FBI Director James Comey ; Federal Bureau of Investigation [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

FBI Director James Comey at the University of Texas Austin 3-23-2017

FBI Director James Comey was a keynote speaker at a conference on intelligence gathering and cyber security at the University of Texas at Austin March 23 2017.

His remarks were delivered three days after testifying on Capitol Hill about the bureau’s current investigation of possible ties between the campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian operatives known to U.S. intelligence.

Comey refused to elaborate on his comments before the U.S. House Intelligence Committee. Nor would he comment on his pre-election statements about Hillary Clinton’s emails that many Democrats blame for Clinton’s election loss, given the timing of the statements and their proximity to Election Day.

In his remarks, Comey lays out the FBI’s current priorities, in particular the phenomenon of cyber threats lodged against the United States.

Pipes waiting to be buried during construction of the Trans Pecos Pipeline. (Will Mederski)

Trans-Pecos Pipeline Crews Team Up with Border Patrol

Drug smugglers and people who’ve entered the country illegally regularly travel North from Mexico through the desert of Presidio County. In the last year, that same desert has been the site of a massive construction project: The Trans-Pecos Pipeline, which stretches 148 miles from Presidio to just outside of Fort Stockton. Before construction started, Border Patrol met with pipeline workers to talk about safety and security. They say those meetings paid off, big time.

Earlier this year, crews working on the Trans-Pecos Pipeline spotted a red Chevy Avalanche driving on a dirt right-of-way where it shouldn’t have been. They called the Presidio County sheriff’s office, who pulled the car over—officers found bricks of marijuana stacked floor-to-ceiling. In total there was almost a ton.

Pipeline workers have been behind a lot of busts lately. That’s what law enforcement was hoping for. Before construction began, Border Patrol trained pipeline workers to spot illegal activity. Turns out, they make good patrollers.

“It helps our operations to have more eyes and ears out there, in the country, looking at things,” says Rush Carter, the U.S. Border Patrol supervisor for the Big Bend Sector, “Because we’ve got a huge area to take care of.”

Carter says drug smugglers and people who have snuck across the border follow landmarks. They travel along dry creek beds, power lines, railroad tracks—whatever provides a guiding line. And now, the path cleared during pipeline construction. To the point that the Presidio County sheriff’s office says it gets calls from pipeline workers every day. They recently caught three cars full of people who were in the country illegally, thanks to a pipeline tip.

But, all those extra “eyes and ears” will soon be gone—the pipeline will be up and running next month.

After all this is done, and everybody’s gone, and it’s back to quietness,” says Carter. “There’s going to be a trail where that pipeline was constructed, that they know ends up on Highway 90, up by the railroad bridge.”

He also warns that it could become a “superhighway” for illegal activity. Because of this new route, Border Patrol will continue to keep close tabs on the area around the pipeline. Only now, without help from the men and women who built it.

— Bayla Metzger & Asa Merritt

The Marfa Public Radio Membership Drive Begins March 31

When Spring has sprung, you know it’s time for the Marfa Public Radio Membership Drive! Each Spring and Fall, we ask our listeners for a show of financial support to allow the station to continue providing quality news and entertainment to the Big Bend and beyond all year round.

This year’s drive will begin on Friday, March 31 and run through Friday, April 7.


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(Joe Edd Waggoner)

Marfa Public Radio is Looking for a Development Director!

Marfa Public Radio believes in the capacity of public media to shape and animate who we are, where we live, and how we relate.

Marfa Public Radio has been the most awarded small-market station in the nation during the regional Murrow Awards for excellence in journalism for two years. Public Media serves a critical role in West Texas.

In these exciting times, we are looking for a dynamic Development Director who is passionate about facilitating the financial health of our stations.

The Development Director is an integral member of our team. S/he will develop our annual fundraising strategy with know-how, humor, and creativity. Our Development Director is a passionate spokesperson for the power of public radio.


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Illustration by Anneke Paterson / Todd Wiseman

Federal Panel Rules Some of Texas’ Congressional Districts Illegal

Some of Texas’ 36 congressional districts violate either the U.S. Constitution or the federal Voting Rights Act, a panel of federal judges ruled Friday.

In a long-delayed ruling, the judges ruled 2-1 that the Texas Legislature must redraw the political maps it most recently used for the 2016 elections.

Specifically, they pointed to Congressional District 23, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso, takes in most of the Texas-Mexico border and is represented by Republican Will Hurd of Helotes; Congressional District 27, represented by Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi; and Congressional District 35, a Central Texas district represented by Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.
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A frack operation in​​ the Permian Basin of Texas, the nation's highest-producing oilfield. The Permian was once the floor of an ancient seabed that today is laden with hydrocarbons ; Lorne Matalon

New Approach In Texas To Cutting Use Of Fresh Water In Fracking

MIDLAND, Texas—Water in west Texas is both an environmental issue and a major stress on overhead for oil and natural gas producers in the Permian Basin. A private- public partnership in Midland is trying to address both concerns at the same time.

Hydraulic fracturing (known colloquially as fracking) is unlocking once inaccessible oil and gas in the country’s highest producing oilfield. Perfected in Texas, fracking has changed the global dynamics of  oil and gas. Right now, U.S. oil production trails only Saudi Arabia but not by much. But a U.S. Geological Survey study finds that on average, oil and natural gas fracking uses more than 28 times the water it did 15 years ago. A well typically uses between two and eight million gallons of water which the study says puts farming and drinking sources at risk in arid places Texas.
Fracking, now banned in New York state, injects industrial amounts of sand, water and chemicals into the ground—-at high pressure—-to release trapped oil and natural gas. The American Geological Union says fracking takes place in places where water may become scarcer in a warming world, including Texas, the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains—regions hit by drought during parts of the last five years. When it comes to fracking and water use, one mitigating tactic may lie within the wastewater treatment plant in Midland, Texas. It’s the site of a new partnership between Midland and Irving, Texas-based Pioneer Natural Resources. The deal simultaneously addresses city finances, environmental responsibility and oil and gas production. Pioneer is paying to upgrade the plant, which will ultimately save Midland 110 million dollars.

Midland Mayor Jerry Morales summed up the deal as a boon to the taxpayer.

“(It is) a savings for the citizens of Midland by not having to go after any debt or affect our budget,” he described it. In return for paying for the upgrade at the water treatment plant in Midland, Pioneer gets to move some of that treated water to its oilfields saving hundreds of millions of gallons of fresh water.

“We made a commitment several years ago that we need to move away from fresh water,” explained Pioneer’s Executive Chairman, Scott Sheffield at Energy Week 2017, an annual gathering of energy experts hosted by the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute and UT’s Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law and Business.

Sheffield told me Pioneer isn’t just doing this to help the environment. It’s also about saving money on the cost and transport of water to the oilfield. “We’re doing it at a price which is much less than what it costs to truck fresh water in,” he continued. Sheffield said this all began several years ago.

“We put together a geologic team to look for formations below the fresh water sands. And we found several sources of water there. We went to the cities of Midland and Odessa. And we’ve worked out agreements with them to use rated wastewater.”

So now the question is, can this be replicated? Energy consultant Kinnon Goleman in Austin says yes. He cited Concho Resources, another major player in the Permian Basin that has its own, similar deal with Odessa.

“Originally everyone thought we had to do it with freshwater. In the last 15 years we’ve learned  that we don’t  have to use nearly as clean a water, or fresh water” said Goleman.

Goleman said this kind of private-public partnership is a good fit for cities such as Midland and Odessa given their rapid population growth. Upgrading a wastewater treatment plant is expensive and cumbersome. But it has to be done to meet government certifications. Meantime, oil and gas interests save on one of the biggest strains on their overhead.

“Lowering the cost of drilling and completing the well is very, very significant. And it’s been changing rapidly and part of it is the water equation,” Goleman continued.

To get more context on the relationship between energy production and water use, I spoke with Michael Webber of the University of Texas at Austin. He is Deputy Director of the school’s Energy Institute and the author of “Thirst for Power:Energy, Water, and Human Survival,” a work that considers how both resources, energy and water, can be sustained.

“I think this kind of deal will be replicated,” said Webber, though he explained not quite everywhere. He said the mix of heavy drilling and stress on water supplies found in the Permian Basin isn’t universal. But he does think society will at some point abandon the notion that water is an inexhaustible resource. And that, he said, will spur innovation in the way water is deployed and paid for in energy production.

“When you have the situation with oil and gas companies that have a lot of money and need water and you you have big users like cities or agricultural operations that have a lot of water and need money, then his is the perfect opportunity for a trade. And because that water is worth so much money to oil and gas, it’s worth more money per barrel to oil and gas than it is to a farmer, because the oil and gas operation can take a barrel of water and produce a lot of money with it, they’re willing to invest that money. That’s the right set of ingredients for it.”
Webber believes it will ultimately be the free market and not only environmental concerns that may change the way freshwater is deployed in energy production.

Marfa Myths 2017 @ Marfa Public Radio

We’re beyond excited for our collaboration with The Lot Radio and Mexican Summer this weekend in which we’ll bring you DJ sets and live performances from some of the musicians performing at Marfa Myths 2017 including but not limited to…

– Tonstartssbandht (DJ Session)
– Allah-Las With Live Reverberation Radio
– Freak Terrains (DJ Session)
– Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids (Live set)
– Zomes (live set)
– Botany (live set)

These will be happening at Marfa Public Radio throughout the weekend so stay tuned and swing by for a good time.

NRC Reviews Andrews Site for High-Level Nuclear Waste Storage

Nuclear Waste — a problem that’s been looming over the country for several decades. Unable to find a permanent geological repository for the toxic stuff produced by nuclear power plants, the federal government began looking for communities that would be receptive to temporarily housing the waste. Andrews was one of the towns that stepped up.

Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists  has been storing low-level nuclear waste in Andrews since 2012. Low-level waste consists of items that have been exposed to radiation. But in 2016, the company filed an application to expand the current operation to to store high-level nuclear waste, the highly radioactive byproduct of nuclear reactors.  The application seeks a license to store 40,000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste, initially coming from decommissioned power plants. This site would be an interim storage facility. However in this case, interim could mean a hundred years. The expansion process would take place over twenty years in eights phases and require further review from the NRC.

Some people are not too excited about the potential of housing high-level nuclear waste in Texas. Tom Smith, better known as “Smitty,” is with an advocacy group called “No Nuclear Waste Aqui.” They oppose WCS’ application to serve as the interim site. He says, “This is really serious toxic stuff. What everybody says is, ‘Oh well don’t worry, the federal government will come in here and build that repository and move it.’ Well I’m not bettin’ on it and people out in this part of the world shouldn’t either.”

Like Smitty, some are worried that once the waste gets to Andrews, it won’t ever get moved. James Park is the environmental project manager for WCS’ application.  He explains, “To say that it’s a de facto final solution this, particular license wouldn’t resolve that issue, nor say that it is the final resting place.” The waste is currently being stored near the power plants that produced it. Legally, the federal government is responsible for storing the waste, but without a permanent repository, the plants have been stuck with the storage bill.

The commission is still in the very early stages of the environmental review for Waste Control Specialists’ application. Park, the environmental manager, says he’s heard a range of concerns like transportation of the waste around the country, economic concerns and water contamination.

In mid-February, the NRC held a public meeting in Andrews to hear comments about the potential site expansion. About 300 people showed up, and seemed split evenly between supporters and opponents. Julia Wallace is the executive director of the Andrews Chamber of Commerce.  To her and many of the residents, WCS is a welcome presence. She says, “It’s been really good for our economy, it’s brought it in a lot of good paying jobs and really good people.”

The town receives 5% of the gross revenue from low level nuclear waste storage. That’s amounted to nearly $8.5 million dollars since 2012- a lot for a small town. The state of Texas also receives a percentage –  $40 million so far, according to WCS. Both the town and the state expect to receive similar percentages of profits for storing high level nuclear waste.  

At the meeting, several people came from all over Texas and neighboring New Mexico to express their opinions on the site. Those that opposed the expansion voiced concerns that the largely hispanic community didn’t understand what was being proposed, and concerns about the environment.  Elizabeth Padilla is a lifelong resident, and says, ” I definitely think that our children’s life and health, our health should really not have the cost whatsoever. It’s our health first. I understand that WCS would take all kinds of safety precautions and measures. But there’s always going to be that risk.”

In response to these safety concerns, Rod Baltzer, WCS’ chief executive,  feels confident that the company is capable of protecting the public and the company’s workers. Baltzer says, “We monitor that very closely. We’ve got several safety professionals. In fact, about 1/3 of our staff is radiation and occupational safety environmental and those other items like that to make sure we run a very compliant, safe organization.”

Smitty, from “No Nuclear Waste Aqui,” isn’t convinced. He thinks that once people learn more about risks associated with high-level nuclear waste, they’ll start to change their minds. He brought up the that when a long-term repository was considered for Yucca Mountain in Nevada, citizens of the state were not happy with the idea. He says, “[T’he more they learned, the angrier they got, and the more studies they funded, and the more evidence came out saying, ‘This is a really bad place to put it.’ And I think the same thing will happen here.”

The NRC’s review will determine whether or not Waste Control Specialists will receive a license to expand the site. The commission will be receiving public comments through March 13th of this year, and a final licensing decision is expected to be made in 2019.

Protesters follow hand-painted signs to the Two Rivers camp in Presidio County. (Sally Beauvais)

Protesters Continue Direct Action Planning as Pipeline Nears Completion

As protesters in Standing Rock clean up camp and head home, Sioux Tribes in North and South Dakota are still battling in court to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Their fight has inspired protesters who are trying to stop pipeline construction in other parts of the country.  In the Big Bend Region of Texas, construction on the Trans-Pecos Pipeline is nearly complete.

Destiny Willcuts is a native Lakota Sioux. She left Standing Rock with her mother when extreme winter weather hit the area. They headed south, to a newly erected pipeline protest camp in Presidio County, Texas.

“I didn’t want to give up the fight so I just decided to head to another front line,” Willcutts says.
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Vandalized Terlingua Ruins ; Voni Glaves

Terlingua Ghost Town Ruins Vandalized

Four 125-year-old, stone landmarks in the Terlingua Ghost Town were vandalized over the weekend.

The ruins, homes of quicksilver miners built in the late 1880’s, are located on private property which has been designated a historic sight near the Starlight Theater, and have become a popular tourist destination for visitors to the far-west Texas town.

Workers of the Starlight Theater said they did not notice anything out of the ordinary when they left for the night after the late shift Saturday, but upon returning the next morning found the structures had been knocked down.

Officials are asking anyone who was in the area and may have witnessed any unusual or suspicious behavior to contact the Brewster County Sheriff’s Office at (432) 837-3488.

A reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and capture of those responsible.

Mexican soldiers work in the mountains of Sinaloa burning this marijuana field, part of an eradication program supported by the United States. (Lorne Matalon)

US-Mexico Intelligence Cooperation Braces For Possible Change

Intelligence cooperation between Mexico and the United States has become closer in the last decade on issues important to both countries such as illegal immigration, border security, drugs and human trafficking. But that critical intelligence relationship may be under examination in Mexico. The country is trying to fashion a response to a suite of economic threats issued by the new U.S. administration. And security is one serious chip to play.


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Texas Fence Law: A Surprisingly Complex (And Interesting) History

Fences line ranches across the State of Texas. You might not intuit it from a casual drive down the road, but there’s actually a pretty complex — and in some cases, murky — legal history behind these ubiquitous fixtures of Texas highways.

On today’s episode of the Rambling Boy, Lonn tells us about Five Strands: A Landowner’s Guide to Fence Law in Texas — a new 30-page booklet published by Texas A&M’s Agrilife Extension Service.

The Rambling Boy is broadcast Mondays after the 10 am newscast and again after the 7 pm newscast.
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Fri. Mar 10 Interview: Paul Drummond

This weekend is the Marfa Myths Music festival in Marfa and one of the biggest names on the extensive lineup includes Roy Erickson, a seminal figure in psychedelic music and member of the band that coined the term “Psychedelic Rock”  – The 13th Floor Elevators.

Joining us on this edition of West Texas Talk is Paul  Drummond, a biographer of the Elevators who recently released a book titled Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, The Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound.

He also participated in a conversation and exhibition with curator Johan Kugelberg during the festival.

West Texas Talk is broadcast live at 6:30 pm each weekday.
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Thu. Mar 9 Interview: Strange Attractor

On this episode of West Texas Talk, Elise Pepple sits down with the curator of the new art exhibition, Strange Attractor, opening at Ballroom Marfa, and 3 of the participating artists:  Lucky Dragons, the collaborative project of Sarah Rara and Luke Fischbeck, and Thomas Ashcraft, artist and citizen scientist.

Strange Attractor is an exhibition exploring the uncertainties and poetics of networks, environmental events, technology, and sound. The term “strange attractor” describes the inherent order embedded in chaos, perceivable in harmonious yet unpredictable patterns. This mathematical concept is a useful trope for the elusive order in our lived experience, and the vital pursuit of making meaning from unexpected connections. Strange Attractor presents an array of multidisciplinary works tracing the disparity between individual perception and the vast abstractions of the contemporary moment. New and commissioned works employing sound, site and technology form the connective tissue of this expansive terrain.

West Texas Talk is broadcast live at 6:30 pm each weekday.
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Wed. Mar 8 Interview: Tom Neilson

On tonight’s West Texas Talk, Jackson Wisdorf speaks over the phone with Tom Neilson, a musician and social justice advocate, to talk about his inspirations, world travels, and how music has the ability to reach people in different ways compared to other forms of communication.

You can hear some of Tom’s music here

 

 

 

West Texas Talk is broadcast live at 6:30 pm each weekday.
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Tue. Mar 7 Interview: Gordon Lightfoot

For tonight’s episode, Elise Pepple and J.P. Schwartz sit down with the legendary Canadian singer and songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. He is famous for such hits as “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “‎If You Could Read My Mind,” and many more. Lightfoot discusses, punctuality, his friendship with Bob Dylan, going on tour, and confides in us the ultimate secret to working out.

Lightfoot will be performing at the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center in Midland on March 8th at 8:00 pm.

West Texas Talk is broadcast live at 6:30 pm each weekday.
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