Opinion

Texas Lt. Governor runoff - Dan Patrick                    Ryan Sitton

By guest writer Ryan Sitton

Headlines proclaiming that oil and gas drilling are directly linked to earthquakes in North Texas have been dominating energy news this week. You might even have read a few:
• EPA: North Texas earthquakes likely linked to oil and gas drilling
• EPA links oil and gas drilling to Texas quakes
• EPA tells railroad commission that fracking is causing earthquakes in North Texas
• EPA sees link between fracking and earthquakes
• Fracking and earthquakes linked, EPA tells Texas, in rebuke of state rules
None of those headlines is accurate.
On August 15, the federal environmental protection agency published an end-of-year evaluation of the Texas underground injection control program administered by the state’s railroad commission.
The program controls the way in which wastewater from oil and gas activity is injected into underground disposal wells in nonproducing porous rock formations.
One sentence in the 61-page document forms the basis of the inaccurate headlines above:
“In light of findings from several researchers, its own analysis of some cases and the fact that earthquakes in some areas diminished following shut-in or reduced injection volume in targeted wells, EPA believes there is a significant possibility that north-Texas earthquake activity is associated with disposal wells.”
It is true that in a small number of cases with the right set of conditions – disposal wells located in close proximity to critically stressed faults that are properly oriented – disposal wells can cause earthquakes.
However, despite the clear language in the EPA report that disposal wells, and not other oil and gas activities, might be correlated to seismicity, the public has been misled to believe that hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and drilling cause earthquakes. The media need to be more accurate when they report highly technical news.
To be clear, drilling for oil or gas does not cause earthquakes. Drilling is as simple as it sounds – the act of boring a hole into the ground to reach the oil below.
It is a widely known fact in the scientific community, including the EPA and the US geological survey, that drilling and fracking do not typically produce the amount of pressure necessary to cause a felt seismic event.
At present, we cannot definitively say that there is or is not a direct causal relationship between disposal wells and earthquakes in Texas. It is absolutely possible – and that is why we at the railroad commission are studying it and have taken concrete steps to strengthen our disposal-well rules.
In fact, in its report, the EPA recognized the commission’s diligence in ensuring that the environment and the public are protected during disposal operations in Texas, stating:
• “These values reflect an outstanding enforcement monitoring program”;
• “The RRC testing and surveillance program exceeds the testing requirement”; and
• “The RRC is also commended for establishing new regulations specific to seismicity, including solidifying RRC authority to take appropriate action related to injection-well operations”.
In regard to the seismic activity in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 2015, the EPA recommended “the close monitoring of injection activity through daily recording and reporting of accurate injection pressures and volumes from area disposal wells”.
The railroad commission already does that and will continue to do so. The EPA report ultimately validates what we are doing at the commission to ensure public and environmental safety.
As an engineer with 20 years’ experience in oil and gas and, as a railroad commissioner, it’s my job to make sure that the 27 million people of our state are accurately informed about the energy industry and feel confident in the methods by which our oil and gas is being produced.
Fear tactics and attention-grabbing headlines don’t serve anyone and it’s important that Texans know that the very same industry putting thousands of people to work, millions of dollars into our schools and roads and money into our economy, is the same one working to keep them and their environment safe.
Ryan Sitton, one of three Texas railroad commissioners, is a mechanical engineer who lives in Friendswood.

Editor’s note: You can find the reports behind the five media headlines online through the links included in our electronic version of this article below.

Where to read the disputed reports

THE REPORTS to which railroad commissioner Ryan Sitton refers in his guest column are all online and can be found at:

EPA: North Texas earthquakes likely linked to oil and gas drilling:
texastribune.org/2016/08/22/epa-north-takes-quakes-likely-linked-oil-and-gas-a

EPA links oil and gas drilling to Texas quakes:
thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/292248-epa-drilling-operations-behind-texas-quakes

EPA tells railroad commission that fracking is causing earthquakes in North Texas:
sacurrent.com/the-daily/archives/2016/08/23/epa-tells-railroad-commission-that-fracking-is-causing-earthquakes-in-north-texas

EPA sees link between fracking and earthquakes:
courthousenews.com/2016/08/23/epa-sees-link-between-fracking-earthquakes.htm

Fracking and earthquakes linked, EPA tells Texas, in rebuke of state rules:
districtsentinel.com/fracking-earthquakes-linked-e-p-tells-texas-rebuke-state-rules


A question of cause and effect

By Ian White

CONCERNED about commissioner Sitton’s accusations against members of our profession, The Post has examined the coverage of the EPA report to which he alludes.
We found that, of the five headlines cited in his article, three were from original internet reports and the other two were posted on websites that had repeated the information from one of the original publications.
The three original reports appeared in the online news sites Texas Tribune on Monday, August 22, and San Antonio Current and California-based Courthouse News one day later.
The two websites to republish the information included in the Texas Tribune report were Washington-based The Hill and District Sentinel.
We read all five reports, starting with Jim Malewitz’s Texas Tribune account as it was published first of the five. As well as citing the EPA report, Malewitz interviewed an oil-and-gas industry attorney and the director of lobby group Environment Texas and also cited references to five previous Tribune articles about north-Texas earthquakes and their possible link to the industry’s subterranean activities.
The report seemed balanced and lacking in histrionics, but did its evidence support its headline? We believe it did, especially as the headline contains its own caveat in its inclusion of the word “likely”.
We then contacted Malewitz, who said: “My story was not based on ‘one line’ of an EPA report, as Sitton wrote.”
He added: “I agree that journalists should understand the science on which they report. My story accurately described the question at hand – do oilfield waste injections have something to do with a surge of earthquakes in north Texas?
“The EPA concluded ‘There is a significant possibility’, citing its own case studies and other independent research.”
He referred us to the entire passage quoted from the EPA report, which the Tribune has published online at static.texastribune.org/media/documents/EPAreviewRRC.pdf.
In that passage, the “one sentence” about which Sitton complains is immediately preceded by: “[Railroad commission] representatives have publicly indicated that available scientific data do not sufficiently support a causal relationship between class II waste disposal wells in north Texas and recorded earthquakes.”
Reading the two sentences together, it is clear that the second expresses EPA disagreement with the commission in that respect, but has the public “been misled to believe” that fracking and drilling cause earthquakes, as Sitton charges?
The answer would appear to hinge on whether one regards “fracking and drilling” as an exercise devoid of any relationship with wastewater disposal wells.
The wastewater is, in fact, a byproduct of oil-and-gas extraction including both standard drilling and fracking, which involves injecting fluids into subterranean porous rock to force the oil and gas it contains to rise to the surface.
To dispose of the wastewater, it is injected back into the rock, a practice that could similarly cause fractures in the rock.
Clearly, while Sitton appears to argue that extraction and disposal are not related – “the clear language in the EPA report that disposal wells, and not other oil and gas activities, might be correlated to seismicity” – there is a cause-and-effect association that leads us to hold that, indeed, they are.
For that reason, it does not seem unreasonable to record the EPA report as discussing the possibility of fracking-associated activities causing nearby low-strength earthquakes. Unfortunately, the San Antonio Current headline does go further, partly justifying Sitton’s distress, but the report beneath it is more measured and we believe that the tenor of the complete work fairly describes the disagreement between the EPA and the railroad commission.
In the best interests of journalistic transparency, we are happy to allow the commissioner to express his frustration in whichever way he feels appropriate. However, having examined both sides of the story, we advise our readers to be wary of semantics from one disagreeable party only and to evaluate the full debate before drawing conclusions on the merits of either view.

Ever since I was a toddler sitting on the knee of any one of my grandparents, I have always loved to listen to older people, especially those so long in the tooth that, whenever they look at younger companions, they instinctively think “Let me tell you a story”.
Grandad always had a rich tale to tell about his work as a lighterman on the river Thames in London – and it was even richer if he’d just made his way back from a long lunch at his favorite pub. My, how he could weave a picture of life before the Second World War.

GrandpaBoyOnKnee0702_M_150_B_R
Gran, too, was more than capable of keeping my three sisters and me agog with awe at stories of the war itself, such as the time my yet-to-be aunt Dorothy left the couch inside the living-room window bay and sat at the piano on the far side of the room just as a flying bomb landed in the street outside, showering the sofa with shards of the window’s glass. Suck on that one, Hitler!
Gran and Grandad were my mother’s parents. Dad had only his mother, whom we four children differentiated from Mum’s mater by calling her Granny because, generally, her demeanor was far more austere than that of the ever-so-cuddly Gran.
Not that we loved Granny any the less and most certainly not because her stories were any the less riveting – in fact, Granny could keep us spellbound with swashbuckling accounts of life in the upper reaches of Egyptian society, where she had spent much of her early life as the daughter of one and, later, the wife of another English Army officer.
Granny had been chauffeured in fast open-top cars at a time when most people looked on the horseless carriage the way I now look at my Windows 10 computer – utterly befuddled by its technological magnificence and certainly incapable of driving it. Not only that – she spoke Arabic and French!
Could any child hope for a more varied grandparental education?
So here I am, all these years later, beginning to think my time as an awe-struck recipient of yarns of yesteryear must soon give way to the awkward silence that today’s youngsters seem to prefer when, ever so considerately, Veterans’ Day brings a host of storied folks of advancing age from out of the blue.
Regrettably, Dear Reader, we have far too few column inches to bring you every detail of the derring-do recounted by the likes of World War Two B17 bomber pilot Russ Reed and B24 flight commander Roger Brown, both of whom kept me and several other folks last week as we prepared to honor all of their ilk.
For me, that privilege is heightened by the fact that, among these wonderful senior citizens, I can number my father-in-law, to whom I often refer to in your company as an integral part of Ma2D2, being my second dad. He, too, was a WWII bomber pilot and, like those of Russ and Roger, the stories of his flying career are filled with love, laughter and so many other emotions.
Admittedly, whatever their age, the one thing all armed-forces veterans seem to have in common is that rarely do they dwell on the bravery inherent in their actions, but it is the observation of that reticence that reminds me so fondly of my grandparents whenever I settle in for a veteran’s tale.
Having been taught so well to listen keenly and to recognize the hidden nuance, the subtle import, the little wink and the wan gaze, the true sound of the sudden silence, I have had my zest for the magical wonders of vintage yarns by elderly company rekindled in large measure these past few days. Long may it continue.
Ian White is editor of The Post. Contact him at ian@thepostnewspaper.net.

With Veterans’ Day almost upon us, I have been giving much thought this week to the manner in which we will honor the men and women, most of them far too young, who face the prospect of death while defending the principles that we hold dear.
Strictly, Wednesday will be the day denoted for our annual expression of thanks to those armed-service members who have seen conflict and still survive. The day on which, officially at least, we recognize the sacrifice of those who have fallen in battle on behalf of this great nation and her allies is six months earlier each year.

HonorThoseServedTabHC1511_T_300_C_Y
I am also conscious that there is a third group of military personnel for whom, again officially, we have no specific day of recognition. I refer to those who proudly don their uniform every day of their service and go proudly about their duties but never see combat. If we abide by the letter of the meaning of Veterans’ Day, they do not qualify.
Serendipitously, however, the blurring of our traditions in paying homage to our soldiers, sailors and airmen is such that it is the spirit of the day that dominates. As a society, we spend the day commending all members of our armed forces, whether still serving or retired, whether experienced in front-line action or perpetually bound to a desk, and we do our utmost to immortalize those who have fallen, whether in service or since completing their military mission.
The fusion of all these different types of military personnel under one commemorative banner is an aspect of the day that I suspect few can explain and even fewer understand. Perhaps it’s because, while Veterans’ Day takes place in winter, thereby reminding us of life’s harsh realities, Memorial Day almost marks the beginning of summer, encouraging us to forget anything other than the pleasure of a family day out and an extra day off work.
Perhaps that’s a little skeptical, so could it be that there is an increasing consciousness in America that almost all of the rest of the free world regards November 11 as a day of remembrance, when serving military members help lead national tributes to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice on the battleground?
Originally, they did so to commemorate the end of the First World War, the conflict also known as the Great War and the war to end all wars, whose final shot was fired at 11:00am on November 11, 1918.
Now, that moment, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, is symbolic of the dreadfulness of all war and its observation is regarded by many as an annual admonition that we should go to conflict with the greatest of caution and reluctance.
For millions of people around the world, in offices, factories, shops, homes and even on the streets, at that instant they will spontaneously bow their heads in a moment’s silence to pay their respects to departed merit.
That we do things differently here is of no consequence other than its expression of values equally valid in their foundation and import. So, whatever the reason for our nation’s particular acknowledgement and however its observance, it seems entirely appropriate that we should include all members of all branches of our armed services, whether or not they have gone before, in Wednesday’s salute and I hope, Dear Reader, that you will welcome our dedication of that day’s edition to the fullest possible observation of Veterans’ Day.
Ian White is editor of The Post. Contact him at ian@thepostnewspaper.net.

Once again, it’s that time of the year when I develop a Sheldon-Cooper-esque feeling – that y’all love me but you have things to do that don’t include me.
Should you not instantly recognize the name Sheldon Cooper, Dear Reader, pray allow me to enlighten you. He’s the main character in television’s comedy The Big Bang Theory, to which The First Lady and I are currently addicted.
Sheldon is a real nerd, a doctor of philosophy with a phenomenal brain and absolutely no comprehension of social skill. TFL, who knows about these things, says he shows every sign of Asperger’s disorder, being “extremely high functioning” but with “poor pragmatics”.
OK, enough of the neurological dictionary already. To return to my point, the other characters in the show spend much of their time either ignoring theoretical physicist Dr Cooper’s delightfully anachronistic approach to life or avoiding him altogether, often leaving him oh-so-hilariously rapturous in his splendid isolation.
And, looking at it from his perspective, that’s how I’ll feel on Tuesday, when all y’all bunk off to the nearest polling station to cast your votes in this year’s fall election.
You see, I’m not complaining – I’m actually quite proud of the fact that, as a member of our society who does not have a vote, I can look upon America’s political spectrum with dependable neutrality, extolling praise and dishing out admonitions with equanimity to both sides of the partisan divide.
Admittedly, I do feel a sense of loss whenever Tiffle joins the heir to our estate and parents-in-law Ma2D2 to announce that they’re off to the polls to help determine the nation’s future. Maybe one day I’ll stump up a grand or so, take the oath and sign on for the right to join them but, impartiality being a highly prized cornerstone of my profession, I reckon I’ll wait a little longer yet.
In the meantime, though, I urge y’all to do all in your power to spend Tuesday away from my company, happily paying attention instead to whatever chads might be hanging out in your allotted polling booth and putting them smartly in their place. After all, there’s no point in going to all the trouble of voting only for some obscure technicality to render all your honest efforts totally void.
All I ask in addition is that you give every choice on the ballot paper your utmost consideration before selecting one for your mark of approval.
Think not what your vote can do for you but what it can do for your country, for your state, your county, your city or other local entity.
Remember, for example, that America’s future depends on the education that each generation passes to the next. Our children can’t all be Sheldon Cooper – thank goodness – but they’ll stand a much better chance of following him through the hallowed halls of higher education if y’all vote to spend whatever it takes to pay for the teaching and other vital services that your school district needs to properly prepare its students for college.
If it really pains you to do so, just take solace from the fact that you’ll be committing this particular Englishman to the same ideal.
What better argument for a little taxation to go with your representation!
Ian White is editor of The Post. Contact him at ian@thepostnewspaper.net.

Two particular events struck me with a sense of admiration this week and it suddenly occurred to me that it was because of rather than despite their very difference that I was inspired to bring them together in my consciousness.
The reason is partly that, while one should fill a good portion of America with unbridled joy but has a far greater chance of ending in grief, the other took grief by the throat and told it in no uncertain terms that it cannot equal true joy.
But a more immediate cause of their connection is a message employed on both occasions – an invocation to embrace unity in order to defeat adversity.
It might seem almost inconceivable, then, that I could hear one of the exhortations and, almost instantaneously, consign its chances of success to a virtual waste bin but listen to the other and feel it lift up my heart.
However, when you realize, Dear Reader, that the former was a politician’s call for party harmony while the latter was sage advice from a bereaved father, I trust you will allow me my peculiar combination of skepticism and hope.
The political cry came from Paul Ryan, a leading member of the Republican party who sits in the US house of representatives and, as the week began, was contemplating a bid to replace the outgoing John Boehner as speaker of the house.
Well aware that it was Boehner’s inability to gel the party’s moderate US representatives and those of other factions, most notably the far-right House Freedom caucus, the man from Wisconsin announced that he would stand for the job only if they would all sign up to GOP unity by endorsing his bid and agreeing to some specific conditions of office. My admiration was piqued.
By Thursday, it seemed Ryan’s demand had worked, as he announced that he will, indeed, contest the election for the speaker’s position. Surely, then, the nation should rejoice? And I do mean everyone in the nation, whatever their political stripe, for it has been the rift in the Republican party that has prevented Boehner leading an effective national legislature these past few years.
But, far from enjoying the sweet aroma of success for Ryan, I now smell a huge rat that could eventually corner him in much the same way Boehner was driven to defeat and resignation.
That’s because Ryan’s announcement came despite the fact that a vote of the House Freedom faction had failed to gain endorsement of his candidacy or agreement to his job conditions. Granted, he can look forward to the votes of some three quarters of the faction’s membership when the impending leadership vote takes place, but can he expect undying love thereafter? No chance. I confidently predict that his Christmas-orange gift list will grow shorter by the day.
For solace, let me turn to the event that so lifted my belief in human goodness this week.
Its circumstances were unfortunate in the extreme – a family known to my wife had, without warning, lost a son who, by all accounts, had been in the prime of his life.
The young man’s parents arranged a gathering in
his honor and announced it as a “memorial get-together”. On two counts, they could not have chosen a better description.
First, when we arrived, the funeral home was already packed with people of all ages and all dress codes – it was immediately obvious that we were about to hear how the young man, whom I had never met, had affected many folks from almost as many walks of life.
And so we learned about a man of many talents but whose greatest, it seems, was to inspire love and respect between all around him. In each of their addresses, his father, other family members and some friends all fought back their tears to tell us of the sheer joy he had brought them and of the incredible example he had set for living each day with the purpose of making the world a better, more joyous, place.
The second count I have deliberately saved for last. For the gathering’s ultimate message was that we could all benefit by living by the young man’s values of casting out prejudice, of welcoming allcomers and of expressing love to our nearest and dearest every day. Now, that’s a get-together call we all should endorse.
Ian White is editor of The Post. Contact him at ian@thepostnewspaper.net.