Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas
Living off the Land
November 24, 1999
Chamiso is hot crop for area residents
By JON FULBRIGHT
PECOS, Nov. 24, 1999 - The bell pepper harvest has been going on for
a while now in the Trans-Pecos, and with the first freeze of the year due
over Thanksgiving, cotton harvesting is about to get into full swing.
But right now in the Pecos area, harvesting of Four-Wing Saltbush seeds
(chamiso) has been the agricultural equivalent of Pokemon toys - the hottest
commodity of the season.
Nearly a quarter million pounds of chamiso have passed through Roger
Jones' warehouse on Western Avenue in Pecos during the past several weeks,
since it was announced Jones was paying a dollar a pound for the seeds,
which can be found all over the region.
"We've gotten about 240,000 pounds, and we've got an 18-wheeler out
there going to Colorado Jones said from inside the Pecos Produce warehouse,
standing in front of a 50,000 pound pile of seeds. "Some of it's going
to Abilene, some to Colorado and some to Spearman."
Jones was contacted by an Abilene seed company about harvesting seeds
from the shrub, after plant seeds in Arizona failed to germinate this year.
"It just started off as something to help the high school kids, and then
it just snowballed," he said.
The students began by harvesting seeds from land owned by the Dixie
Cattle Co., but in the month since it began, those going out daily to pick
seeds and bring them to Pecos has multiplied into the hundreds.
"We've had people from Carlsbad, Odessa, Midland and Big Lake, and we've
even had some come in from Van Horn. It's been amazing," said Jones, who
is employing 22 boys and girls from Pecos High School to help around the
"The price has been real good. It's been a little big better than we
though it would be," he said, adding that recent the mild weather conditions
during the past month have helped increase the harvest.
"We've been real fortunate with the weather. Yesterday (Monday) was
the first windy day we've had in a while," Jones said. He added that the
expected Thanksgiving freeze, "Will just make it better," because the seeds
should fall off the plant even easier than they do now.
All of the seeds shipped out from Pecos are expected to be used for
re-seeding. Jones said last week the chamiso is to go to Conservation Reserve
Program land and to U.S. Bureau of Land Management areas in New Mexico
and Arizona, though some could be used in cancer research.
Students and others involved in the harvest have been able to earn $100
to $125 a day either by picking the seeds or working around the warehouse.
And while Jones said they'll shut down for the Thanksgiving holiday, lots
of people will still have a chance to earn some extra Christmas money -
to buy Pokemon toys or whatever - since "We're planning right now on running
this through Christmas."
Hot wells could provide new industry
By JON FULBRIGHT
PECOS, Nov. 24, 1999 - The price of oil and gas has come back from
their low levels of a year ago, and drilling activity has risen from its
historical lows of just six months ago. But during the rough times over
the past 18 months, a number of low-producing wells have been capped, and
the crisis once again pointed out how dependant the Permian Basin is on
the oil industry.
But if a Midland geologist and his partner are correct, capped gas wells
in the western sections of the Basin could find a second life as a source
of a different form of energy, which in turn could boost the economies
of cities such as Pecos and Fort Stockton.
Douglas B. Swift, Director of Geological Research for the West Texas
Earth Resources Institute, is proposing that capped wells within the Delaware,
Val Verde, Anadarko and Appalachian Basins be used as a source of geothermal
energy, which could then be converted into electricity for use as a power
source for cities within a 700-mile radius.
"This is something that the communities in this area are well suited
to take advantage of," Swift said. "It's there for the people of Pecos
to jump on, or the people of Fort Stockton, or the people in Alpine."
Swift and his partner, Richard Erdlac, recently presented their plan
to the West Texas Geological Society's Fall Symposium in Midland, and Swift
made a similar presentation this past Thursday at Sul Ross State University
in Alpine. Their idea is to take advantage of the high temperatures found
at the bottom of the deep wells in the western Permian Basin region, and
pump up super-heated water from the wells to power turbines, similar to
those found at sites in other parts of the world.
"The deep basins … contain demonstratably high thermal reservoirs,"
Swift said. "Loving, Reeves, Pecos and Terrell all have bottom hole temperatures
from 120 to 180 degrees (Celsius)," with temperatures higher at the southern
end of the region, which in general parallels U.S. 285 from the Orla area
to north of Sanderson.
"The wells are there and represent many billions of dollars," he said.
"There are 1,400 wells we've identified that have temperatures that could
qualify for geothermal temperatures. That's more than there currently are
in the world."
Geothermal wells are generally associated with `hot spot' areas that
are also conducive to volcanic activity, such as California and southern
Italy. Swift said the first use of geothermal energy was in Larderello,
Italy in 1904. It currently accounts for less than one percent of the world's
energy production, but supplies as much as 10 percent of the energy in
nations like El Salvador, Nicaragua and Kenya.
It's been a while since the last volcano blew it's top in West Texas
_ both the Big Bend region and the area between Balmorhea and Fort Davis
are sites of extinct volcanoes _ but Swift said the underground temperatures
drillers have reported in the region should be high enough to make their
use as a geothermal source practical.
"We're looking at what has been a negative becoming a positive," Swift
said. "In the Delaware Basin, they've know about these things for years,
and it's been a pain," he said, explaining how drillers have been hampered
by the high temperatures in the wells and have worked to lower their levels
below the boiling point of 100 C.
"U.S. production began in 1960 at Geyserville (Calif.)," Swift said,
which boasts the world's largest geothermal field, at 15 square miles.
But as the name of the town implies, the geothermal activity there is above
as well as below ground, and commercial use of the field can exceed the
water recharge rate, causing the geysers to disappear.
"Recharge limits cause geysers to go extinct, which is bad public relations
for the companies," he said. In addition, some prime geothermal areas,
like Yellowstone National Park, are off limits to development. And areas
where the water passes through igneous rock tends to pick up heavy metals,
such as Mercury, Arsenic and Cadmium. Deposits such as mercury are mainly
found in the Shafter-Presidio area of West Texas, but not in the Delaware
Swift said this area has already had its deep wells drilled, and the
super-heated water over a mile beneath the surface comes from a separate
source than the regions shallow underground aquifer sites. And because
there are no heavy metals in the area, potable water would be the main
"Gomez field (southwest of Fort Stockton) is 137 square miles, and there
are no heavy metals, no geysers, and it is within 700 miles of the market,"
which Swift said is the roughly 15 percent of the U.S. population that
lives between Phoenix, Ariz., northern Oklahoma and the eastern border
The 700-mile distance is the longest that can be covered by a generating
site in West Texas without electrical degradation, Swift said.
Some things still need to be tested, and Swift and Erdlac are seeking
a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to see if the cost
to tap into geothermal is comparable with other available power sources.
Swift said the cost "needs to come in at about four cents a kilowatt hour,"
to be workable.
He added that current state and federal laws would make geothermal a
more attractive energy source in the next decade.
Federal law currently gives alternative energy sources a 10 percent
tax credit and a 1.5 KwH subsidy, which would allow a geothermal project's
cost to come in at 5.5 to 6 cents a KwH and still be viable. In Texas,
Swift said Senate Bill 7 requires utilities increase their generating capacity
by 2000-megawatt hours by 2009. "That the equivalent of 66 million barrels
of oil a year at $20 a barrel," he said, or $1.3 billion.
Swift said he was able to collect data on bottom well temperatures from
figures released by the oil industry. "We have temperatures from 4,500
wells available," he said. And while the oil business can be a bit secretive
about some of their drilling information, "They released them simply because
the oil companies did not consider it worthwhile."
In response to a question following his presentation, Swift said he's
been in contact with three of the major oil companies and a number of independents
since his Midland presentation. "The oil companies won't block (development)
for public relations reasons," Swift said, adding, "A lot of people who
work for the oil companies are environmentally sound at heart. I believe
you'll find more help from the majors than resistance."
He added that the oil companies at this time do not control the geothermal
leases on any of the area's wells. "They're owned by the mineral rights
owners. It's an open market out there, an entirely new field," Swift said.
However, a different person could control access to the well bore, if surface
and mineral rights ownerships are divided.
As for the generating plants themselves, Swift said there are four different
methods for using geothermal energy, either within an open (in which steam
is vented into the atmosphere) or closed (recirculating the underground
water) system. He said a 10-megawatt plant using a closed system would
cost about $15 million, while an open system would come in at about half
that price. A 10-megawatt plant can handle the electric needs of about
40,000 people, he added.
Swift also said unlike other alternative forms of energy being looked
at in West Texas _ using wind turbines or solar panels _ geothermal energy
"is not seasonal. Geothermal plants are on line about 95 percent of the
If Swift and Erdlac receive their DOE grant, the first step would be
to develop a pilot plant on one of the field in the Delaware Basin. "We
know the Delaware Basin is the best place to start, because the wells already
have been drilled," he said.
The main thing lacking in the area right now are "engineers and geologists
needed to tap the facilities," Swift said, adding that the community that
acts first could reap long-term benefits.
"In the 19-teens the question was where should Texas put a technical
college. The two cities competing for it were Big Spring and Lubbock, which
was just a little cotton town out on the South Plains. Now, much of what's
there is centered around the university," Swift said. He added that in
the 1920s and early 30s Midland was able to center the Permian Basin's
oil industry in their city, and that the same thing could happen with a
new geothermal industry in the upcoming decade.
Outdoors in the Desert
By Jim Allen
I have been receiving a lot of calls from individuals in different areas
of the state regarding the upcoming mule deer season. Usually the first
question they ask is, "How are the mule deer looking this year?"
I have been advising them that some areas are looking o.k., but it is
going to be hard hunting when the temperature is 80-plus degrees with less
than two weeks before opening day. Hopefully we will get some moisture
and cool weather soon.
For this month's column, I would like to focus on those individuals
who have hunting leases or are guests on a ranch. Most, if not all, of
the game wardens in West Texas will receive calls in reference to individuals
going onto a ranch and throwing out trash, shooting onto other adjoining
properties, leaving gates open, etc.
Most individuals throughout the state who have a lease or are guests
on a ranch follow the rules, but there are always a few individuals who
break the rules.
First of all, respect the landowner's property. If you come to a gate
that is open, leave it open, and if it is closed, leave it closed. If there
is trash lying on the side of a pasture road, pick it up.
Chjeck with the landowner regarding the property boundaries. If there
is one particular type of species that is to be hunted, then hunt that
species only. Stay on the ranch roads while traveling in a vehicle. If
you happen to come upon a broken water line or a windmill not pumping water,
advise the landowner.
If you respect the land you are on and the landowner, there will probably
be several more seasons in the future that you will be granted access.
A more common issue that I come across is shotshell casings around windmlls
or in the pasture. Livestock will eat these shell casings, and they are
littering the ground. Pick them up.
If at all possible, touch base with the landowner before going into
the field. Some livestock may have been moved to a new pasture, and the
landowner may want to close that area to hunting for a while. If you observe
a hunting violation, advise the landowner and your local game warden.
If at all possible, take a youngster hunting or fishing during the upcoming
holidays. If you observe a hunting or fishing violation, contact me through
Pecos Police Department communications or the Operation Game Thief hotline
Average is the word for 1999 prices
By JON FULBRIGHT
After a year of historic lows and near-record surges in the price of
crude oil, where will the Permian Basin's mineral valuations be priced
when assessment day comes on January 1?
Right about where they would have been if none of the dips and rises
over the past 18 months had ever happened, according to a petroleum geologist
with Pritchard and Abbot of Fort Worth.
"For the first time in a few years we'll be using a price projection
that's in line with what everybody expects the normal price to be," said
Rodney Kret of Pritchard and Abbott, the firm that does oil, gas and mineral
valuations for the Reeves County Tax Appraisal District.
Since much of the annual budget for Reeves County, the Reeves County
Hospital District and the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD are based on those valuations,
those numbers will be important for determining the budget for those groups
next summer. As of right now, Kret said, "West Texas Intermediate is 30
percent above 1998's average price. It's $18 compared with $13.50 we used
as the average price on Jan. 1, 1999, which is a lot better."
However, he added the increase would still not bring oil and gas valuations
back to the average price level reported on Jan. 1, 1998. Kret explained
that under a bill passed in 1994 by the Texas Legislature, valuations are
set on the first day of each year and are based on the average price of
oil during the previous year.
Six months ago, that number was looking pretty bad, when oil hovered
just above $10 a barrel and oil drilling activity in the area fell to record
"It's been quite some change," said Kret. "At this time last year we
were sitting at the lowest price, inflation adjusted, in 50 years. Since
then, we've had a big increase in market value."
That translated into estimated valuation losses of $758,000 for the
Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD. Losses were even higher for other district, ranging
up to the $8.3 million estimate for the Iraan-Sheffield ISD in Pecos County.
Oil prices reached their highest level since the $32-a-barrel days of
the 1991 Persian Gulf War on Monday, increasing to $27.93 on the New York
Mercantile Exchange before profit-taking shaved $1.10 off the price on
"Oil and gas are commodities and are going to fluxuate up and down,
and some might argue the periods between the highs and lows are shorter
and short as time goes by," Kret said.
The $18 average Pritchard and Abbott are using is based on the median
price since 1986, the last time oil prices collapsed, and a gallon of gasoline
was selling for as low as 59.9 cents in the Permian Basin Ï great
for drivers, but terrible for schools and county governments in the region.
The latest increase has brought drilling activity back up as well. Kret
said that another thing his firm does valuations on, but unlike the oil
prices, that sectors has shown a far slower comeback.
"Progress is slower than we'd like to see it," he said. "There's been
an upturn, but a cautious upturn.
"I don't think individuals are sold on this lasting longer than the
short-term. We haven't seen indications of people jumping on the bandwagon
and hiring people when they may have to lay them off at the end of the
year," said Kret. "Plus a lot of operators are busy paying off debt they
incurred to make it through he tough times."
He said it would take at least another six months of strong prices before
drilling activity would return to consistently higher levels.
Oil's phenomenal price run-up took off last March when the Organization
of Petroleum Exporting Countries and key allies, disconcerted by plummeting
prices and a world glut, cut production by 2.1 million barrels a day Ï
2.6 percent of world totals.
Except for a dip from $25 to under $21 this fall, it has continued unabated
as OPEC members have largely adhered to the lower production levels. Now
they are widely considered likely to extend them past their scheduled expiration
With crude oil inventories near a two-year low, OPEC is still largely
complying with the cutbacks. With the arrival of colder weather that increases
demand, analysts say there's no end in sight to oil's rise.
Ironically, experts say, while OPEC's strategy is paying off in the
short run, it will hurt long-term demand because soaring prices have drawn
other producers into the market to fill the gap. But most of that production
is either offshore or at other overseas sites.
Krut said the fact that most fields in the Permian Basin have been fully
explored means the underground assets are being depleted with no new fields
"Oil and gas is a working asset, and when you are not replacing it with
new wells or workovers the values are going to decline," he said.
Those declines may be 5 percent annually and are relatively stable,
according to Krut. Because of the jump in price during the second half
of 1999, he added that the total valuation would still come in above last
year's total, even with the depletion taken into account.
"In the year 2000 we may see expanded drilling to offset production
declines. That would be my rosy scenario for Jan. 1, 2001," Krut said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
Division of Buckner News Alliance, Inc.
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 915-445-5475, FAX 915-445-4321
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Copyright 1999 by Pecos Enterprise