This past week the bride and I drove from near Albuquerque to San Antonio, Texas. We broke our trip into two easy travel segments.
Our break in the trip centered on a small Texas town named after an important old west outpost: Fort Stockton, Texas.
Now let us visit the Harry column science corner.
Southeastern New Mexico and Southwestern Texas sit on top of oil rich geographical strata named the Permian Basin, a part of the United States Mid-Continent Oil Field.
Scientists have described the Permian Basin as having more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia. Yes, that Saudi Arabia. In New Mexico, this resurgence of oil activity has resulted in a boom for education, in that oil revenues are directly tied into educational funding.
I have lived briefly in Texas when I taught voice and opera at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, and I have traveled across the Lone Star State numbers of times. The sight of dinosaur-shaped oil derricks comically bobbing up and down is familiar to me, and indeed, we saw numbers of these small sites as we journeyed east toward the home of the Alamo.
Near the end of our first day of travel, we rounded a bend on I-10 and spied a sight that looked right out of a science fiction film. The central structure was around four stories high, gleaming white and festooned with blinking LED lights. Surrounding this high tech formation were several out structures also painted a blinding white. The color was almost clinical.
The bride and I had an immediate reaction, which was, “What the heck is that?” (or something remarkably similar).
I thought for a quick moment and returned with, “fracking.”
You see, dear readers, the process that allows the Permian Basin to become the source of all this oil is a procedure that has become well known. Water is forced below the surface of the planet and pushes crude oil up for the consumption of today’s society.
As we continued eastward, more and more of these seemingly alien constructed sights appeared both north and south of the interstate.
We finally arrived at our modest hotel in historic Fort Stockton. The parking lot was filled with pickup trucks covered in thick, west Texas mud. Muddy tire tracks coated the parking lot surface.
Upon entering the hotel lobby, large signs indicated that we should wipe our muddy boots and by no means should we prop our muddy boots on the lobby furniture. There was a futuristic boot cleaner at the doorway, but I declined, thinking the recent shine on my Lucchese cowboy boots was just fine, thank you.
A sign on the door of a nearby parked pickup truck proclaimed in a fanciful script, “Frackin’ Boys.”
The best restaurant in Fort Stockton, Texas, is of course, K-Bob’s Steakhouse. We entered the parking lot and observed approximately 100 mud-covered pickup trucks lined up as if for battle.
What a sight inside! Cowboys crisply dressed for Saturday night with the family, older Texan couples, and in the majority, roustabouts still wearing their mud-caked overalls. They are a crusty bunch, laughing as they grip long necked beers in sun-cracked hands. The tired oil workers focused on a ball game broadcast over the packed bar.
There are other energy totems on the west Texas horizon. The mesas are lined with gigantic wind turbines, and the next morning they were eerily still due to the absence of, well, wind. The white blades sit at odd angles waiting for the breeze to sweep down from the American plains, and the sight reminds me of the end of “War of the Worlds,” when the aliens are stilled not by weapons but by earth microbes.
Wind energy, unlike fracking, is clean energy. But the price of this clean wind energy is the visual clutter of huge propellers that dot the earth’s surface for miles and miles. Wind turbines don’t cause your kitchen water to burst into flames, yet they sure ruin a western vista.
Back in New Mexico, my home village of Los Lunas is proud to be the location of a new data center owned by Facebook. They chose my village because of the availability of solar energy, something we have in New Mexico by the baker’s kilowatt. I can spot a vast solar panel farm from the hills near my house in the Rio Grande Valley.
So many assets and so many liabilities come with our culture’s need for energy. I criticize the oil industry, yet depend upon it for my travel between New Mexico and Texas. I love the idea of free wind providing electricity for American homes, yet deplore its scar on the landscape.
I love the energy from the sun. Here’s my coda. Sitting a few yards from my bedroom window is a good sized solar panel array. I guess in my case, I’m putting my money where my mouth is.
Let’s keep it clean, folks.
Former Roman Harry Musselwhite is the author of “Martin the Guitar” and is an award-winning filmmaker.