Fracking polluting water, air, while protest mars Tobin Center groundbreaking

Newsflash UT: Nat gas pollutes water, air

Believe it or not, there are days the QueQue is downright despondent. What is it all for? Why the trouble and toil? we mutter to our higher Que-ness. Then — in an echo of Barnett Shale development of North Texas — a natural gas boom explodes across the entirety of South Texas while area media goes conspicuously silent on raging national problems everywhere the technique has been used. Most recently, Duke University researchers examined fracking and published their findings Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The verdict? Those infamous reports of homes exploding from methane seepage and flaming faucets don’t come from nowhere.

The group surveyed nearly 70 drinking water wells in the Marcellus and Utica shale areas of northeast Pennsylvania and southern New York State — the site of another drilling boom in recent years. They found water samples taken near gas drilling sites contained 17 times the normal amount of methane, a concentration the U.S. Department of the Interior finds dangerous and needing “hazard mitigation,” the report states. Interestingly, the researchers did not find the presence of drilling chemicals used in the fracking process. But there’s another reason that fracking-derived gases may not be such a hot “bridge fuel” enabling the nation to transition from dirty coal power to pollution-free solar and wind. Considering how much methane (a potent climate-disrupting gas) escapes into the atmosphere during the process, fracking is actually more dangerous than coal in the short range, researchers at Cornell University found.

Lanny Sinkin, director of Solar San Antonio, said he expects that by the time CPS Energy starts decommissioning the Deely coal plant (possibly 2018) natural gas may not be the go-to option for future power needs. Consider: Between 2010 and 2011 residential rooftops with solar panels shot from 38 to 300, he said, due, in part, to solar loans now being offered by San Antonio Credit Union and others.


Flour Power: Workers flex muscle at Guenther

A federal mediator may bring striking workers and management back to the table this week, two weeks after about 100 workers walked out on strike on April 25 to protest a rise in health insurance rates at C.H. Guenther & Son’s Pioneer Flour Mills. “After so many years of substandard insurance, now they want to give them the prime insurance, so it’s going to cost `workers` a bunch,” said Paul Cruz, trustee for Teamsters Local 657. “It’s just too much out-of-pocket for these employees at the rates they’re at now.”

Steve Phillips, vice president of support services for Pioneer, has been in the middle of the contract negotiations from the beginning. He said the increase in health insurance rates is mostly offset by 50-cent raises, but would ultimately cost workers about $4 per week. “They’ll be getting four dollars less a week, but, again, they’re getting a substantially better plan,” he said.

For now, striking workers have set up shop on South Alamo, taking turns holding “honk” signs from the sidewalk. Supportive “tooting” drivers have inspired more than a few complaints to the San Antonio Police Department, Cruz said, but the strikers have been found to be within the law.

Neither side was overly optimistic about the arrival of the mediator. Cruz said that health insurance rates for 2012 couldn’t be predicted and the company would not make any agreement about future cost increases. Phillips was skeptical over efforts at “shuttle diplomacy.” The last strike at Guenther occurred in 1966 when members demanded a nickel raise.


Tobin Center protest as County breaks ground

A small group protested outside Municipal Auditorium Tuesday morning as prominent city and county leaders broke ground on a new multi-million dollar performing arts center, slated for construction atop the existing structure.

Protestors insisted the auditorium, built in 1926, has a long and rich history that deserves preserving. Emma Tenayuca, a labor rights champion who led the pecan-shellers’ strikes in the 1930s, sparked a riot outside the building in 1939 when then-mayor Maury Maverick approved her Communist rally inside the auditorium. While Maverick insisted it was a matter of free speech rights, throngs of San Antonians felt otherwise, storming the auditorium and forcing Tenayuca and others to escape through an underground passageway.

Tenayuca’s niece, San Antonio attorney Sharyll Teneyuca (same blood, slightly different spelling), recalled the story with pride, saying, “The architecture of that building, those passages, are tied to her story. … This building tells her fight for labor rights and civil rights.”

Teneyuca and about a dozen gathered object to plans to turn the auditorium into the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, plans they say would preserve only the façade of the original building — façadomy, if you will. Bexar County voters approved $100 million for the construction of a performing arts center in 2008, but Teneyuca insists that plan never mentioned the demolition of Municipal Auditorium. “They shouldn’t be calling it a renovation. That’s just not accurate,” she claimed, saying she and others may launch a legal challenge against any new construction.

San Antonio Conservation Society President Rollette Schreckenghost, who attended (not protested) the groundbreaking, seemed resigned to a loss. “We’ve met with the big guys. They know we don’t want that building demolished, but we’ve been told over and over again that’s just not going to happen,” she said. The Conservation Society is now trying to save the “Municipal Auditorium” lettering on the façade, she said, though even that has so far proved unsuccessful.

It’s all sounding eerily similar to the City’s handling of the Broadway drainage, where plans that sold the public on the 2010 bond vote were scrapped as soon as city engineers claimed to have found a cheaper way to reduce flooding at Broadway and Hildebrand (and that by dumping into the San Antonio River’s headwaters). No one said progress was pretty, eh Scully? Judge David Berchelmann sided with the River Road Neighborhood Association and Headwaters Coalition in their request for an injunction on Tuesday.

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