Monday, October 15, 2012

Texas Road Trip, Day 1: First pass through fracking zone

I left Austin late this morning. I couldn't resist just a little pass through town, but I limited myself to a few streets in South Austin. Along Lamar and South First I saw a lot of self-consciously quirky shops and bars, one of them trying way too hard with murals and a big statue of a mascot of a large-breasted woman, the shop itself emblazoned with the legend: "Since 1997." That 15-year history failed to impress me, but as I watched, I saw people taking their pictures with the statue of the mascot, so it must be a landmark. Because I'm a terrible journalist, I didn't take a picture.

In fact, I was terrible, just terrible, at taking pictures all day. Here's the best one:

I was in a town called Cuero, a small town that is in the middle of the eastern side of the Eagle Ford Shale. The New York Times last month said it was overrun with huge trucks, and there certainly were a lot. So there you go, a truck. I sat at the main intersection of town for half an hour grokking the trucks.

Before that I managed to find some good sites where fracking actually seemed to be going on. Or drilling of some kind. It's not like they put up a big sign that says Fracking Here! Basically you have a temporary, portable drilling rig, four or five stories high, surrounded by trucks and equipment, in the middle of a two-or-three acre patch of denuded pasture.

The setting was what I found most interesting. I drove through beautiful countryside between Gonzales and Cuero, the pastures mostly green because it rained a lot here a few weeks ago. When they pick a spot, they strip off all vegetation over a few acres, forming a perfectly rectangular bare patch. Aside from the road they build into the site, they seem to leave the rest of the surroundings alone. (Supposedly the industry has learned from the public relations disaster that was their exploitation of another area in Texas, the Barnett Shale zone.)

I swung through Victoria, which I visited once many years ago when I found it a nice little city. It's now a hollowed out, sprawling mess. There's a historic district in the center that's like a ghost town; on the outskirts are 8-lane-wide boulevards and shopping centers.

Then I drove south toward the coast. It wasn't that I wanted to go to the coast so much that you can't find a hotel room in the fracking zone; they're all occupied by workers. So I had to drive 70 miles south, and decided I may as well go to Port Aransas, a beach town reached by a short ferry ride.

The blue area in the map is approximately the Eagle Ford shale. I drove through the eastern edge of it.

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