Haynesville Documentary

From Ruston Daily Leader, October 7, 2010

Stories of Haynesville Shale have been buzzing around for the last year or so.  It is always exciting to hear Louisiana in the news in ways not related to disaster.

This past Tuesday Louisiana Tech’s School of Architecture, College of Engineering and Sciences and the Department of Social Sciences sponsored a film screening for “Haynesville,” a documentary peering into the energy predicament in the country today.

The Haynesville Shale deposit is primarily located in four parishes in Northwest Louisiana—Caddo, Bossier, DeSoto, and Red River, and has been touted as the largest natural gas discovery in North America (roughly 250 trillion cubic feet of natural gas).  Its potential economic impact on North Louisiana is huge—leases on land in the area are reportedly increasing from $150 an acre to $30,000 over the span of a few months.  However beyond economy, it has potential to have long lasting, prolific impacts on the health of families, state and country.

The documentary was directed by Gregory Kallenberg and Mark Bullard—Kallenberg and Bullard were present at the film screening on Tuesday to present their work.  They have been travelling all over the country and parts of Europe with their story of Northwest Louisiana’s gold rush.  It has also been shown at the United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen and the Sheffield International Documentary Festival.

Kallenberg and Bullard hail from Austin, Texas; however, Kallenberg is from North Louisiana originally.  At first blush, it is hard to imagine a documentary concerning natural gas to portray an honest, unbiased depiction.  Issues of this magnitude definitely bring to mind questions of how we define power.  Unfortunately money seems to be one of—if not, the—primary entitlement to power.  It has granted some incredible and perhaps undeserved power to those in the oil and gas industries.  And because money begets money, the power stays put.

One particularly salient point in the documentary was the story of Kassi Fitzgerald’s fight with ExxonMobil and Chesapeake for the rights of the landowners.  Because of the extraordinary perks that come with representing a huge corporation, companies like ExxonMobil can afford the best lawyers in town.  It is important that we keep asking ourselves how these industries could be blocking our growth as a nation.

Kallenberg’s intent for the film seems to be based on a desire to inspire positive change.  He says that he did not come at this project as an “energy guy”but rather, as a magazine journalist who simply enjoys finding a good story.  He recalls first hearing of the Haynesville discovery while sitting in a Strawn’s in Shreveport.  He talks of overhearing the recounted stories between townspeople, which seem reminiscent of the whispering buzz you can imagine spread during the California Gold Rush.  He says that after hearing some of these stories, he wanted to get “a good essence of people during an energy boom.”  He says, “Once we put context to it we came up with some big ideas.”

Part of the reason the energy discussion has stalled is due to the conflicting discourses.  On one side there are those who push for the drilling and inevitable revenue.  On the other side there are those who say you must not drill for environmental reasons.  And there are environmental issues to discuss, primarily issues of water contamination.  Kallenberg believes that the answer to the energy issues must be found in the rational middle.  It is now the duty of the state regulators and environmental scientists to be vigilant about doing what is just.

Haynesville Shale has gotten some praise for its potential to take the focus off of oil obtained from foreign countries so that we may be dependent on our own resources for energy.  Natural gas has been lauded as a way to facilitate sciences and innovators the cushion to continue to research and create renewable energy technologies.  Though it seems to be in accordance with history that we only create out of necessity.

The hope is that Louisiana will take this opportunity to make conscientious decisions about how we go about handling this resource.  Kallenberg closed the evening by mentioning that Louisiana is in a position to make demands on our government and corporations.  He said in his concluding remark, “Louisiana oddly enough has the opportunity to be an example to the rest of the world.”


Update on September 2011: Just read a post that exposes Kallenberg’s family history involvement with the oil and gas industry. The article also cites OpenSecrets.org to show that “the festival’s sponsors include some of the most powerful players in the natural gas arena: Apache Corporation, BP, El Paso Corp, Energy Future Holdings Corp, and America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) — the largest natural gas industry lobbying consortium in the United States. ANGA spent over $3 million lobbying the U.S. Congress in 2010 and has already spent over $1 million lobbying Congress in 2011.”

Divisive Devices

From Ruston Daily Leader, October 21, 2010

You may have experienced those kind of slow motion seconds in which the brain somehow resolves itself to accept disaster.  A few days ago as I was driving down Louisville in Monroe, an SUV of three 18 year olds sailed through their stop sign on the perpendicular street practically sweeping me and my little convertible off the road.  The seconds before the impact feel like hours in a dream that you’re trapped in.  You want to run, you want to move but logistically there is not the time.  In the hours after the crash, meeting the parents and filling out paperwork, I sat on the back of a tow truck flipping through all the ‘what if’ questions.  At the caboose of the thought train there’s an unsettling resolution that it is impossible to get away from our attachment and dependence on the body, our health deteriorating every day, and the dissolution of the materials that keep us functioning.

There very next day I attended a conference on crisis assessment in communities in which methods for planning for and responding to disasters were discussed.   University of New Orleans sponsor CHART—the Center for Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology—a team of professors and graduate students traveling around North Louisiana to investigate and implement disaster recovery programs.  Their mission is to partner with local communities and identify ways to mitigate its risks.  In the five-hour conversation-style presentation, they asked several questions about what it means to be prepared for the next disaster.  They postulate that for an organization to be resilient, it must be able to achieve its core objectives in the face of adversity.  Naturally after the events of the previous night, I was feeling a little skeptical about the ability to prepare for the unexpected.

Under the roof of the Ruston Civic Center, we had the opportunity to discuss the value systems in communities and the structural and practical support of these values.  These rely on the tangible systems, supporting these intangibles.  Wired to mostly filter and compute things with the right side of my brain, it is a constant struggle attempting to marry it to the left—the practical and the theoretical, ‘till death do us part.  

Kristina Peterson, a graduate research assistant for urban and regional planning, presented a few ideas about risk and values in a community and the practical application of these.   She explained to a room filled with business owners, school principals, non-profit workers, and ministers “not one of [your] entities is an island unto itself.”  But how do you go about linking the whole community?  And furthermore, is it in the interest of each individual to be connected to the community?  There seems to be an emphatic “yes” from the participants and leaders in the room.  The question of how to reconcile public interests and private interests has been a question asked for centuries, and I think still needs polishing.

Emphasizing the importance of individual initiatives as a part in caring for the whole, Peterson told a story of a supermarket in Jean Lafitte that was damaged after the storm.  The community went in and took an inventory of the Piggly Wiggly, and then handed out everything from the market to the community.  The man who owned it did not make anyone pay for the groceries, instead he had keys made and gave them to some of the leaders in the community.  After both hurricane Gustave and hurricane Ike, these people were able to utilize sustenance, helping others in the community.

Professor of Sociology at the University of New Orleans, Shirley Laska—a tall, blonde woman with a heavy sense of intelligence and emotion—gave the closing presentation titled “mitigation for your organization” in which she explained the importance of linking the social with the structural.  Earlier that morning, as people were still filing in and I was frantically downing weak coffees in search of caffeine, I had the chance to speak with Ms. Laska.  From the small slice of the thousands and thousands of productive, thoughtful, and heartfelt hours she must have poured into this project, I received a lasting impression of her dedication.

She praised Louisiana Tech University for its engineering program, professing her belief in melding the two sciences—social and structural.

She delivered such an engaging presentation at the very end of these five hours when we were all beginning to fade.  She made an important point that the buildings themselves are important to the values we uphold in community.  Before hurricane Katrina, she went on a hunt to build a hurricane resistant roof over her house.  In all of New Orleans, she only found one contractor who had simply been trained to build the roof.  After the hurricane, the roof had proved strong enough withhold the weight of a fallen tree without one leak.  Her point was that individuals within communities must be prepared for disaster especially for the structures under which we practice our values—such as zoos, museums, football stadiums, worship centers, bars, hospitals, schools, supermarkets, prisons, and so on.

The trajectory of the presentation was built upon steps to motivate community leaders to begin to view community as an obligation, which gives back to the participant.  Perhaps, you can protect the tangible but the intangibles are susceptible to a myriad of extinctions.  The assessment and planning aspect of anything is incredibly unsexy.  It is bland and borderlines paranoia.  However, in the event of disaster, those few crucial seconds will feel more tingling with life than all the coffee in the world.

the slow moving maturation of Generation Y

First RDL article

My father sits with me at the dinner table, retelling that same story I’ve heard so many times before—the autobiographical one about a teenage boy, hot off that college stove, crispy and ready for action.  He tells me a story of a hardworking kid, determined to land the best job out there.  He tells me a story of a kid going to school in the 60s at a time when there were more jobs than educated workers.  After WWII the economy was injected with steroids.  By the end of the 60s, the average Americans income had increased 50 percent.

I hear the story that we, as students in our 20s, all so desperately are straining to hear—a story of opportunity.

There was an article in the New York Times a few weeks ago addressing the trend for Generation Y’s, or the Net Generation—also sometimes adequately dubbed the Peter Pan Generation, proclivity to inch their way to adulthood.

The article is called “What is it about 20-somethings?” by Robin Marantz Henig

Henig looks into the new movement lead by professor Jeffrey Arnett to view the 20s as the “emerging adulthood” stage.

Rather or not you find creating a new stage of growth for our children called for, it is worth noting that “one-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year.  Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once.  They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s.  Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married”.   The early 20s of most generations are riddled with questions of identity and direction.  It is an age in which one might quail at the first infelicitous remark that implies they just aren’t good enough.  Your typical 20 year old hasn’t been beaten down enough times to have built up his courage reserves, to have learned to be resilient.

The basic gist is that we, armored with our 20 some odd years, a handful of adventurous “gap year” and summer work experiences, and a degree from a four year college, are taking longer to accomplish those five milestones that are said to denote maturity: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially solvent, getting married and having a child (or 5 or 6 if we’re looking to the past to get an idea of what is normal).

The fact of the matter is we are not settling.  If a white picket fence, five screaming kids and a luxury minivan is the answer; I don’t want to know the question.  We are simply “coming of age” in an entirely new era—one that is actively being documented and written.  I sometimes look to the stories of my parents and grandparents with envy.  They were given a map with a destination.

The pressure to propitiate our parents is overwhelming.  And why shouldn’t it be?  They are the ones who provided most of us the opportunity to go to college in the first place, the ones who provided us life when we unable to feed ourselves.  Why shouldn’t they view our attempts to find our passions jejune and insipid?  They don’t hear the plangent sounds of our hearts pounding like the foot of a nervous sinner in church.

In an era in which the answer to almost any question or curiosity may be found with just a few swipes and clicks on our smartphones, the demand for excellence and creativity has been skyrocketed out of a canon.  We are living in an era in which we are not afforded the luxury of a promised job.  We are also living in a time that offers some of the most extraordinary opportunities but they are obtained through different routes than ever before.  We are explorers.  We are creating and following our own paths and they are paths that have never been followed in the past.  There is no cookie cutter answer.

So I would urge advisors, parents, teachers, anyone in a position to offer the youth some wisdom and guidance, be demanding of your young adults but realize that what they have to accomplish has no road map, they are creating the road map.