Texas Environmental News

In a rare instance of making the colossal methane leaks of the Permian Basin look good, Bloomberg reported this week on the sensational Gates of Hell crater in Turkmenistan. A drilling bit punctured the Central Asian topography in the 1970s and the accident never went away. In a land claiming 13 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves — 98% methane — the earth caved in, forming a hole 200 feet in diameter. Then somebody lit it on fire. For the past 40 years, it’s been an inefficient blaze, burping raw gas in between sprites of fire. Satellite monitors claim it’s venting more methane than the Permian Basin. Methane control, according to many specialists, is low-hanging fruit for the fight against climate change, but the dictator of Turkmenistan, according to Bloomberg, has shown no interest in capping methane leaks. Nor has Texas Governor Gregory Abbott.

After warning last June that no investments should be made world wide in new oil and gas infrastructure, the International Energy Agency is now warning that banks are failing to invest fast enough in green energy. With rolling power black outs hitting China and India, and European manufacturers shutting down factories due to record high energy prices, IEA head Fatih Birol said, “There is a looming risk of more turbulence for global energy markets.” Meantime, in Texas, inflation is raising its ugly head with gasoline prices up 20% in the last year and food up nearly 10%, while solar energy has never been cheaper. Could it be that we are heading for a major re-adjustment in consumption patterns while we transcend into a new power paradigm? Or, as an IEA chief energy economist said, “If you don’t change direction, you will end where you were going.”

Despite a majority of Texans who believe fossil fuel-induced climate change is a serious existential threat to humanity (Harvard Poll, 2019), Texas state politicians paved the way last week for yet another new oil and gas infrastructure project. Last week the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, led by Toby Baker, Governor Abbott’s hand-picked executive director, approved an air quality permit to allow Jupiter LLC to build an oil refinery at the Port of Brownsville. Once unblemished by fossil fuel refining, Brownsville will now complete the royal flush of Governor Abbott’s oil power hand, making the entire Texas Gulf Coast, from Orange to the Mexico border, a reminder of the monarchs who rule Texas. Despite opposition from community groups, including shrimpers and fishers, the project will likely also green light a new oil pipeline from the Permian to the port. Lela Burnell, whose family has been shrimping in the area for 70 years, said, “We’re disappointed that the state’s environmental commissioners approved this air pollution permit. There is no such thing as a clean refinery.”

The last leaded-gasoline refinery in the world shut down production of the product earlier this year in Algiers, Algeria, culminating a 20-year negotiation between the United Nations and Sonatrach, the state-owned oil company. Africa was the primary export market. The United Nations Environment Programme Executive Director Inger Andersen said, “Leaded fuel is the kind of mistake that humanity has been making at every level. It’s the kind of mistake that has led us to the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis and the crisis of pollution.” According to Bloomberg Green, leaded gasoline contaminates air, dust, soil, drinking water and food crops. It has contributed to dangerously high levels of lead in human blood, which causes decreasing IQ in children. In 1984, Chicago was the first U.S. city to outlaw the product. A joint venture between Standard Oil (now Exxon), General Motors and DuPont in 1924 created the Ethyl Corporation, which began the nearly 60-year run of lead-induced gasoline to create less knock in gasoline engines. Although awareness of lead poisoning was not uncommon in those days according to environmentalhistory.org, 50 years passed before scientific, court and regulatory challenges had any influence. When independent research finally emerged, the results were damning enough to support an international phase-out of the product.

Richard Mark Glover lives in the Chama Valley of New Mexico with his wife Lorretta and two children after many years in West Texas. He is an award-winning journalist and author.