Remarks to the Society of Environmental Journalists

By:  Randy Neugebauer
Date: Oct. 20, 2012
Location: Unknown

Thank you all for having me here today. I'd especially like to thank Dr. Ronald Kendall, Professor of Environmental Toxicology and Special Assistant to the President at Texas Tech. He helped create the Institute of Environmental and Human Health, which combines a variety of academic resources and research specialties to examine the environmental and health impacts of chemicals.

This creative, collaborative approach is what keeps Tech at the forefront of academic research, so I'm grateful to Dr. Kendall for all of his work, and for inviting me to take part in this conference.

Dr. Kendall and his colleagues at Tech are doing incredible work, and I really hope you'll take the time to learn about that while you're here.

I also hope that you spend some time learning about what makes West Texas so special--it's not just our barbeque, although you should sample that too.

West Texas and the Big Country form one of nature's biggest working laboratories for agriculture, energy, and water research. The theme of this conference--Big Land, Big Sky, Big Issues--couldn't be more appropriate.

You'd be hard pressed to find an area with a more diverse mix of energy sources, agricultural production, and natural resources. They combine to foster research and entrepreneurial opportunities that are at the cutting edge of development.

I also think we have two extra ingredients that have truly made us successful: technological innovation and smart regulation that promotes growth.

Today, I'd like to share how that combination of resources, research, and smart regulation has contributed to some achievements I'm particularly proud of. I think that West Texas can serve as an example to the rest of the country on how we can meet the challenges we face today.

West Texas is one of the most productive agricultural regions in America. We lead the country in county in cotton production and we're also one of the top producers of cattle and calves.

While I like to think that we do everything a little better in West Texas, the truth is that our agricultural success mirrors what's been happening across the country.

Today, only two percent of our population feeds not only the other 98%, but also a good deal of the rest of the world. They're doing this with less labor and less land than ever before.

Our efficiency improvements are primarily due to technological advances. Whether it's growing drought-resistant crops, improving livestock nutrition, or reducing the need for pesticides, agricultural research continues to improve our productivity.

Since 1948 our agricultural output has increased by 170%, while inputs have remained more or less constant, and in some cases, have decreased.

And the industry did all this while the price of food stayed the same or went down. Americans spend less on food than citizens of any other country in the world. That's an incredible success story, and I'm proud of all our farmers and ranchers do.

But despite our success, we can't rest on our laurels--the world's population is steadily growing, and will reach nine billion by 2050.

To feed these nine billion souls, producers the world over will have to continue to dramatically improve efficiency.

That will require research, technology, and ingenuity. And it also means that we need to ensure we have a political and regulatory environment that promotes agriculture, rather than stifling growth.

For agriculture to succeed, we'll also have to pay particular attention to our water use. Water is precious in Texas and no one is more aware of that than our farmers and ranchers.

We're making huge strides in this area. Our irrigation efficiency is about 95 percent, so we get a significant return on investment for our water use. In 2007, the statewide value of irrigated agriculture was $4.7 billion.

And while statewide agricultural irrigation has stayed pretty much constant since the 1970s, we've managed to double our cotton and corn yields in that time.

Our farmers, ranchers, and scientists are continuing to improve our irrigation efficiency through advances in drought tolerant crops, improved water management technologies, and continued conservation efforts. It will be critical that we continue to push for better water management in the future, and Tech is helping in that effort.

Their Water Resources Center is working to increase the supply of available water, improve conservation, and prevent the pollution of existing water supplies.

In addition to our agricultural success, Lubbock is also at the hub of some exciting developments in energy production. And much like the challenge we face in feeding a growing world, our energy use and the growing population means that we can't be content to rule out any energy sources.

I think West Texas is one of the most exciting places for energy expansion right now. That's because we're developing new resources and using new technologies to gain greater efficiency from traditional energy.

When you think Texas, you think oil. And that's still true. We are the top oil producing state in the country. But we're also one of the top producers of clean natural gas and we lead the country in wind energy capacity.

Texas truly embodies the "all-of-the-above" philosophy that we need to embrace to meet our energy requirements. By encouraging all forms of energy production, we can increase our energy resources, create jobs, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

There's a striking example of this about 300 miles south of here in Dimmit County. Two years ago, the U.S. Census Bureau classified it as one of the 20 poorest counties in the country.

Unemployment had reached 10.5 percent and the median household income was less than half of the statewide average.

Today, there's an entirely different picture in Dimmit. The population is booming. Unemployment has been cut in half to only five percent--far below the national average. Businesses are springing up everywhere.

That's because the Eagle Ford shale is quickly becoming the most productive source of natural gas in the country. It is producing $20 billion in economic output for Dimmit and 13 nearby counties, and is supporting nearly 40,000 full-time jobs.

The Eagle Ford shale has become this productive because of the growth in hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." While this technology has been used in Texas for more than 60 years, new advancements have created unprecedented opportunity for the region. And in those past 60 years, hydraulic fracturing has not caused a single case of groundwater contamination.

With smart, thoughtful state regulations that promote responsible development without needlessly preventing growth, we can continue building on this success.

We've also made great strides in wind energy production. I have to laugh when wind is called a "renewable" energy. Growing up on the plains of Texas, the wind doesn't seem renewable so much as it seems incessant.

So it makes sense that we lead the country in wind energy capacity. Wind energy already provides about seven percent of Texas' power supply, and some estimates predict that it could eventually provide nearly twenty percent of our state's electricity.

We're seeing some promising efficiency improvements in wind energy lately. It costs about one-fifth less to produce wind energy on a per?kilowatt?hour basis today than it did just ten years ago. And wind turbine prices have declined by about 33% in the last five years.

These improvements have been driven in part by Texas Tech and other schools that have been leaders in researching wind energy.

Not only is Tech's Wind Science and Engineering Research Center helping to improve wind turbine design for the winds of the Great Plains, but they are also looking at how to better design turbines for areas that don't have the same wind resources we have here.

They're also working to build a Scale Wind Farm Technology, or SWIFT, facility that will allow the university to collaborate on research into wind flow, rotor design, and turbine interactions.

Research like this is critical to increasing our production and making new energy sources more efficient. I'm proud that Tech is helping us move forward, and I'll continue to encourage their work.

Before I conclude my remarks, I'd like to share two more examples of Texan innovation.

The first is a carbon sequestration facility that is in the planning stages in Nolan County, near Abilene. The Tenaska Trailblazer Energy Center would take advantage of the synergy between coal energy and oil drilling to maximize our energy production.

The concept is simple but innovative. The plant will capture the carbon dioxide from coal, which would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.

The carbon dioxide will be compressed and piped to oil fields in the region, which can use it to access oil that is otherwise inaccessible.

Oil producers have long used carbon dioxide to recover oil reserves, but Tenaska would mark the first time that carbon sequestration from coal is used for this process.

What would that mean? Every day, it would prevent 17,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. It would also help us access an additional 34,000 barrels of oil each day.

This is a great example of how innovation and technology can combine to increase our energy production while creating new jobs and economic opportunities.

The second example I'd like to share concerns a tiny reptile known as the dunes sage brush lizard. This lizard was being considered for inclusion on the endangered species list, which would have put vast amounts of land off limits to energy production, ranching, and farming.

Landowners worked closely with the Fish and Wildlife Service, environmental groups, and state agencies to develop voluntary conservation agreements that would protect the lizards' habitat without placing harsh burdens on economic growth. So the lizard will not be listed as endangered.

This is a perfect example of how cooperation and private action can have great success, and prevent the need for government intervention.

With that, I'll wrap up my remarks. I may be biased, but I think the Society of Environmental Journalists could not have chosen a better place in which to host your annual conference.

I've thrown out some superlatives in my remarks--we're the number one cotton producer, the top cattle producer, the largest oil producer, the biggest wind producer...

But now you know that we're not just bragging--we're not "all hat and no cattle," as they say. It's true that everything is bigger in Texas. But that's not just good luck.

We have exceptional people working on these issues. We encourage research and collaboration through Texas Tech, which promotes innovation. And we ensure that regulations create a culture of safety, but don't stifle innovation.

So while not every state can be as blessed as Texas, I do think that some of our success can be exported.

Enjoy the rest of your visit to Lubbock, and thanks for your time today.

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