Saturday, July 14, 2012


This post is not intended to be a pity party or attempt to profile Texas as the only victim of recent natural disasters, witness the Colorado fires; devastating tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Joplin, Missouri; the earthquakes and tsunami in Japan; Hurricane Irene on the east coast and the list goes on.  We need note only that in 2011 and so far this year, Texas has lived up to her Wild, Wild West reputation with all of the aforementioned in our title and from our perspective, all in the same genre - Disasters. 

SHAKEN NOT STIRRED–BUT MAYBE FRACKED: For starters earthquakes have recently rattled mostly north and east Texas with increased regularity though the nearby states of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri appear to be equally plagued. It’s speculated that many of these quakes are attributable to man and specifically the withdrawal but more likely the injection of fluids into the earth’s crust for disposal of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” incidental to the secondary recovery of oil or gas.  It’s also because of the natural seismic activity of those areas though many of those regions saw little, if any activity until the fracking/injection started. Of course, the oil and gas companies are deflecting any such correlation though the U.S. Geological Survey has found that there is, “a statistically significant increase in the rate just over the past several years. And many of these are in areas where we know there is a lot of energy activity.”

These quakes have ranged from an innocuous 2.1 magnitude quake near Timpson, Texas on June 16, 2012 upwards to a much more impressive 4.8 magnitude quake on May 17, 2012 near (tada¯) Timpson, Texas.  From our perch we count five (5) quakes in the area since mid-May and note at least two active disposal wells in the immediate area. While we know there has been some limited, infrequent historical seismic activity in east Texas, it certainly appears that the recent substantial, alarming increase in earthquakes does coincide with increased fracking and fluid disposal in the area.

Most of the quakes around Dallas have had little, if any, impact except increasing awareness of the potential of man’s hand in all this.  There was also one alarming magnitude 5.6 quake which struck near the town of Sparks, Oklahoma around 11:00 p.m. Saturday November 5, 2011. That quake along with one of the fourteen aftershocks (magnitude of 4.0) that hit early Sunday morning was felt in my bedroom in Dallas.  The second one woke us up though mind you it was a very brief and minor shake but unnerving as hell. Please remember that Sparks is roughly 230 miles from Dallas. The cause of that quake continues to be debated.    

Mayor Ted Reynolds of Cleburne, Texas commented on the recent high numbers of quakes in his town thusly, “We haven’t had a quake in recorded history, and all the sudden you drill and there are earthquakes.” Celburne has experienced ten (10) earthquakes (2.1 to 2.8) during the last month alone – including a 2.7 quake today.  Of course, the gas and oil companies think that there isn’t enough evidence to draw any conclusions while the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and most of the residents of these areas think otherwise. We offer – quacks like a duck, flies like a duck, swims like a duck – well, you get the picture. Let’s hope we can come to some conclusions on the cause of these quakes.  In the meantime, most residents of Oklahoma and north Texas accept them as a part of life in the fast lane…

WEST NILE IN NORTH TEXAS: What are the chances of getting the West Nile Virus (WNV) in north Texas?  That question is now asked more frequently as the numbers of those affected grows daily.  We need note that it’s already here and in all the four major DFW Metroplex counties. Dallas County just reported its 26th case so far this year.  We had no West Nile cases in 2011 but, then again, we were in the midst of the hottest, driest year, ever. With the return of moisture along came the Culex mosquito, some infected with the West Nile Virus. The Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) folks note that we are already at a three year high very early in the season and loudly warn that this is a major public health issue.

Seems that many in our area haven’t gotten the message and/or just don’t consider this a big deal.  I’ve talked with folks who put their chances at getting the virus as so minimal - that the odds are so great in their favor of not contracting the virus – well, why take precautions?  Well, just ask the folks who’ve got it and the agonizing symptoms (admittedly, death is rare) and that puts a whole new spin on the disease.

WNV has impressively shown no bias, infecting amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals (that’s us). North Texas and the four largest DFW Metroplex counties (Dallas, Tarrant, Denton and Collin) lead the pack with 70 reported Human cases and two deaths in Dallas County (only ones in the US) with other lesser (but no less serious) Human outbreaks in Louisiana, California, Arizona and Minnesota.  Now having said that, health officials estimate that there are many more unreported cases of the virus each year – that old tip of the iceberg.

Many north Texas counties and cities are now spraying for mosquitos reminding me of the summer evening ritual at Ole Miss when trucks spraying their insecticide rumbled down Fraternity Row.   

Let’s not hyperventilate about WNV but let’s not be stupid and invite illness either.  The Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) encourages us to reduce the risk of exposure by eliminating standing water (especially in those flower pot saucers, bird baths and roof gutters) and other obvious mosquito breeding areas around our homes. Make sure that all door, porch and window screens are in good condition.  Protect yourself by reducing outdoor activity during evening/dusk to dawn hours and if you must be outdoors during those times, cover exposed skin as much as possible (long sleeved shirts and pants) and use a mosquito repellant that contains DEET. 

Those that know me are aware of my recent history with bug and spider bites – bottom line: I am a magnet for all such critters so I take extra care when outside. I take all the above precautions plus I’m trying OFF’s new clip-on system.  It appears to have worked so far but I am starting to have second thoughts about those vapors around my body (should I breathe?).  My old Friend Consumer Reports gave the device a Flunk after extensive testing and recommends spray or lotions instead, paying special attention to and following all the precautions when using products with DEET, especially when using on children.  

GUV’NER RICK PERRY: When Perry is not on the road stumping for his visceral and once bitter rival Mitt Romney, he’s in Austin acting as the state’s grand vacuous puppeteer. Perry gives great credence to the old saying about politics and strange bedfellows but his support of Romney is pure scripted hypocrisy.  

Perry recently joined Governors Rick Scott of Florida, Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana by rejecting the expansion of Medicaid or the establishment of a health insurance exchange, two major provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act characterizing them as “brazen intrusions into the sovereignty of our state.”  All that despite the fact that according to the Texas Medical Association, “25 percent of the state’s population lacks health insurance — 6.2 million people, including 1.2 million children — the highest rate of any state.” The political water runs predictably deep here and we note the absence of any real alternatives despite substantial federal subsidies and the fact that if Texas doesn’t do it, the Feds will. When that happens maybe Perry really will embrace Texas succeeding from the Union…

No, we haven’t even touched on the almost four million acres (double the previous record) that burned in Texas last year, the June 13, 2012 hail storm (with up to bigger than baseball sized hail) that is expected to ultimately cause around 2 Billion dollars (US) in damage to Dallas and north Texas property and the outbreak of seventeen tornadoes on April 3, 2012 in north Texas.  I guess you heard about the recent historic floods in Houston?  Bright side – it ended their drought.  At least we (probably) won’t experience any tsunamis or volcanos?  

What a relief to know that there are no active volcanoes in Texas though we have identified five extinct volcanoes including Pilot Knob near Austin.  If you find comfort in that observation note that if a super volcano such as that ticking time bomb under Yellowstone National Park should erupt in cataclysmic fashion - scientists state, “There is little if anything that anyone from Montana to Texas could do to protect themselves.”

Welcome to Texas where the good far outweighs the bad.


Ned Buxton

PS - We first posted on 7/14/12 and have been updating the West Nile Virus statistics for the aforementioned DFW counties with the last update being 7/19/12 at 6:00 pm CST.  Since that time the number of WNV human cases has almost tripled. We will continue to update as circumstances warrant... NB

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