How Texas Got Fracked Over By Gas Drillers
We added insult to injury a long time ago in this whole business of fracking in Dallas -- you know, the kind of natural gas drilling where they blow up underground rocks in a geological formation called the Barnett Shale, releasing trapped gas. Now, if you don't mind, I need to add injury to insult to injury: The state is letting the frackers skate out of paying their taxes.
The original injury here is the air and groundwater pollution associated with so-called injection wells in this part of Texas. Since they started doing it in Fort Worth, air pollution there has doubled. The original insult was when the Texas Railroad Commission, the weirdo 19th-century government body in charge of regulating this stuff, decided not to regulate it.
But here's the new injury: An analysis purportedly carried out by the by the Texas Legislative Budget Board but buried by somebody, according to the Texas Observer, shows that the fracking industry has been dodging its fair share of state taxes by a cool $8 billion just for wells drilled in 2009.
Does that number ring a bell? Maybe that's because it's very close to the shortfall in state education funding -- a deficit that is about to decimate public schools across Texas.
(Update at 4:12 p.m.: I've posted an update in the comments. But long story short: The LBB called me back, said it is their report, and told me they didn't publish it because they were told not to.)
The report connects some important dots: The money the drillers are failing to pay in Texas comes straight out of that Rainy Day Fund -- you know, the cash reserve everybody was hoping could be used to stave off this crisis. Sounds like the fund would be twice its current size if the frackers had paid their decent due.
The report is clear. That damned Railroad Commission came up with a wing-ding definition of "high cost drilling" -- forget it, it's part of a technical formula -- effectively allowing much of the industry to skate on its taxes.
They're supposed to pay 7.5 percent on revenues. The report says many of them pay zero percent -- nothing. The average rate is less than 2 percent.
And here's the other part: While the Rick Perry Republicans have been down there talking about gutting public education in Texas, this report apparently has been buried. Somebody must have leaked it to some reporters yesterday, and now it's out and about.
I have a call in to the Legislative Budget Board -- as does every other reporter in Texas covering this issue, I must assume, and since yesterday they ain't been talkin'. I do have to issue a caution. I guess the report could be a fake.
I also have a call in to Dallas' own Republican Rep. Dan Branch from District 108, who is a member of the Legislative Budget Board's board of directors.
It doesn't look like a fake, and in the discussion of it in Austin nobody has suggested it's a fake. But in the absence of a call-back from the LBB, I can't assert its absolute authenticity here.
Why talk about it now, before it has been authenticated? Listen: In the current political atmosphere in Texas, the only way to get the truth out of those bastards is with a technique I call journalistic fracking. It's very technical, but I will try to simplify.
We know there are large deposits of truth trapped in an intellectual formation we call the "Rick Perry Shale." By injecting information into the Rick Perry Shale under extremely high pressure, we are sometimes able to blast some of that trapped truth free. So turn away and put your finger in your ears.
How do we react to this? Pollute us. Fool us. Pick our pockets. Abuse our children. But what? Don't do it twice? Is Texas just totally populated by people who allowed other kids to steal their lunch money when they were in elementary school?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.