Sunday, May 30, 2010
Hands On Lessons in Politics
These are my two sweet children. They are the sweetest blessings in my life. We chose Flower Mound as our home because it is a great community to raise our children. It is because of these two sweet faces that we recently got involved in the political arena as we face the health and safety concerns of urban gas drilling encroaching on our neighborhoods and schools. Although there are serious issues at hand, it has also been fun to include the children in the process so that they have the opportunity to learn some basics about gas drilling, as well as the political process, grassroots efforts, and the power of voting.
There is a wealth of natural gas right here in America at a time when we need to be able to find ways to become more energy independent from the rest of the world. And there is amazing technology that can allow us to collect this gas from an incredible depth and in an almost impossible type of rock configuration. Stuart and I are true conservatives in every way and we are definitely pro-drilling on American soil.
In this part of Texas, we are on top of the Barnett Shale, a 6000+ square mile natural gas reservoir which is about 6500-8500 feet or around a mile and a half underground. The gas in the Barnett Shale is nestled in between lots of little natural holes in the shale so you can't just stick a pipe down there and suck it out. The drilling companies have to drill straight down for about a mile and a half then they drill horizontally for about 400-500 feet.
Here is a picture of a gas well being drilled and the blast wall put up around it. The part that you see on the surface is just a drop in the bucket compared to all of the activity going on beneath the surface.
In the horizontal section of the well, the drilling companies use shape chargers to shatter through their pipe casing and cement from the drilling process as well as a little bit through the rock formation. Then they blast water into the shale to fracture the formation and release the natural gas for easier collection. This process is called Hydraulic Fracturing or "fracking". The drilling companies collect the produced water which contains water, salt, natural gas and up to 500 chemicals. They separate out their gas to send to market and then usually they inject the water, salt, and chemicals back into the ground at another site called an injection well.
The method in which gas is drilled from the Barnett Shale is fascinating but it can be dangerous. Explosions happen that can lead to catastrophic results. Leaks and spills happen that endanger the quality of the land, air, and water. Researchers have suggested that the drilling has increased the incidents of earthquakes in some areas such as the DFW area. Industrial truck traffic to and from the well site is constant in order to carry water to the well and fracking fluid away from the well. Hazardous waste water and air pollutants are produced. Although we are pro-drilling, we feel that this type of activity should not be allowed next door to homes and schools and should be limited to undeveloped pieces of land where the risk to people, animals, and quality of life is not an issue.
I had heard that gas drilling had been taking place in far west Flower Mound, in the undeveloped part of town. But earlier this year, I received an email from a friend notifying me that a Centralized Collection Facility (CCF) could soon be built in the middle of the developed part of Flower Mound. A CCF would store the hazardous waste water produced by multiple wells in one location which would save the drilling company tons of money since they would only have to transport water from one site instead of 50-100 or more sites. This was upsetting to learn since this would bring the dangerous industrialized activities into the heart of our town, near homes and schools and also allow for more pipes underground transporting this hazardous waste water in a method that can not be easily monitored for leaks and damage to the land and water.
The residents spoke out at Town Council meetings but were continuously ignored and not heard. They felt that they were not being protected by their elected officials. The people got angry and went into high gear. One might use the quote from Isoroku Yamamoto, Japanese Admiral during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." A grass roots organization called Flower Mound Cares formed made up of residents "interested in the preservation of and beautification of Flower Mound and other North Texas towns". They set up a Flower Mound Cares group page on Facebook as well as a Flower Mound Cares blog and used this to help educate the public about the current gas drilling issues facing our town.
Others organized a petition to put a 180 day moratorium on any applications for a CCF and associated pipelines and called for the formation of a Oil and Gas board composed of residents and industry experts to review the town's current ordinances to be sure that they serve their purpose to protect the residents and quality of life in our town.
Stuart and I both volunteered to work petition booths set up at local businesses to let customers sign the petition on site. Rachel and I walked door to door passing out flyers informing residents of the petition and letting them know where they could go to sign. Eventually, the petition booths diminished and people started walking door to door to get signatures for the petition. Stuart and Nicholas walked our neighborhood informing our neighbors of the issues and asking them to sign the petition. I was amazed at how excited Nicholas was go work on the petition with his Daddy. He not only enjoyed the time with Stuart but he had also become passionate about the issues from hearing us talk. It was neat seeing him starting to understand bits and pieces of the political process just by watching and learning from us. He even talked to some of his friends at school about gas driling!
There were ads in local papers and local television news stories about the petition drive. We even had a mobile advertising truck that drove around town to educate the public about it.
Stuart has begun speaking at the Town Council public hearings on a regular basis. I have loved watching him get so passionate about our town and giving up his time in the evenings to voice his opinion and make recommendations about the direction of the Town. It has also been wonderful that the Town Council meetings are broadcast live on television (FMTV) so Nicholas and Rachel can watch from home as their Daddy takes the podium. They are also streamed live on the web and archived on the town's website, www.flower-mound.com, for later viewing.
It has also been great getting to work with so many wonderful residents and meeting people that we may not have met otherwise. It has also been enlightening to speak to many residents who have signed over their mineral rights to drilling companies who later found out about all of the concerns with drilling in populated areas but it was too late to back out.
The petition drive found lots of opposition from individuals who wanted to see gas drilling increase in town so that they could finanically benefit from it, mostly by leasing their mineral rights. In spite of a multitude of forces working against the group, the petition drive exceeded their goal of securing signatures from 15% of registered voters. What an incredible feat! On March 31, 2010, the cases of signatures were brought to Town Hall. Rachel and I were there to witness the event for ourselves.
But the work wasn't done yet. Elections were coming up and the mayor's seat and two town council seats were up for re-election. We knew that some of the current council were financially benefitting from gas drilling. We wanted to get people in office who would listen to the majority of the residents and protect the environment and quality of life of our town. The candidates we wanted in office were Northern (N) for Mayor, and Filidoro (F) and Lyda (L) in council seats. The catch phrase "NFL" caught on for thethree candidates.
We were so proud to get our yard signs in place.
And I became a mobile advertisement for the campaign. Totally grassroots, huh!
Even Nicholas got on board and created this "NFL" out of Tinker Toys all on his own. I was so proud of him!
Stuart volunteered his photography skills and offered to take individual portrait pictures for the candidates to use in their campaign materials. It was neat that one day the three candidates were driving around our neighborhood in their golf cart, "The NFL Express", and they sought Stuart out to take a picture of them which ended up being used throughout their campaign.
It was also neat to just be able to "hang out" with them and talk politics right outside our house.
I worked on the NFL campaign as the volunteer coordinator for poll greeters...you know, those pesky people that swarm you as you get out of your car to go vote. Seriously, this is a very important role and can sometimes sway a vote another way, especially when a voter is still on the fence. I know this from personal experience from a past election. I knew all the positions I was going to vote on except for one. As I was walking in to vote, a poll greeter stopped me and after we talked I was no longer unclear about who to vote for on that position.
We had poll greeters at the polls for two weeks of early voting and election day. Since Rachel is with me at all times, I didn't make for an effective poll greeter. I tried briskly walking up to people while pushing a stroller but I often missed the person I wanted to speak with. And it especially wasn't productive to be in the midst of an important conversation with a voter and have Rachel announce that she needed a diaper change. So I didn't do much actual poll greeting but I organized the schedule to be sure that we had at least 2 poll greeters out there anytime the polls were open and I brought water, sunscreen, rain ponchos, food, and drink to the greeters throughout the 2 weeks. I also waived signs in the election site parking lot for NFL and Mr. Richard even taught Rachel how to wave signs with us.
Election day was really exciting. Nicholas helped to hold signs outside the polling location. He was so proud. He clearly understood that there was two sides in this election and he even commented to me about the man behind him who was holding up signs for the opposition. Nicholas didn't want to talk to the man but I explained how everyone is entitled to their opinions and beliefs and how it doesn't make them a bad person for feeling that way. We made a point to be friendly to the man and ended up having a nice conversation. He even played with Nicholas some. What a great lesson for Nicholas.
We had booths set up where we served donuts, coffee, hot dogs, and water to voters.
It was such a heated election. When the polls were supposed to close at 7:00 pm, there was still a line of voters out the door, doubled over itself and wrapped around the building! That is saying a lot for a little suburban town that has a typical voter turn out of only 3,000.
But everyone that was still in line was allowed to vote. The last voter in line at 7:00pm was given a card informing others that the voting line ended with him.
The voter turn out for this election was around 8,000. It was great letting Nicholas watch all of this and really see how important an election can be to the residents and how each vote really does count.
And when the early voting results were released shortly after the polls closed, it was clear that NFL had won by a landslide. We were so proud to get this picture of our family with the newest leaders in our town. Nicholas just thought it was cool that they all knew us by name.
Stuart and I left the children in good hands while we attended the NFL victory party at a local restaurant. There was such an electricity in the air, you couldn't help but be excited. And I must say, it was kind of neat to have my name specifically mentioned in their thank you speech to the crowd :)
Although we have a majority of residents who are willing to stand up against urban gas drilling and an awesome Mayor and Town Council in place, the fight is still not over. The drilling companies will keep working to get more wells in place and other supporting structures to benefit their bottom line with little regard for our town. They do not use best practices and safety measures because they are not required to. This needs to change. Onsite recycling of fracking fluid could reduce the water usage and truck traffic. Air emissions can be captured and prevented from escaping into the air we breathe. Stronger setbacks need to be in place to keep drilling farther away from homes and schools. Changes need to be made at a state and federal level to protect citizens against these big gas companies who can come in and destroy their land and quality of life. Best practices need to be adopted especially when drilling in urban areas and these companies must be required to protect the environment and people that live there. I'm glad to hear that the EPA is beginning a 1.9 million dollar study into the effects of hydraulic fracturing on the environment and the impact it can have in highly populated areas. Perhaps this will bring the issues to light because so many people are still unaware of what is happening in neighborhoods all across this country.
If you'd like to learn more about the issues we are facing, check out some of these websites or search Google for hundreds more just like these:
Flower Mound Cares: http://flowermoundcares.blogspot.com/
Stop Urban Drilling: http://stopthedrilling.blogspot.com/
Blue Daze Drilling Reform for Texas: http://txsharon.blogspot.com/
Texas Oil and Gas Accountability Project: http://earthworksaction.org/Texas_OGAP.cfm