West Texas Phenomena

John

Who would ever have thought of West Texas as a place of importance? Probably only the rattle snakes and buzzards for which it has long been home. Even the Native Americans seem to have shunned it, in favor of the Red River Valley to the north. The Rio Grande River marks its southern boundary, separating Texas and the USA from Mexico, and running east from the Texas city of El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico.

The main mode of transportation in West Texas throughout most of the 1800s was the horse. Stage coaches were drawn by four or six horses depending on the terrain; smaller buckboards were used by families and businesses; and almost all individual travel was by horse (actually my father rode a mule to school). The horse was so important that the penalty for horse theft was death – reasonable because the victim would probably die without the horse.   

My first contact with West Texas was that my hometown, Wichita Falls, was just east of where the Great American Desert begins. That desert includes West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Southern California, most of Nevada, and some of Utah, not to mention some of Northern Mexico.

In high school I went to a convention held in El Paso, and stayed in a downtown hotel for a few days. There was a passenger train rail loop connecting downtown El Paso with downtown Juarez, its Mexican sister city. It was a great service, not unlike the Yamanote line that services central Tokyo with loop service. Of course the El Paso-Juarez service was miniscule compared today’s Yamanote service. 

I attended the University of Texas (UT). In those days we did not have to add –Austin, since there was only one big campus: 18,000 was the daytime enrollment then (1963), maybe 50,000 today (2019). I studied Mechanical Engineering (like my older brother before me) and joined the U.S Navy ROTC as a Midshipman. That led to a full career in the U.S. Navy, much of it served homeported at Yokosuka, Japan.

I have always maintained an interest in my alma mater (UT). It turns out that a lot of the West Texas desert belongs to UT. For many years those desert sections were considered worthless; then came the first generation oil rush. By my time at UT it was recognized to be an unusually wealthy public university because of the oil; more recently it has become known as one of the “Public Ivies”, able to compete with Ivy League schools for top faculty and promising students.

By the 1980s, oil production had dropped off and the entire USA ran out of natural gas, and ran short of other petroleum products. We bought a house in Northern Virginia (close to the Pentagon). Since it was a new construction house, we could not get gas service. What a sad state of affairs for a guy whose father had run a successful LP gas company through the 1960s.

The second generation oil rush was based on Fracking (breaking up underground rock formations to allow fluid flow). The first US Patent for fracking was issued in the late 1940s, but the technology was not developed until the USA literally ran out of gas. The West Texas oil fields, nominally referred to as the Permian Basin, are the backbone of the US recovery as both a major international oil producer (West Texas Intermediate-WTI) and a major international natural gas producer.  

In my research of the second generation oil rush in West Texas, I came upon some astounding information. Those West Texas desert winds are producing more electricity (wind power) than any other state in the USA. Neither of those rattlesnakes nor buzzards have complained about the noise…So when fracking gives out, we will use more wind.

Certainly solar has a place in West Texas, but wind tends to be available 24 hours per day, whereas with solar you need to spend a lot of money on storage.

Believe it or not, there is a new hot topic for West Texas. Initial exploration indicates that in some mountains and rock formations there is ore mineable to produce rare earth metals. Rare earths are materials critical to information technology hardware as well as advanced military systems. A lot of the mining and even more of the processing for rare earths are performed in China now…. 

 

 

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