there is a $2 entry fee to enter the park payable at the entrance station. To reserve your spot call or text 915-217-4233 or send an email to The group will meet at Starbucks, 5550 N. Desert Blvd in west El Paso at 7am and car caravan to Tom May’s Park in northwest El Paso. For a map and more details visit the Celebration of Our Mountains web link by clicking here.

This very easy walking morning discovery will include three major stops in the park at the parking area of the West Cottonwood trailhead, the new bird blind and at the end of the loop road. Participants will receive checklists to some of the more common plants and animals of the area plus a list of Chihuahuan Desert animals that live at the El Paso Zoo.

At the El Paso Zoo where I work you can see many species of animals native to the Chihuahuan Desert. The Zoo is uniquely divided into three major geographic areas, Asia, Africa and the Americas. To find species from our desert be sure to spend time in the Americas area. Some of these species are extremely rare including the critically endangered black-footed ferret that lives in the El Paso Water Utilities Discovery Education Center near the Zoo entrance and the Mexican wolf. Although these species no longer live in the immediate El Paso area, the Mexican wolf is being restored to the Gila Wilderness area of western New Mexico and Arizona about 3 hours to the west. To the south a similar reintroduction effort is underway to restore the black-footed ferret to the prairie dog towns of the Janos grasslands region of northern Chihuahua, Mexico.

Closer to home some of our Chihuahuan Desert species at the Zoo are found in the wilder areas in and around our city including the Western Harris Hawk, Western Cattle Egret, Swainson’s Hawk and the Common Barn Owl.

Our collared peccaries, also called javelinas, live in the area, but are very rare. This pig-like mammal is relatively new to the Franklin Mountains and may be expanding its range from southern New Mexico and parts of West Texas.

Another large mammal can be seen on the road to the Guadalupe Mountains after you pass Hueco Tanks State Park and head towards Carlsbad Caverns. Along the way watch for Mexican pronghorn, a very similar subspecies to the endangered peninsular pronghorns we have living in the Americas Lands Exhibit.

In the Reptile House you can see several species of reptiles and amphibians from the Chihuahuan Desert including a diamond-backed rattlesnake, grey-banded kingsnake, Mexican milksnake, barred tiger salamander, and Woodhouse’s toad.

A stones throw away from the Reptile House the America’s Aviary is also a great place to see some of our Chihuahuan Desert birds. As you walk through the aviary watch for the Roadrunner, Northern Mockingbird, Mourning Dove, and Blue-winged Teal.

I hope to see many of you this Saturday. Dress for the cooler November temperatures and bring plenty of questions.

Golden Eagle at Franklin Mountains State Park.   Visit the El Paso Zoo to learn more about animals that live in our mountains.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Friday Video: John Wayne's God Bless America

Since next Tuesday (November 11, 2014) is Veterans Day, someone suggested that this video would be appropriate. I agree. It has nothing to do with the environment or sustainability but gives yet one more reason why so many of us care about conservation and preservation of our natural resources and ecosystems.

If you can identify all the celebrities in the clip, you're an old fart like me. Wish a few more seconds had been given to Ann-Margaret.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Birthplace of Fracking Bans Fracking

Just as El Paso votes straight-party Democrat, the city and county of Denton, Texas votes straight-party Republican. Greg Abbott got 60% of the vote there yesterday and Dan Patrick got nearly that. Dr. Michael Burgess who has been the U.S. Representative since 2002 from the 26th District of Texas which serves Denton won by a whopping 83%. His campaign web page is replete with photos of him and other tea party darlings such as Ted Cruz who is to the right (verily extreme right) of soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Obviously Denton is no hotbed of Wendy Davis liberalism. So, how did they vote on the proposition to ban fracking in the city limits? One might expect that they would be all for fracking and against banning it. After all, their picks for office holders suggest laissez-faire, the environment-be-damned right wingers. Yet, the birthplace of fracking, voted to ban fracking! It was a landslide of 59 to 41%.

Why the margin of opposition to fracking? Because fracking is being done almost literally in their backyards. Frack Free Denton lists four areas of harm caused by fracking: air, water, health and safety and the economy. 

So here is something to mull over: where on earth is not your backyard? Ban fracking when it is up against your fence but don't do so when it is up against your neighbor's or on top of the aquifer used by farmers and municipalities? Don't ban it when it is over the horizon turning billions of gallons of water into something undrinkable? Don't ban it when unseen ecosystems which silently provide and maintain human life and health are damaged forever? Don't ban it when others now suffer serious diseases?

But don't worry. The Texas General Land Office (the GLO now under Jerry Patterson but soon to be under George P. Bush) and the Texas Oil and Gas Association have already filed lawsuits to crush democracy in Denton, Texas.

What was it that Patrick Henry said?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Xeriscape Don't "Zero-scape" Fort Bliss Cemetery

This is not xeriscaping.
This is.
Tomorrow City Council will discuss and vote on a resolution which urges Fort Bliss to replace the "xeriscaping" at the national cemetery with grass. The resolution (Item 10.1 on the agenda) is at the request of Rep. Beto O'Rourke and is sponsored by Niland, Noe and Romero. 

elpasonaturally is a big fan of Beto O'Rourke however must part with him on this one as it did on his recent vote against support for Israel. 

The chief problem with the resolution is the false belief held by most of El Paso that the cemetery or anything like it is xeriscaping. Merely throwing red rock screening on the ground (and abetting the destruction of our mountains at the same time) is not xeriscaping. The Texas Master Gardeners, part of the Texas AgriLife Extension, says: 

"Xeriscape means dry landscaping - perfect for an area like the desert. Xeriscape creates a visually attractive landscape that uses native plants selected for their water efficiency. Properly installed and maintained, a Xeriscape can use less than one-half the water of a traditional landscape and require less maintenance than a landscape that is primarily lawn." [Emphases mine.]

Read the Master Gardener page about xeriscape and take a look at the posted picture. Visit Eartheasy xeriscape page and see the picture and look over the plant selection. Best thing: visit the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens at the UTEP Centennial Museum and/or the El Paso Desert Botanical Garden at Keystone Heritage Park.

Finally, read this open letter from Marshall Carter-Tripp urging the xeriscaping of the cemetary not the zero-scaping that now exists nor its replacement with water-thirsty grass: 

Restoring Grass at Fort Bliss Cemetery?

"The El Paso Times reports that the El Paso City Council will consider tomorrow a resolution urging that grass be restored to the Fort Bliss cemetery, at the request of Representative O’Rourke.

"El Paso and Fort Bliss are located in the mountainous Chihuahuan Desert, and moreover are experiencing long-term drought.  The Rio “Grande” is empty a good part of the year.   While the PSB assures us that we will continue to have a safe water supply, it is also “mining” the underlying aquifer for that supply.   The cemetery was using some 62 million gallons of water a year to maintain the grass.  What kind of message would it send to resume pumping that much water for grass?   Arlington National Cemetery is cited as having grass.  It is located in the Washington, D.C area, which receives over 40 inches of rain a year, more than four times as much as do El Paso and Fort Bliss.  Water use is not an issue there!

"The real problem with the cemetery at Fort Bliss appears to be inadequate xeriscaping.  Xeriscaping does NOT mean just sand and gravel, more correctly called “zero-scaping.”  Landscaping with native plants and other drought-tolerant plants can be very beautiful Perhaps if the Fort Bliss authorities visited the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens at UITEP, or the gardens at Keystone, they might get some sense of what can be done. The West Texas Urban Forestry Council would help plan for better tree cover, and there is much expertise in the El Paso Native Plant Society.   Trees will help reduce water use even if grass is restored.

"The remarks quoted in the Times’ report suggest that the only standard of beauty is grass.  Should we call it the “Downton Abbey rule?”   Why must respect for the dead be measured in blades of grass?

"My spouse is a military veteran.  He will not be buried at Fort Bliss, as he is donating his body to the Texas Tech medical school.   Even if he were there, he would not be less at rest under a desert willow rather than grass!  Should I survive him, my grief would not be diminished by grass, and I would in fact regret the misuse of water and energy to maintain that grass.   We have no grass in our own yard  - but it is full of beautiful plants at all seasons.   

"Let us honor the dead, and their families, by respecting the beauty of our own landscape, and by respecting the need to conserve water for the generations to come." - Marshall Carter Tripp

Let us hope that City Council will change its resolution and urge Ft. Bliss officials truly to xeriscape the cemetery and not use just gravel or replace gravel with water and maintenance intensive grass.