Former Mayor of Dish, Texas, Speaks Out

Warns Against the Expansion of High-Risk Oil Extraction

Monday, August 4, 2014
Article Tools
Print friendly
E-mail story
Tip Us Off
iPod friendly
Share Article

The former mayor of Dish, Texas, spoke in Santa Maria on Friday, July 25, sharing his firsthand experience of what happens when the fossil fuel industry is allowed to rapidly expand drilling operations. As mayor, it was Calvin Tillman’s job to know.

Tillman opened with a Google map image of the town he used to live in, an image scarred with a disease-like array of oil and gas well pads and facilities. He and his family left Dish — a town that gave up its name, Clark, in exchange for 10 years of free satellite television service and DVRs for all residents — because it was no longer the community they wanted to live in. Not only had the rural town, located in Denton County, just north of Fort Worth, been transformed by increased extraction, Tillman’s children’s health suffered and his backyard featured a view of a massive gas processing facility.

Tillman challenged many of the arguments that the industry makes in defense of its track record, arguments that this county will no doubt be hearing extensively before November’s election. Measure P, which would ban new fracking, acidizing, and cyclic steam extraction operations in Santa Barbara County, will be decided by voters this fall.

For example, the oil extraction industry contends there are no proven links between the past decade’s fracking boom and groundwater contamination. Tillman explained the industry is being misleading in this regard. Technically, the term “fracking” only applies to the actual rock fracturing process. Proven aquifer contamination is more often linked to well-casing failures and spills, he said, rather than the actual breaking up of rock deep underground. Second, the fracking process is exempt from the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and a few other key environmental safety mechanisms, so federal agencies are not monitoring it as much as they should be. And last, nondisclosure agreements are a legal way for the industry to get people to shut up, Tillman told us. Many neighbors of drilling operations or those with wells or oil facilities on their land have signed agreements like this. The industry offers to pay to replace the water that has been contaminated by their operations, or gives a sizable check. In return, the signee can never discuss the terms of the agreement or the operations they concern.

Tillman also spoke about air contamination, a problem that affected his family in Dish and the reason he moved away. Volatile organic compounds, such as propane and benzene, are an often-overlooked and dangerous source of air contamination. Tillman explained that these substances are not visible to the human eye and are often being expelled from sites that appear to have little, if any, emissions.

Santa Barbara County stands on the verge of a boom in unconventional, risky oil extraction. Thousands upon thousands of new well sites are waiting to be drilled, oil and gas companies operating in this county are excited, and they expect that their profits will soon be on the rise.

We don’t do what we do for money, and that’s the difference.” With this statement, Tillman struck at the heart of the issue. The Santa Barbara County Water Guardians have been accused of being a part of a “cottage industry of activists” coordinating nationally. This is partly correct; there is a wave of concerned citizens across the United States of America who are standing up to the fossil fuel industry and saying no more. No more water contamination, no more sick children, no more false promises, no more lies. Communities are reaching out to each other, forming networks, and sharing information. Not in order to make a profit, but to protect our homes.

Calvin Tillman ended his talk with a simple reality. We here in Santa Barbara can choose to do nothing and allow what has happened in Denton County, Texas, to happen here. Or, we can do something about it. We can take a stand, and who knows? Maybe we will have prevented disaster. The Santa Barbara County Water Guardians have already gotten the ball rolling; now we need you to join us.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

I hope we're never motivated to rename our city "Greka".

Good job exposing the use of non-disclosure agreements. Of course, not all energy companies are dishonest brokers. But the industry has only itself to blame.

If you're old enough to remember leaded gasoline from the 1960's and 1970's ... at the time, the oil industry (Ethyl Corporation, American Petroleum Institute, etc.) tried to discredit and vilify the one man we all owe so much to ... chemist Clair Patterson. Lead is of course an extremely toxic substance. It interferes with neural pathways and causes people to go insane. In the 1960's Patterson single-handedly discovered how prevalent lead was in our environment - due in no small part to lead's widespread use in gasoline. It's an inspirational story and a triumph of science over greed & influence:

We can also thank Patterson for exposing the junk science used by the oil industry's right-hand man at the time, hired gun and toxicologist Robert Kehoe. The discredited arguments used by Kehoe at the time are the same bag of tricks used by climate change deniers today:

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
August 5, 2014 at 10:24 a.m. (Suggest removal)

We can get it here or get it from the Middle east.
Currently we get it from the M.E. due to various enviromental issues out of state.

sslocal (anonymous profile)
August 5, 2014 at 11:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

We are now in the era of bad mouthing those who wish to protect water from contamination, even if only 'partly correct' in order to secure profits for a few. Cottage industry? Look at history, the oil industry is historically the bad guy. Find me one instance where he's the good guy, besides paying (avoiding) taxes and building all the schools (right!) and giving us all jobs. Is your priority $, or clean water. The oil industry has already given us their answer.

spacey (anonymous profile)
August 5, 2014 at 12:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

So has the middle east spacey.

sslocal (anonymous profile)
August 5, 2014 at 1:26 p.m. (Suggest removal)

great article! Note, we're not hearing from the oil industry flacks and mouthpieces..c'mon guys, you're paid to counter this!

DavyBrown (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2014 at 5:16 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Let's leave out the editorializing, Arlo, e.g. "disease-like array".

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2014 at 9:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Im an oil flack. DavyBrown would apparently be an eco flack. You dont make your living producing oil, but you get to wherever you work with it. It brings you your organic food, warms your house, lights your way, and makes your computer run.

Fracking has made energy much cheaper in the US. So comparatively cheap (in fact) that manufacturing is moving back to the US. The EU on the otherhand with all their eco inspired renewable mandates etc (the nonsense you love) is going down the tubes. Do you want that DavyBrown?

nuffalready (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2014 at 10:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Given that oil is a finite resource on this planet, and given that we're close to or have already passed "peak oil", and given that oil production is a dirty endeavor, I'd consider using up "their" oil before using up "our" oil.

There's obviously a short-term cost for that strategy. But any strategy also has to consider the long term when our grandchildren are the ones moving the chess pieces.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2014 at 10:55 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The earth has been around for eons and we are probably past mid-life. It could go on for millions of years more and die a natural death. The question here is do we let it die a natural death or expedite the process and kill it in a couple of hundred years.

rblacumbre (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2014 at 11:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"I'd consider using up "their" oil before using up "our" oil." -EastBeach

Don't worry, Henry Kissinger implemented this strategy back in the 60s and that began the odd-couple relationship between the Saudis and the neo-conservatives that led to decades of brutal wars in the Middle East and ultimately both groups were involved in planning the 9/11 attacks so that their plans of dominating the middle east to control oil resources could continue unabated.

If suffering and death of millions of innocent human lives is worth using up 'their' oil before using up 'our' oil to you, then I suppose this is a good strategy.

Supposedly we have oil reserves on the northern slope of Alaska that are on par with some of the bigger reserves that once in existed in Saudi Arabia, and our government has 'protected' much of these areas for the purpose of protecting our oil supply. The US paid off Saudi Royalty and promised that they would have our support military or otherwise and they could sell their oil and make trillions of dollars, but they had to agree to use dollars to trade their oil in. They also agreed to use a portion of their profits to invest in the US economy.

All of these facts have been documented by Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 9/11 as well as Lindsey WIlliams who was a Pastor for some time up on the northern slope of Alaska when he found out from some contacts up there the true story of our relationship with Saudi Arabia and the secret untapped oil reserves up on the northern slope.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2014 at 11:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Cleverly using 'their' oil before using 'our' oil isnt so very clever. Oil is not a finite resource inspite of everything you have heard. Oil isnt stewed dinosaurs or rendered down swamp debris. Oil is a mineral resource, created by abiotic mineral processes deep within the earth. It comes near to surface here and there. We call it an oilfield if we can reach it with our present technology.

Here in this county we are fortunate to have the naturally (ahem) fracked Monterey shale formation that provides a good upward conduit. Otherwise oil is formed 10s or 100s of miles below the surface. We cant drill anywhere near that deep.

Thats why we keep making new 'discoveries' just about the time they start grandstanding about 'peak oil'. They've been doing this at since 1958. Dont be fooled. There will never be a peak oil

nuffalready (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2014 at 3:42 p.m. (Suggest removal)

We also have naturally radioactive Rincon shale in the foothills and mountains surrounding us.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2014 at 5:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Ken_Volok: Natural radiation? We Water Guardians cant use that. We need perils, horrors, outrages, (even if made up) that we can pin on oil.

nuffalready (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2014 at 8:26 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I would like to know the specifics of his childrens' health problems, and if others in the area are affected by the same problems in disproportionally high number.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2014 at 9:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Gas Land II has a whole section on Dish, TX and documents problems in other local areas and populations as well. The Gas Land series may not be 100% accurate about every place they go and everything they see, but I don't think they are being intentionally deceptive either. The film maker clearly has an agenda, but they also capture a lot of valid and convincing concerns about the practice on camera. I also don't find the debunkings on a lot of these places they visit to be very convincing, though they do exist and you can read them for your consideration, but I would not trust that they provide completely accurate information about the film or otherwise, either.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2014 at 9:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Now why would you want that, billclausen? Reasoned analysis supported by data and statistics? Heaven forbid....

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 9:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

nuffalready's claim fails even the most basic fact check. Abiogeneic oil (oil that doesn't come from organic sources) is a fiction and you'd have to be crazy to believe it.

Oil doesn't magically transmute from the earth's core materials. It comes from a finite supply of dead organisms. Even British Petroleum says so:

And the coup de gras is, even if the unproven theory of abiogenic oil were true, the rate at which this mythical process creates oil is likely to be so slow it couldn't keep pace with our consumption of oil.

Yes, peak oil (the notion there is a point where oil production levels on this planet reach a peak and then decline) is a reality.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 10:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)
save the planet............

70sbartender (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 10:57 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"Oil doesn't magically transmute from the earth's core materials. It comes from a finite supply of dead organisms. Even British Petroleum says so: " - EastBeach

lol, if one sold expensive beach sand by the cup full to a small village of people in the mountains who didn't know any better, one may wax poetic about the finite supply of beach sand as well.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Yep. that Scientific American post and its references have it right:

“Abiotic oil is another idea that conservatives have latched onto as a way of denying that there is any limitation that the Earth places on the way we live,”

Regarding that last link, it may not be obvious to non-scientists, but ... a single simulation result does not a theory prove.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 11:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The links all seem to indicate that there is no conclusive evidence either way. My point was that big oil companies would benefit from people believing that oil is a finite resource, it is a good excuse for high prices on oil.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
August 7, 2014 at 11:40 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm as dubious about the big oil companies as anyone else.

But looking at just the science, no credible scientists are giving much credence to reports of abiotic oil. That was the main point of the Scientific American blog.

Now as for that viewzone link. It was written very poorly. That article offered no "proof" of abiotic oil. All it says is some researcher has come up with a simulation model that he claims indicates abiotic oil could occur. But that same article says he hasn't gone out to the field to vet his theory or simulation results. That is not proof at all. And just so you know, scientists and engineers create simulation models al the time. I do it for a living. For every good model, 100's of models came before that didn't work. How do you know if a model is any good? It has to predict observations/measurements in the lab and field. That Swedish scientist hasn't even done that yet.

But you don't have to be an expert in geology or chemistry to know that abiotic oil in quantities that matter can't exist. And even if it could produce oil in small amounts, then it doesn't matter:

Finally, could big oil benefit by spreading lies about oil that magically gushes from rocks? I don't know. But if abiotic oil existed in large enough quantities to matter, we humans might dump so much carbon into the atmosphere and ocean that we would screw ourselves royally. We're already well on our way with the dinosaur juice we've got (Google "biological marker oil").

The key is to rely on renewable energy sources that don't dump carbon into the atmosphere.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
August 8, 2014 at 12:28 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Take the Midway-Sunset Field in neighboring Kern County. Its a comparatively narrow strip of densely spaced oil wells along the Temblor Mountain foothills. This field has produced 80,000 barrels per day for over 100 years, and there is no end in sight. That must have been quite windrow of dinosaur corpses . . wouldnt you say EastBench?

Loonpt is right. Big oil interests depend on the notion that reserves are exhaustible, that 'peak oil' looms just around the corner. 'Shortages' have a way of keeping prices high. So Big Oil thanks you EastBench. Keep telling the one about the dinosaurs and swamps.

nuffalready (anonymous profile)
August 8, 2014 at 1:20 a.m. (Suggest removal)

What is nuff puffing? the world is only 5,000 years old theory? You do realize the dinosaurs were king here for a lot longer than us, right? Plants too. Let's try to keep this life experiment on Earth going... Look what happened to Venus. That could be us. Or Mars. Earth might have a plan for that oil in the far future, what if it is no longer there? Short sighted are some in the name of capital. Leaders are failing us, bought, sold. Is this the human condition?

spacey (anonymous profile)
August 10, 2014 at 2:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

nuff is puffing abiogenic hallucinogens!

Really, is that all you got nufflaready? An oil field is productive and therefore is magically squeezing oil from rocks? Sorry to inform you the Earth isn't flat ... even geologists who work in the Midway-Sunset Field are using bio markers to analyze the disparate fields in the area:

bio marker = markers in oil resulting from the decomposition of organic organisms

But we know nuff is just a self-admitted troll for oil interests. I'll listen only when they offer someone who isn't selling voodoo pseudo science.

Back to the main point ... the Mayor of Dish Texas has experienced first-hand what fracking has done to his town. We should consider what he has to say, weigh the facts, and make up our own minds.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
August 10, 2014 at 4:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)


"I'd consider using up "their" oil before using up "our" oil."

I've always thought that the reason we held onto the Alaskan reserve is so that we'll have the last petrol available to power our war machines, while everyone else is dry. Not accounting for nuclear naval vessels, of course....

On another note, even if oil resources suddenly doubled, I would doubt that gas prices (and all other prices) would be reduced. However, big-block V8 engines might make a comeback.

equus_posteriori (anonymous profile)
August 28, 2014 at 1:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Measure P would not only ban Fracking but also ban the use of Steam. The oil being developed in Santa Barbara County is mostly Heavy Oil (like Tar). It needs to be heated up with steam so that it will flow to the oil well. Steam has been used for over 50 years in Santa Barbara County yet the Water Guardians can't site one case where Steam Injection caused groundwater pollution. Steam Injection is not a "High Risk" operation. It is standard practice in oil fields all over the world. Why is it part of Measure P?

Forester (anonymous profile)
September 7, 2014 at 12:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

event calendar sponsored by: