Fracking comes to my back yard

Sometime in the wee hours I woke up to an unfamiliar sound. At first I thought it was the furnace malfunctioning, but walking around the house I realized it came from outside. It sounded vaguely like the highway noise we occasionally hear from I-35E, but it was too loud and too steady, with occasional pounding sounds. Certain that nothing was wrong with the house I went back to bed, but when I awoke this morning the sound was still there, still loud, still annoying.

I stepped out on the patio and looked toward South Lakes park, where I had recently seen some drilling rigs on the Acme Brick property on the other side of the park. The rigs were gone but the noise appeared to come from there.

Source: Denton Gas Well Sites (markup is mine)

Bill and I decided to take advantage of the 65 degree weather and walk the dog at the park. Sure enough, the roaring noise was coming from the other side of a “sound barrier” around the gas well. I recorded it and uploaded it to my YouTube channel. I’m told what we’re hearing are probably the pressure pumps and the diesel engines that run them.

This is a lovely park, with a popular jogging and bike trail as well as natural areas abundant with wildlife. We’ve seen wild turkeys there. People eat the fish from the well-stocked lakes. The nearby McMath Middle School students use the park and jogging path for sports and PE classes. Their football team practices near the well. An apartment complex backs up to the property very near to another well.

Later, while watching the Kentucky basketball game with the volume quite loud I could still hear the noise, so I stepped out on the patio to record it. It’s appropriate to mention that, based on Google Maps, this drill pad is about 3,000 feet from my house. That’s at least half a mile.

My Fracking Evolution

I lived in Houston for 18 years and even worked in the energy industry. I’ve always been a fan of natural gas because it is the cleanest burning fossil fuel and can be extracted from the ground with minimal environmental impact.


Or so I thought when I moved to Denton in 2005 and heard lots of complaining about “fracking.” We live over the Barnett Shale, and gas wells were popping up in downtown Fort Worth and Arlington, and all around Denton County and Denton. My reaction to all the complaints was “Whiners. There are far worse things you could have in your back yard than a gas well.” And that’s true in places like Houston where the gas is formed in pockets in the earth or salt domes. But extracting shale gas from the ground is very different, and it’s taken me a few years to learn about it. Still, I considered it somebody else’s problem.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process by which gas, trapped in shale, is removed from the ground and brought to the surface. This is done by pumping water, sand and chemicals into the well to break up the shale and free the gas. Contamination of groundwater, air emissions, re-injection of drilling waste and earthquakes are among the concerns of people living in drilling areas. And right now, 9 out of 10 gas wells in the United States involve fracking, according to an article by ProPublica.

Gas drilling is so pervasive in our area that the Denton Record-Chronicle, in partnership with Mayborn School of Journalism graduate students, produced an award-winning series called “Citizens of the Shale” in 2012. It focused on the people affected by the industry, the regulatory climate, and other issues. It’s worth the time to read it.

Before gas wells started sprouting around town the biggest polluter in town was Acme Brick, which supplies more than a third of the Toxic Release Inventory emissions in Denton County. Their compliance has improved, thanks to installation of new scrubbers on their stacks several years ago ahead of an enforcement schedule.

Photo (c) David Minton, Denton Record-Chronicle

While Acme Brick appears to be doing its part to be a good neighbor, the driller on their property, Eagle Ridge, apparently has not. A recent blog highlighted issues faced by a neighborhood near an EagleRidge site adjacent to the UNT campus. While writing this blog I found other blogs and blog posts dedicated to the drilling issue in Denton, which at one time imposed a moratorium on gas drilling. There’s even a blog post about the well that woke me up this morning. Recently the city council has been inconsistent in the messages it sends via votes, such as this recent zoning change that could allow houses as close as 250 feet from wells. It’s enough to make your head spin.

All Fracked Up?

There’s too much to say about this dilemma in one short blog post. I’ve passively watched it play out, and while I was quoted in a Denton Record-Chronicle article by Peggy Heinkle-Wolfe and Lowell Brown about unscrupulous public relations practices by the fracking industry, I really wasn’t paying much attention to the issue.

Until I was awakened by roaring and thumping in the wee hours of a Saturday morning.

This won’t be my last post on this topic.

Blogs I am now following:

TXSharon BlueDaze Drilling Reform blog includes an incredible list of blogs and resources on this topic.
Denton Drilling is a local blog by a UNT professor who also writes for Slate.
City Councilman Kevin Roden’s blog often covers gas drilling issues.
Denton Citizens for Responsible Urban Drilling has a great blog and possibly the best acronym (DCRUD) ever.
Denton Drilling Awareness Group has an informative website.
Shale Stories by Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, reporter for the Denton Record-Chronicle.
Barnett Shale blog by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Fracking uses a lot of water, so I’ve bookmarked the Texas Drought Project.

Warm Fruit Soup and The Better Part

Last night I joined a couple hundred ladies for a short “women’s conference” at my church. I really didn’t want to be there—I’m still grading papers, even at the end of spring break, laundry is undone and the house is a shambles—but the title was “Mary or Martha? Responding to Christ in Your Life.”

I had to go.
Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, Vermeer, 1654.
For those not familiar with the story, Martha and Mary of Bethany were sisters of Lazarus and friends of Jesus. Their story, told in the Gospel of Luke (10:38-42) involves Martha, who is busy preparing dinner and being a hostess, and her sister Mary (not the mother of Jesus), sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to his message. When Martha complains that Mary isn’t helping, Jesus gently points out that those details don’t matter, that Mary has chosen the better part.
Most modern women have a Martha complex. We want everything to be neat, orderly, clean, and perfect. We want to entertain in style and provide a gracious home for our families and guests. We plan, and we’re annoyed when plans blow up. We struggle to balance these desires with jobs, volunteer work, and perhaps marriage and/or motherhood.  The Martha/Mary story does not seem to resonate with men. It’s a girl thing.
So, what does this have to do with fruit soup?
The leader of the conference was a fellow parishioner named Andrea. She is the mother of 9 kids, and one awesome woman. She shared a number of stories about trying to live a Mary life in a Martha world, and her failures along with her successes were an inspiration.  But the story that stuck with me was the one about warm fruit soup.
Andrea is active in the Schoenstattmovement, a Marian mission started in Germany in 1914. She told a story related in a book by the founder of the movement, Father Joseph Kentenich. A young girl entered the novitiate at a convent in northern Germany. At the first meal, a bowl of warm fruit soup was placed in front of her. This was not anything she was used to eating, but the nun sitting next to her said she didn’t need to eat it. However, the mother superior was seated on the other side of her, and she said “You will be brave.”
Andrea challenged us to look for the examples of the “warm fruit soup” in our lives, and to overcome inner resistance and aversion to the unfamiliar. All of us who are “Marthas” want to have control of our lives, so we often resist change. What we need to do is find the courage to direct the emotions and passions we’re feeling in the right direction. If we connect our aversions to something we love, we can overcome them.
In the past week I’ve had to deal with coming home to a smoky, smelly mess in my kitchen which is still unexplained. Alzheimer’s hubby couldn’t tell me why my prized LeCreuset roasting plan was a blackened hulk, full of ash and the remains of a zipper, on the stove. At least the house didn’t burn down. Dear friends showed up to rescue the evening with awesome carryout from The Bowllery and a bottle of wine. Later that evening I hid the stove knobs and the oven knobs—we’ve had a few near misses there, too.
When I decided to cook on the stovetop a few days later, I turned on the stove and realized it doesn’t work anymore. It will get things warm, not hot.
Great, another thing to fix—another credit card bill.
We’ve had some power surges, and I’m guessing we have an electrical problem in the kitchen. I just pray the house doesn’t burn down before I figure out what it is and find the money to fix it.
The upside? I am now an expert at cooking noodles in the microwave.
Andrea’s fruit soup story has become a mantra in less than 24 hours. I even have a Post-it note over the bathroom mirror with “Warm Fruit Soup” written on it, to remind me to be brave and to decide what’s really worth getting worked up about, and what can be ignored.  Dipping into something new doesn’t have to be unpleasant or scary. It’s up to me to control my emotions, especially my response to them.
So the papers aren’t graded, there are too many shoes and books laying around the house, the yard looks like hell and the laundry isn’t folded. That’s OK. Like Martha, I’m trying to find the better part, to figure out what’s really important, and to pick my battles. To be more like her sister Mary.
And while we’re at it, here’s a German recipe for warm fruit soup that looks really interesting.

A Denton seminarian’s account of the new Pope’s introduction to the world

Below is a message from Joe Keating. Many of you might remember him as the former Youth Minister at St Mark Catholic Church. He is now in Seminary in Rome. Read his exciting account of all that happened Wednesday, March 13:

Dear Friends and Family,

This email started off as an update, and soon became a novel. What follows is an account of the events of yesterday from my point of view. If you have time to read it all, I hope that you will feel like you were there too. I carry all of you in my prayers, especially at joyful times such as these.

White Smoke

Yesterday began as an ordinary day, with Mass and seminary classes in the morning. After third hour, most of us made our way over to St. Peter’s square to watch the smoke come from the chimney at noon. But as I approached the square at about 10 minutes till noon, there were already crowds streaming away from the piazza. I asked someone, “did the smoke already go up?” “Sì, è nera,” he said. I was kind of shocked that it was early, but thankful that I didn’t miss the white smoke. 

My afternoon seminar was cancelled, so a few of us from my hall went back to the Square at 5:00 to pray and watch for potential white smoke after the first afternoon ballot. We prayed a rosary and sang a litany of the saints and a Marian hymn. It was raining on and off, but the Square was still packed with people (47% of whom were reporters :P). I can only imagine what the forest of umbrellas must have looked like from above! At 6:00 we rushed back to the College for Evening Prayer, then rushed straight back to the Square to see the smoke at 7:00.

White smoke from the Sistine Chape. (c) Boston Globe

At that point, many of us were expecting another round of black smoke. Thursday was the day I was betting on, and some were saying it would be Saturday or even sometime next week. After having seen the black smoke on Tuesday evening, I knew that there would be an initial puff of grayish smoke, followed by billowing black. I was chatting with my classmates when the smoke emerged at around 7:05. My thoughts went in rapid succession a little like this: “Oh, here comes the smoke… it’s gray now, but it’s going to be black… ok, it’s still not black… it’s not turning black… is it white? White smoke??!! WE GOT WHITE SMOKE!! OH YEAH!! HABEMUS PAPAM, BABY!! 

Vatican News Service photo

Anticipation and Announcement

At this point, everyone was cheering, shouting, and basically stampeding towards the front of the square. The umbrella forest became a dense jungle canopy. In the chaos of the crowd, I somehow managed to end up in a small group of NAC seminarians, well in front of the obelisk and about 30 yards from the front barricades. The giant bells of St. Peter’s began to ring, and the commotion intensified–you could just feel the anticipation in the air. It continued to rain lightly, and I strained to snap a few pictures of the white smoke, the bells, and the crowd. My classmates and I were buzzing about the new pope, but we really had absolutely no new information. We started guessing what his new name would be… Paul VII? John XXIV? Pius XIII? Leo? Someone we’ve never heard of? At least nobody guessed Peter II.

Those 45 minutes went by in a flash, but the next 15 were an eternity. The rain slowed, then stopped. The umbrella jungle vanished. Then we began to see signs of movement. The lights on the loggia came on, and the people cheered. There was a rustle of the curtains, and the people cheered. Someone thought they saw a shadow, and the people cheered. It was like they were teasing us! Finally, the windows swung open, and the cardinal stepped out, announcing a message of great joy: habemus papam! He announced his birth name and his new name in Latin, then retreated back inside. The reaction from the crowd was not what I expected. Up to now, every little thing made the crowd erupt in cheers, but this time, all I heard was hushed murmuring all around. In dozens of different languages, everyone seemed to be collectively thinking, “what did he say? Bergoglio? who is that?” A single word passed my lips: “Francis.” Our Holy Father is Francis.

My friends quickly pulled out their smartphones and desperately tried to find some webpage, Wikipedia page, Facebook page, anything to let us know who he is. It was no use; the cell towers couldn’t handle the number of phones in the piazza. My classmate jokingly remarked, “It’s definitely a first-world problem that I can’t update my Facebook status right now.” Then we tried to recall whether there had been a pope Francis. I could have sworn that there was, but I must have been thinking of the handful of Franciscan popes we have had through the years. So, Francis the first… immediately I recalled the words St. Francis of Assisi heard from the Lord, “Francis, rebuild my Church, which has fallen into ruin.” A great sense of hope, joy, and zeal washed over me. This Pope’s leadership will shape my priestly ministry.

The Holy Father Emerges

As Pope Francis stepped out onto the balcony, the crowd, as expected, erupted. I couldn’t see the jumbotron over the crowd, so I just stared up at the balcony as he began to speak. “Cari fratelli e sorelle, buona sera!” Another eruption of cheers. His first request, “Before I give you my blessing, I would ask that you pray for me.” Then came the din of a million people in complete silence. “For fortitude… for faithfulness,” I prayed. He gave us his Apostolic Blessing and bid us good night and rest well. He must not have slept a wink last night.

Vatican News Service Photo

Back at the College

We returned to the College and immediately did what Pope Francis asked: we solemnly exposed the Blessed Sacrament for adoration and began to sing hymns and pray for him. After our prayers and a quick bite to eat came a scene that I will not soon forget. By now, the American media had arrived in the building, and the cardinals were on their way. The whole seminary community lined the halls and waited for the cardinals’ homecoming. The scene quickly turned into a pep-rally/victory party atmosphere, with raucous cheers and chants you would expect in a football stadium. Our two Jesuit faculty members, Fr. Herrera and Fr. Hurley, tried to hide in the back of the crowd, but they were quickly thrown into the center of the cheering seminarians to shouts of HE–RRE–RA! and FA–ther HUR–ley! clap-clap, clap-clap-clap. You know the one. I can only imagine what was going through the media’s minds as they heard the shouts echoing through the halls. They must have been perplexed by our celebration–“shouldn’t they be disappointed that an American didn’t win?” Quite the contrary. We have a pope. He is the vicar of Christ, who is the head of His body, the Church. He is the visible sign that the Church will endure forever and for all ages. 

Then the cardinals finally arrived–Dolan first. “DO-LAN! DO-LAN!” we cheered. You would have thought he was the one elected pope. You see, he is a former Rector of the North American College, so the exuberant welcome had a real feeling of homecoming for us all. Then one by one, the others came through… Rigali, Wuerl, DiNardo, George, Mahoney. They filed down the halls and towards the media, who were waiting to interview them in various rooms in the College. 

The celebration continued into the night, and everyone exchanged stories on what they had heard about our new Holy Father. A former Jesuit, a humble man, a life of radical poverty, an Argentine… In the end, we knew that God has provided us with a good shepherd. A new chapter now begins in this great adventure. Please pray for our new Pope, Francis. And if you ever get to visit Rome, you can join with the cheers of faithful from around the world, “FRAN–CES–CO! FRAN–CES–CO!”

Yours in Christ,

Joe Keating

"Little D" is Denton, Texas

If you’re of a certain age you can remember watching what I seem to remember was the Captain Kangaroo Show when they did a song about Dallas that went “BIG D! Little a, double l-a-s!” I can still remember that routine, even though I watched it on my parents’ fuzzy black and white TV long before Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon.

Today I’m living in the town I affectionately refer to as “little D,” Denton, Texas, the third point in the triangle that includes Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton.

I grew up in a small town–Winchester, Kentucky–and while I’ve lived in a number of large towns since then (Indianapolis, Riyadh, Houston) I’ve found Denton to be just about perfect for me. For one thing, it’s close enough to both Dallas and Fort Worth to get there in a timely manner when either business or pleasure calls. Being the media junkie that I am, there are plenty of online, on-air and on-paper news sources. And when I need to shop in person instead of online, the options in both cities are endless, as well as the dining and arts opportunities.

What is most appealing to me is that Denton is neither Dallas nor Fort Worth. One-upsmanship isn’t the game here, and neither is old money. Denton is a college town, but it isn’t defined by the two fine universities here. It’s not exclusively a bedroom community, either. It’s where two freeways (I-35 E and I-35 W) meet or diverge (depending on your perspective) as part of the Pan-American Highway, and that geographic detail almost defines the two major cities the freeways run through. Each is so different it’s hard to believe they’re in the same state, much less so close together.

In Denton we have wonderful arts opportunities, especially if you like opera and classical music. The town that gave the world Brave Combo and the One O’Clock Jazz Band also has a thriving live music scene. The historic town square, which in so many towns is a tourist trap of cutesy shops and “antique” malls, is frequented by the locals who genuinely enjoy the wine bar, ice cream parlor, coffee shop and restaurants interspersed between interesting businesses. A pleasant summer evening in downtown Denton often includes dining at an excellent restaurant, strolling around to Beth Marie’s for an ice cream, and wrapping up at Wine Squared with a glass of vino or beer and great conversation with whomever dropped by.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Guanajuato, Mexico, and find it similar to Denton. About the same size, the two towns are university towns, quiet, safe and friendly. There are lots of arts activities, and in the evenings, people gather in the square to chat and enjoy an evening with family and friends. Americans have forgotten how to really relax, but not in Denton.

On weekends my husband and I enjoy bicycling. From our house we can, in less than 15 minutes, be cycling on country roads among rolling hills and horse ranches that remind me of rural central Kentucky. We can ride for miles, stopping at country stores and restaurants for refreshment, and not be threatened by the many bicycle-haters in cars and trucks on the road. The people are friendly and helpful, and happy to see people out enjoying the countryside.

Friends and colleagues in Dallas and Fort Worth are constantly asking me if I mind driving into town for a meeting, lunch or social event. Not at all. I’d even gladly make the commute daily for the right job. When DART gets the Green Line to Carrolton open, that commute will get even easier. In the meantime, I’m always happy to come home to my quiet home in “little D.”

So I’ve titled this blog “The view from Little D” because while I’m up here away from the cacophony of the huge metropolitan area, I’m not out of touch. I love the vibrancy of the big urban area, but I’m glad I don’t have to live there 24/7. I’m just kicked back and relaxing, looking at the stars (which you can really see in Denton) and thinking this is the place to be.

Now you know that “Little D” is close, but oh so far away from “Big D.”

(c) Samra Jones Bufkins, 3/2/2009.