We started seeing signs for "ecolab services" and similar PR-approved company signs as we drove into Tilden, Texas. As we turned the corner toward Choke Canyon State Park I said to Mary, "I thought this was a sleepy cow town last time we were here," but several hundred yards later, seeing muddy tanker trucks, oil field equipment, and cheap RV parks it became obvious: fracking!
This man camp, one of many for oil field workers, was the first clue.
Next door were several muddy lots filled with workers’ RVs.
We were just disgusted at what we saw in the next twelve miles – flaring smokestacks, security checkpoints on every dirt road, anda highway laden with muddy pickups and tractor trailers and torn up by the heavy traffic. Here’s how an article by Bryan Mealer in Texas Monthly describes the drive:
As I hooked east and joined Texas Highway 72, the main corridor through the Eagle Ford, the world was instantly transformed. The once quiet two-lane road was as furious as a Los Angeles freeway. A tanker truck slid up behind me, lights flashing, then jerked its load into the opposing lane to pass. It barely made the distance, forcing an oncoming pickup into the grass to avoid a collision. I stepped on the gas to keep from being run over and soon I was rocketing along at 85 miles per hour, amid a convoy of semis and tractor-trailers, all of us shrouded in a haze of road dust.
I began to notice the gas flares burning over the tops of the mesquite trees. Drilling rigs appeared every couple of miles, some far away, others pressed against the barbed-wire fences that lined the road. They seemed a product of science fiction, both beautiful and barbaric, like battleships turned on end. Each was festooned with Texas and American flags and surrounded by a ring of air-conditioned trailers. Billboards shouted at me from the sides of the road: “Mineral Acquisitions!” “Frack Water for Sale!” “Packers Plus: The Leader in Open-Hole Multi-Stage Fracturing.” “Hit by a Semi? Call 1-888-277-HURT.”
If we had had options, we might of kept going but fortunately, the state park is an oasis in this environmental madness.
We can see a dozen or more waste gas stacks off in the distance from our campsite. We are sitting on the Eagle Ford Formation, an area of porous shale rock 50 miles wide and 400 miles in length. Some local folks have made many millions, others pay more for the every day items they need.
It’s school break and many families are here. I met a guy from West Texas in the shower room and we talked a bit while he waited for his wife. When I mentioned Vermont, he asked me how construction workers handle the snow and cold. After explaining about closing in work early, finding interior jobs, or collecting unemployment and going ice fishing or snowmobiling (yes, I said that) I asked him if he was a carpenter. He told me that he was an oil driller, working in the other big shale field, and said "Sir, we go all day and night regardless of weather."
His wife came out and we talked about how important is was for them to take time to go camping with their kids, to ditch the electronic games, to hike and fish, play board games, get dirty.
It was a conversation I could have, and have had with young parents in Vermont. This wiry little driller and his born again wife were delightful and made me realize that there are pluses and minuses to fracking. He’s gone for days but working hard, making good money. And worried about his job. The boom rush is tenuous – last winter many were laid off as the oil companies regrouped.
With oil prices continuing to drop, this whole black gold rush may come to a screeching halt in the near future. Our kids and grandkids will likely end up paying for the environmental cleanup.