The QueQue: Children’s climate crusade, Intelligent design on the march, Principals are the real school bullies?, A lot of frackin’ water

Texas Water Development Board estimates for the oilfield ‘fracking’ of South Texas’ Eagle Ford shale. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Texas Water Development Board estimates for the oilfield ‘fracking’ of South Texas’ Eagle Ford shale.

Children’s climate crusade

Commissioners with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality uniformly (3-0) rejected a petition by a (adult-aided) children’s movement calling on the state to take action on climate change, but watch for an appeal to hit this week.

The petition led by Kids vs. Global Warming, founded by a 12-year-old Californian, and Our Children’s Trust argues that Texas — the most greenhouse-gas polluting state in the nation — has the responsibility to interrupt and dampen dangerous changes in the global climate underway — changes “to be felt most by today’s young people and the unborn … people who have no possibility of protecting their own rights and their future well-being.”

The group specifically requested that the state adopt a greenhouse-gas reduction plan and begin reducing its total contribution by 6 percent per year by 2013.

On June 27, TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw wrote that the state has a fundamental disagreement with the EPA over “how, or if” greenhouse gases should be regulated. He argues that changes in one state, or a collection of states, did not have the power to affect climate change. Thus, we are left to extrapolate: combating climate change is a hopeless endeavor.

San Antonio has not taken the same position. Our revitalized push for clean (greenhouse-gas free) energy under Mayor Julián Castro and CPS Energy CEO Doyle Beneby includes plans to close our dirtiest coal plant, while purchasing power from a proposed “clean” coal plant to be built outside Odessa. But how tied the Summit Power project is to the effective elimination of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is unclear. Summit plans on capturing more than 90 percent of its CO2 to sell to oil companies to use in teasing up remaining oil reserves in declining wells. However, with Republicans in Congress seeking to dismantle the little progress that has been made on climate policy, it could ultimately be left to CPS and Summit how seriously to treat the carbon disposal.


Intelligent design on the march

It would seem Texas and Chuck Darwin are just not cut out for each other. As the State Board of Education goes into a fresh round of meetings, they are led by new Perry-appointee Barbara Cargill. And the religious-right watchdog group Texas Freedom Network lost no time outing her for stoking the fires of division on the board. In a videotaped address before a Texas Eagle Forum this month, TFN noted, Cargill questioned the faith and politics of her fellow board members, insisting she was one of only “six true conservative Christians on the board.”

Cargill takes the lead as the SBOE decides this week on supplemental science materials for public schools. Cargill, herself a longtime science teacher, pushed in 2009 to nominate an outside intelligent-design creationist to the board’s science standards review panel, helping introduce language pointing out the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution into classroom material. While Democrats and moderate Republicans on the board voted against the language, Cargill and the board’s social-conservative block managed to water down textbooks’ focus on evolution.

And the effort to further dilute the teaching of evolution in Texas schools is still on the march. The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, itself at the forefront of the anti-evolution movement, has emailed SBOE members its own 71-page “evaluation” of the proposed standards before this week’s meetings, hoping to influence the new materials, saying they still aren’t critical enough of evolution.


Principals are the real school bullies?

This may explain why so many of us in San Antonio release ourselves of our own recognizance … A study by the Council of State Governments blames heavy-handed discipline in Texas schools for lower graduation rates and an increased chance for students to wind up in the criminal justice system. The sweeping six-year study released Tuesday found that nearly 60 percent of Texas students face either suspension or expulsion at least once during their middle- and high-school years.

Two of the study’s supporters, Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire, who chairs the state’s Criminal Justice Committee, and Texas Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson say the study, possibly the most comprehensive of its kind, exposes an educational system that criminalizes students for simply misbehaving. “We should ask whether teachers and principals, rather than police officers and judges, are best suited to discipline kids who commit minor infractions,” Jefferson said in a prepared release.

The study points out various inequities in how students are punished across Texas schools, showing that minority students are far more likely to face those severe consequences than their white counterparts. Special-education students are also more likely to face serious discipline.

Only 3 percent of those suspended or expelled were punished for conduct in which the state mandates the serious penalty, the study found. The rest of those facing severe discipline did so at the discretion of local school officials.

Only 40 percent of students disciplined 11 times or more graduated from high school during the study, and 31 percent disciplined one or more times had to repeat a grade at least once.

The study also found that once suspended or expelled, a student becomes three times as likely to wind up in the juvenile justice system in the following years.


A lot of frackin’ water

Today’s 37,000 acre-feet of water (12 billion gallons) used to frack deep shale formations across the state for oil and gas should climb to a staggering 120,000 acre-feet (39.1 billion gallons) somewhere between 2020 and 2030, according to a recent report by the Texas Water Development Board. And, despite promises from industry and the state’s regulators that broad recycling programs could ease much of the water pinch, the report states that — at best — only about 20 percent of that water could ever be recycled for reuse.

Changes in South Texas prodded a serious modification in the report’s water-use projections. As early as last month, the Current reported that the board’s estimated water use would peak in 2031 with 32,000 acre-feet of water needed per year. However, final projections for the Eagle Ford shale region across much of South Texas have now spiked as high as 45,000 acre-feet (14.6 billion gallons) at peak production — which is now expected to hit seven years earlier, in 2024.

Industry insiders and regulators are finally starting to realize the possibility for trouble as fracking continues to siphon off more and more water each year. At a conference last week reported by the San Angelo Standard-Times, Stephan Ingram, technology manager for Halliburton, admitted, “We use a lot of water. We need to figure out a way to utilize less of it.” Leslie Savage, chief geologist for the Texas Railroad Commission said, “Frankly, in my opinion, it is not the well casing, it is not the hydraulic fracturing chemicals that are a problem in hydraulic fracturing. It is the use of water, particularly in drought.”

And once production peaks, don’t expect an immediate decline in water use. New fields could possibly ramp up at that point, according to the Water Development Board’s report, meaning that “water use, instead of decreasing after the peak of ~120 thousand AF would stay at that level or possibly higher for a longer period of time.” •

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