- Written by Steven Schafersman
- Published: 21 November 2013
A Report on Becky Berger’s Public Testimony Concerning
Holt McDougal Environmental Science
By Steven Schafersman, Ph.D.
2013 November 21
At 10:22 p.m. last night, November 20, Becky Berger gave public testimony about Holt McDougal Environmental Science, a textbook published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I was in the audience live blogging the public testimony—the only live blogger still working at that hour. I was ready to pack up and leave when it was announced that one more person would testify, someone not on the list. This turned out to be Becky Berger. She identified herself as a degreed petroleum and mining geologist and then launched into an attack on the only Environmental Science textbook remaining on the TEA adoption list. I did not know who Becky Berger was during and immediately after her presentation, but I listened in astonishment as she criticized the book and repeatedly made statements that I knew were inaccurate or false. I began to write as fast as I could and attempted to record everything she said. I had no idea what her motivation was or why she was saying such bizarre things about an excellent environmental science textbook. The link to my blog column and what I wrote that night is at the end of this report. Since Ms. Berger did not provide any written testimony, my column may be the only written record (there is also the TEA video).
I had already briefly reviewed the HMH Environmental Science text. My initial review was superficial: I only checked for accurate coverage of climate change, a topic I thought might be pre-censored (i.e. self-censored) by the publisher to escape criticism by Texas reviewers and State Board members. That topic was presented accurately and professionally and I ignored the rest, suspecting that if climate change was presented accurately, the rest of the book was sound. That assumption turned out to be correct. After discovering very late last night that Becky Berger was a Republican candidate for the Railroad Commission, I realized that she was using the attack on an environmental science book as a way to publicize her political campaign for the Republican Primary Tea Party voters’ support. I said as much in an update to my November 20 blog column that I wrote this morning at 7:30 a.m.
It was particularly fortunate that I was present to listen to her attack on the HMH EnvSci textbook since I am extremely capable of judging the accuracy of her testimony. I myself have a Ph.D. in geology and have long worked in the petroleum and environmental industries. I also was an Earth Science college and university professor for 23 years during which I taught geology, environmental science, and petroleum geology courses at four different colleges and universities (and many other courses). For example, I taught the petroleum geology course at the University of Houston for several years in the early 1980s, and I created and taught the environmental science course at Houston Community College in the late 1970s. Also, I am very familiar with all the controversial topics that are taught as part of Environmental Science and Earth and Space Science. I was on the TEA panel for the Texas ESS course several years ago and wrote a significant part of its curriculum standards (TEKS), a few of which (the ones that mentioned evolution and the origin of life and the universe) became controversial and were amended by State Board members to weaken them against the objections of the scientists and science teachers who originally wrote them.
It was because of my background and knowledge that I was able to so quickly recognize the inaccuracy of most of Becky Berger’s statements about the textbook and about teaching the course itself. Since I had initially reviewed the HMH EnvSci book superficially, I spent three hours this morning reading it in more detail to document Ms. Berger’s many errors. I also was able to obtain a good understanding of the book. The book is clearly, factually, and honestly written. It contains no errors that I could find (except for a columnar chart that duplicated the statistics of two different continents that should have been different). It has obviously been carefully written and edited. The book is also beautifully illustrated. The book was frankly inspirational, with several specific profiles of individuals who have made significant contributions to environmental science: I mention here Susan Solomon and her work on ozone and climate change and David Bamberger’s Ranch Preserve, a successful Central Texas habitat restoration project. Their hard work is heroic and I hope it inspires students. My own feeling was that I wished I had been able to use a textbook like this when I was in high school, since it took me years to learn all the material in this book that students today can obtain much more quickly. In short, this book would give Texas students a terrific and inspirational view of modern environmental science and especially the many human-caused environmental problems with which they will have to deal the rest of their lives. Perhaps someone who reads this book will be inspired sufficiently to solve one of these problems (which frankly will require political and social solutions in addition to scientific and technological ones, which is why solutions are so difficult, probably impossible, so humans are going to keep suffering).
Becky Berger's Statements
Let’s examine Becky Berger’s statements one by one. She criticized the book’s presentation of an enlarging ozone hole and said that was wrong since the ozone hole stopped expanding in 2007. Her criticism is wrong. The book had a diagram with three views of the ozone hole in 1980, 1990, and 2000, with the ozone hole becoming larger each decade. In fact, the text says quite clearly that, “Following the announcement in 1985, scientists and governments worldwide began working together with chemical companies to develop ways to prevent the ozone hole from growing. As a result, ozone in the stratosphere is no longer decreasing.” Nowhere does the book state that the ozone hole is growing larger. Instead, it contains a graph that shows a dramatic decline in production of CFCs (the agent that ultimately causes the ozone hole) since the ban in 1987, the Montreal Protocol. “Even with this success, scientists are still working to protect the ozone layer because CFC molecules remain active in the stratosphere for 60-120 years.” Ms. Berger apparently did not understand the graph and decadal images of the Earth, or she did not read the complete text. Her statement about the book is just not true.
She said a passage attributed human malnutrition to inadequate natural resources and violence. She said, “The book will scare students.” Actually, the book says quite clearly that, “Malnutrition today is largely a result of poverty and violence,” a true statement. Due to modern industrial agricultural practices, the farmers of the world produce enough food to feed 10 billion people with “an adequate vegetarian diet” (current world human population is 7 billion). Human poverty precludes people from buying enough food to prevent starvation and human warfare (violence) disrupts transportation and availability of food supplies. Other factors are also involved: diverting crops to biofuels raises food prices, changing climate, degrading soil quality, topsoil erosion, drought due to climate change, etc. All of these factors should scare students since humans are responsible for all of them. She is apparently advocating that we sweep these problems under the rug and hide them from students.
Ms. Berger criticized maps that show that the most vulnerable areas of soil erosion match the areas of high human population density. Since humans are the cause of soil erosion, it makes sense that most of it is occurring in such regions. Soil erosion is an important environmental problem that students in Texas should understand since it is occurring here.
Since Becky Berger works in the petroleum industry, she was especially upset about the book’s depiction of hydraulic fracturing of petroleum-bearing rocks (fracking). She complained that the book said fracking was dangerous, when she says it is so “localized and specific” that it cannot possibly be dangerous. Unfortunately for Ms. Berger, the environmental science book is correct again, not she. The book accurately says fracking is risky and that it is society’s responsibility to analyze the risks associated with fracking and decide if the benefits are worth taking the risks (in most cases they are). Earlier the book had presented the concept of risk analysis, so this should not be problematic. As individuals in the industry often do (just look at the recent UT report that reported that fracking had caused no problems; even some of the authors pointed out the obvious), Ms. Berger carelessly focused only on the fracking event itself, deep underground, where indeed there should be no contamination or pollution if everything is conducted properly. She deliberately ignored all the other risks involved with fracking: the possibility of poor cementing jobs that leave a passage up the annulus (the space between the well bore and the casing) in which frac fluids could escape; the transport of frac fluids to and from the well site that could be spilled in an accident; the disposal of flowback frac fluids by deep well injection that could be mishandled by contractors; the use of enormous amounts of valuable and scarce groundwater for frac fluds and the permanent loss of groundwater from the surface water cycle by retention in deep reservoirs; and the greatest problem in Texas: the release of frac fluids by upward flow to the surface through unknown, unplugged , or poorly-plugged wells which intersect the frack zone deep underground. This last problem has apparently occurred dozens of times in Texas and the U.S., each time with a major or minor surface spill of very toxic frac fluids. In these cases, the state or the producer or both have to pay the cleanup costs since the wells were forgotten or never recorded accurately in the past (wells drilled today must be recorded with the state agency, but thousands of wells exist before these rules went into effect, and also before rules that require wells to be plugged if abandoned). Surely the experienced petroleum geologist Becky Berger knows about these risks, so why does she fail to list them? Just the use and removal of groundwater is impacting towns all over Texas. In short, fracking is a dangerous, risky activity as is every drilling activity. Precautions must be taken or disasters will result. Fortunately, this doesn't happen very often.
She criticized the book for saying that, “Although many components [of frac fluids] are not toxic [water, sand, etc.], some are problematic and are kept secret.” In fact, some "problematic" components (surely an understatement) are highly toxic, but she was upset that the book says that the components are kept secret. She pointed out that the Texas Railroad Commission rules require producers to list the components in their frac fluids. Actually, this is not completely true. Although the requirement is there, the producers are not required to identify their secret additives in detail, that is, the ones that lower the viscosity and friction of the fluid and are the most toxic. These are termed “proprietary trade secrets” and can be left unidentified. Producers happily list water and sand as the major components of their fluids (and they certainly are), but are allowed to list the very small chemical components as a general description and tiny percentage, not a specific identification. Surely she knows this since she is running for the office of a Texas Railroad Commissioner. Or does she? So once again the HMH EnvSci book is accurate and Ms. Berger is not.
Becky Berger may have said something about carbon emissions and climate change, but unfortunately I missed exactly what that was. I was typing as fast as I could and couldn't always keep up. She probably parroted the common petroleum industry line that while climate change and global warming are occurring, this is natural and not caused by carbon emissions, that is, it is not anthropogenic (caused by humans). The Holt McDougal textbook’s presentation of climate change was straightforward and accurate: the overwhelming scientific consensus now is that climate change is the result of the burning of fossil fuels which releases excessive carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and natural carbon-removing processes can't keep up. Methane releases from pipelines, tanks, wells, valves, etc. is also a factor. The current global warming we are experiencing is not naturally-caused by solar radiation changes, long-term climate cycles, and similar explanations. If it is any consolation to the petroleum industry, it is not the major responsible party for ignoring the problem; that would be senior political leaders who refuse to take decades of scientific warnings seriously and then do something about the problem. Petroleum industry lobbying to prevent the adoption of a national energy plan and to keep the status quo is the second major cause of the problem. Our society is addicted to fossil fuels for its major energy source. The addiction is not necessary and is preventable, but it has been encouraged by several responsible parties, not just by the petroleum industry. So if Ms. Berger criticized the book’s presentation of climate change, she is wrong again.
Earth and Environmental Science Education
Next, Becky Berger made several extreme statements in general about education. First, she said that Earth and Space Science should not be taught in high school but saved for college level." On the contrary, scientists today are convinced that students need to take a course in each of three areas of science: Physical, Life, and Earth science. Most believe that Earth and Space Science should be a senior-level capstone course that builds on the foundation provided by biology, chemistry, and physics. Most of the natural-world problems that students will experience during their lives—climate change, drought, water shortage, food availability, natural disasters such as stronger hurricanes, tornados, floods, storm systems, rising sea level, coastal erosion, earthquakes and volcano eruptions in some areas, energy extraction, risks, and expense, shortages of renewable and nonrenewable resources, pollution and contaminaton of inexhaustible resources such as air and water, impacts on society, etc.—are investigated and explained in an ESS course. Many of these are significant problems in Texas. Therefore, it makes sense for students to be exposed to this material in at least one course. If you remember, you approved the original ESS course for these reasons several years ago.
Later she said she is “also not a proponent of teaching environmental science in high school" because “first you need a good foundation in biology, chemistry, and physics.” While the need for that foundation is true, it is not a reason to not offer or take an environmental science course, because students can certainly obtain that good foundation in high school. In fact, a very popular Advanced Placement course is AP Environmental Science. This shows the value that the academic community places on this topic. Environmental Science has always been a popular course taken by students who are interested in the natural world, and they need a textbook!
Finally, Ms. Berger made several bizarre statements:
First, “You have to burn something to make electricity." Apparently she has never heard of solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy (odd for a geologist), hydroelectric energy, and nuclear energy. There are several other non-fossil fuel sources of electricity in use throughout the world.
Second, "Genetically-modified organisms are like cross-pollinated organisms." Totally untrue. GMOs are not hybrids, purebreds, or pedigreed, which are produced by genetic cross-breedng, but rather organisms in which the genes have been artificially manipulated by humans using molecular techniques. They may be safe or unsafe (she was implying that they were all safe), but GMOs are not produced by cross-breeding.
Third, "The Chinese produce five times the amount of air pollution as the U.S." I was told she got this false statistic from UC Berkeley professor Richard Muller, but it is incorrect. China’s annual CO2 emission is 2,395 million tons, while the U.S. annually emits 1,403 million tons. That’s quite a difference but not five times.
Fourth, “The book has multiple factual errors and should be rejected." I spent several hours reviewing the book (HMH’s Holt McDougal Environmental Science) and I disagree. As I wrote earlier, I found one small error. I believe that the TEA reviewers also found no or few errors. So that should be the final comment on Becky Berger’s judgment and veracity.
Becky Berger asked that you reject this book for the reasons I recorded above. As I have documented, she was wrong on every item she presented. I believe she was using your textbook adoption process with the availability of public testimony to attack a perfectly-good environmental science textbook as a ploy to publicize her political campaign. That is, she was politicizing your instructional materials adoption system for her personal political benefit. I don’t consider this to be ethical and I hope you understand that even this motive is bad enough. Even worse is that her criticisms were all totally wrong and misguided, so she was promoting a false image of a perfectly good and valuable textbook that would help and inspire hundreds of Texas students and encourage them to understand and appreciate the natural world better than they do now. She is deliberately hurting the aspirations and opportunities of students, and this is really unethical. No doubt her motive was to appeal to her expected primary voters who aren’t too concerned about the validity of claims and charges. This motive should be rejected. I urge you State Board of Education members to ignore Becky Berger and her false claims and to adopt the HMH Environmental Science textbook, not reject it as she asked.
Original blog column: http://texastheocracywatch.com/8-education/158-live-blog-of-the-texas-sboe-hearing-to-adopt-science-instructional-materials
Update on Becky Berger's Public Testimony Attacking an Environmental Science Textbook
by Steven Schafersman, 2013 November 22-26
A lot has happened since yesterday when I wrote my initial report about Becky Berger's testimony. I am going to evaluate three other new documents that also appeared late last night concerning Becky Berger's vapid and inaccurate public testimony that heavily criticized an environmental science textbook. I was able to get a copy of the documents. Here is a list:
First, Ms. Berger produced her written testimony.
Second, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt produced their official Response to Becky Berger's written comments.
Third, State Board member Tom Maynard asked an experienced professional geologist, Leslie Savage, Chief Geologist of the Oil & Gas Division of the Railroad Commission (which shares the William B. Travis building with the Texas Education Agency), to read HMH Environmental Science textbook's treatment of the petroleum industry and see if he could find any factual errors. He did this and wrote an email message with his updates and identified errors that was distributed.
After I return home, I will scan and post these documents on the Texas Citizens for Science website (texscience.org) for everyone to see. It is common for important documents to be distributed but which are never posted online by the TEA. I posted many of these in past years to provide the transparency that Texas really needs but does not get from the TEA or SBOE. Right now I am going to evaluate them. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has promised, quite rightly, to make all changes that are requested and that they agree are appropriately scientific. They plan to add updated photos, text, and change any factual errors identified by Becky Berger and Leslie Savage. These are all responsible and appropriate responses.
I am going to use her item numbers so it is easy to see what I am responding to. I am using her original numbering system and following her paragraph with my critical reply or refutation.
Becky Berger's Introduction:
Last night at 10:50 pm I testified before the SBOE about an environmental systems book called Environmental Science that was anything but science. We should not be misleading our kids and scaring them away from the sciences because "science hurts people and the environment".
Reply: Here she is quoting herself, not the textbook. And the book does not mislead or scare students or even imply that "science hurts people and the environment." The book does discuss many cases where humans are hurting the environment and other humans, things that happen all the time. It is hard for me to understand why she misquotes the book and characterizes it that way. The book is very pro-science and, while it talks about risks and warns students of environmental problems that humans cause, is generally optimistic about science solving the human-caused problems if citizens are educated and regulatory agencies are allowed to do their jobs.
1. It addressed violence and malnutrition as absolute results of drought caused by global warming. It never mentioned global cooling which is the other part of the climate cyclical phenomenon and should not be insinuated into the science portion of education. There is drought in many parts of the world and violence is not an absolute result of that condition.
Reply: Becky Berger's first sentence is false. Contrary to her, the book said malnutrition is often a result of violence and poverty, which is a true statement. Global warming does often cause drought and that sometimes leads to conflict when famine occurs. The book never mentioned global cooling because that is not occuring now; regional cooling is occuring locally due to climate change, but regional warming is more common. Also, neither global warming or regional cooling are part of a "climate cyclical phenomenon." The climate change we are experiencing is an aberration, not part of either a climate or weather cycle.
2. Pictures of holes in the Ozone [sic] depicted the hole expanding but the picture dates stop in the year 2000 and scientists have reported and showed recent (2000-2013) pictures of the same Ozone layer healing and the hole decreasing in size.
Reply: It is true that the ozone hole is growing smaller over time since 2000, but the photos are there to illustrate the historical trend and the text explicitly points out that ozone destruction in the stratosphere has declined and will eventually stop since CFC release has been halted due to international agreement. Simply reading the text and not looking solely at the pictures would really help Ms. Berger's understanding here. Also, it would be simple to insert a more recent image and the publisher plans to do that.
3. Depicts population maps overlapped with erosion problems failing to point out the topography and geologic structures in the same areas that are especially prone to erosion irrelevant to population density.
Reply: Actually, vegetation universally prevents excessive erosion on low slopes and humans do not live on steep slopes that have no vegetation and that do experience rapid erosion. There is only one erosion map in the book and it largely correlates with human population density, because all unnaturally large or excessive erosion is due to human activity, such as removal of the natural vegetation and replacing it with monoculture crops which do poorly in droughts, the recipe for enormous soil erosion during the Dust Bowl, for example. Over-cultivation and over-grazing lead to excessive soil erosion; both were once common in Texas but less common now as farmers and ranchers have become better informed about soil conservation through government programs. Studies show, however, that enormous amounts of top soil are lost annually and globally at rates faster than natural soil formation processes can replace it, not a sustainable process.
4. There is a isolated box that states hydraulic fracturing might harm water wells in the area of fracking activity in direct contradiction to the EPA statement that no evidence of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater has been found.
Reply: The book contains a "Case Study" (p. 440-441) about the well-known example of methane contamination of water wells in Dimock, PA (the textbook does not identify the location). Contrary to Ms. Berger's claim, after the EPA statement she mentions it was discovered that the statement had been censored for political reasons and that the EPA had actually discovered a link between well drilling and groundwater contamination as it had originally reported. Nothing in the Case Study is false, however, it needs clarification. Methane was discovered in local groundwater and it appeared near the well that was drilled for a fracking stimulation. However, the well was drilled through a formation close to the aquifer that contained naturally-high amounts methane and some scientists now suspect it was that gas that contaminated the freshwater--contaminated due to drilling, not due to fracking.
Previous peer-reviewed studies by Duke scientists found direct evidence of methane contamination in drinking water wells near shale-gas drilling sites in the Marcellus Shale basin of northeastern Pennsylvania, as well as possible connectivity between deep brines and shallow aquifers, but no evidence of contamination from fracking fluids. Other scientists think some of the methane did come from the zone that was fracked. Studies are continuing. There are many resources on the Web that document this controversy as I have described it (the Propublica report is especially good):
It is true that it would be very difficult for methane from a fracked zone to reach the surface, but not impossible. A poor cementing job of the casing could result in methane reaching the surface via the annulus (the space between the casing and the well bore). I don't know how often this happens if ever, but the number would be very low. The point is that Becky Berger's statement is probably true if its context was restricted only to the actual fracking event itself, but it is not true if all the production activities prior and subsequent to the fracking event are included. Surely all the production activities associated with the entire fracking operation must be considered when discussing the risks and environmental impacts of fracking. This precise issue surfaced recently in a notorious University of Texas study in which the primary editor neglected to disclose his financial ties to the petroleum industry and who concluded that there were no documented examples of fracking causing contamination of groundwater or surface spills. Needless to say, the editor used the most narrow context of fracking--only the subsurface fracking event--to reach this misleading conclusion. The documented risks and impacts of fracking include spills and leaks during transport and disposal of wastewater (fracking fluid flowback), the large amounts of freshwater used and ultimately removed from the Earth's water cycle, small earthquakes, flow of fracking fluids up the bores of undocumented and poorly-plugged or never-plugged abandoned wells that result in both aquifer contamination and surface spills of fracking fluid, methane leaks from pipe joints and casing during fracking operations and storage, etc. The petroleum industry should be more transparent and forthcoming about these risks and impacts rather than just continuing to claim that the fracking event itself could not be hazardous because it is so deep underground; while it is true that the fracking event itself would probably not cause surface contamination, the entire fracking operation considered as an entirety has many hazards, risks, and problems. Here are several good general resources that describe and document the risks and environmental impact of fracking:
5. This "techbook" gives absolute outcomes on environment, air quality, economic destabilization, necessity for taxation based on data, studies and information that is old and has been deemed incorrect, absolutely false and partially true.
Reply: I'm not sure what Becky Berger is claiming here. If she is denying that environmental degradation and damage have negative financial consequences, she is wrong. Examples of these have been well-documented in thousands of scientific studies.
6. The suggest [sic] that there would be a $1500 per year decrease in everyone's energy bills if they just install energy efficient windows. That is absurd and cannot be proven to be true since many homes already have them and individual households use differing amounts of energy depending on the number of people in the home, age brackets and number of appliances.
Reply: I couldn't understand this criticism, either, until I read the HMH Response. Ms. Berger is misrepresenting the content on p. 470, which actually states that "the average household in the United States spends more than $1,500 on energy bills each year" and later states that "replacing old windows with new high-efficiency windows can reduce your energy bill by 15 percent." As HMH points out, a reduction of 15% would be $225, not $1,500, so Ms. Berger totally misunderstood and then misrepresented the book's actual content.
7. Using one scientist's estimation of kilowatt savings and endorsing ENERGY STAR products is not only inappropriate it is lacking scientific testing on a broad scale.
Reply: The textbook did not endorse ENERGY STAR products but did point out that they use less electricity, which is factual. ENERGY STAR products have undergone a process of inspection, testing, and verification to meet strict requirements set by the EPA, so it is incorrect to say that lack "scientific testing on a broad scale."
8. Connecting to math from the teachers edition makes an invalid assumption that Germans use less water than United States citizens and thus the US should save more water through green technology.
Reply: The problem on p. 470 refers to gasoline, not water, and Germans do indeed use less gasoline than the U.S. because their automobiles are more efficient (and they rely more on public transporation that do Americans). By the way, Germans use 25-50% of the water that U.S. citizens use (http://chartsbin.com/view/1455 | http://www.waterfootprint.org/?page=files/WaterFootprintsNations) when measured per capita.
9. RETEACH sections to change lifestyle choices in a science class have nothing to do with science. This has the potential for children to conflict with the lifestyles their parents have worked hard to afford for them and can create an argumentative situation in the homes that cannot afford to make major changes to their living conditions, which could result in psychological or self esteem problems of the students.
Reply: Lifestyle choices are choices, not commands that students must obey. The textbook encourages students to measure their environmental footprint (per capita consumption of natural resources such as water, electricity, etc.) and evaluate their effect on the environment. Nowhere does the book tell students what they must or must not do to incorporate changes to their environmental footprint. Ms. Berger confuses the act of informing students and reducing their ignorance with encouraging, advocating, or even compelling lifestyle choices. I also take issue with Ms. Berger's notion that students who choose to adopt "green" lifestyle practices will cost their parents more money ("homes that cannot afford to make major changes to their living conditions"); in actuality, such green lifestyle changes would almost invariably cost less.
10. Becky Berger skipped over no. 10.
11. Offering alternative energy sources without full explanation of the negatives associated with them is an incomplete set of information for the students that leads to false conclusions.
Reply: Actually, the textbook does indeed identify both the advantages and disadvantages of alternative energy sources, and asks student to investigate and compare them. Not all alternative energy sources are better (consider the requirement to use designated amounts of ethanol in gasoline; this mandate increased the price of food and required more fossil fuel energy to produce the ethanol that if the fossil fuel was used in the first place; scientists in general condemned this politically-inspired alternative energy source).
12. Proposing mass usage of hydrogen gas for fuel is ignorant of the volatility of the gas and the explosive nature of this type of fuel which would endanger users. It is not ready for mass production.
Reply: Mass use of hydrogen gas is no more volatile or dangerous than mass use of natural gas and gasoline as fuels for motor vehicles.
13. Speaking of wind power as though it is the abundant, inexpensive and the solution to all of our energy needs is false, naive and misleading. . . . The text also fails to point out that wind energy is not reliable, and cannot be transported over great distances so often times it is generated in area with low population density.
Reply: The text does not suggest that wind power is "the solution to all of our energy needs." Indeed, such an idea is nonsense since wind energy, while relatively abundant and inexpensive, is not always geographically- or meteorologically-available and also cannot possibly be increased to generate enough electricity to supply the amount needed in the U.S. The authors of the book--indeed, any environmental scientist--knows this and would never have stated it, and it is wrong to claim their text did. Furthermore, Becky Berger is apparently unaware that all sources of electricity (coal, nuclear, natural gas, water, wind, solar, etc.) are almost always generated in areas with low population density and transported great distances to urban centers. In fact, it has long been possible to transport great amounts of electricity long distances with little loss of energy due to resistence.
14. Pictures of mining operations from the 1850's and the early 1900's are misleading toward the mining industry and misrepresenting how mining technology operates in current day.
Reply: The photos were included for historical reasons in one section of the book on California gold mining. More modern photos of mining operations are included in the section on Mining and Mineral Resources.
15. Presenting hybrid cars as an energy efficient alternative without presenting the excessive cost of the batteries that we have no place to dispose of when they no longer work.
Reply: Hybrid cars are only a little more energy efficient than traditional gasoline-fueled automobiles. Electric cars are much more efficient. It is true that the batteries are expensive and cannot be disposed of cheaply; this is a technical problem that both hybrid and electric vehicles must overcome. Societies are just beginning to switch to vehicles powered by electricity and difficult hurdles remain. More efficient, smaller, and recyclable batteries will have to be invented for this technology to mature.
Becky Berger's Conclusion:
These examples only scratch the surface of the misleading, inaccurate and partial explanations of our global environment. We need students informed with accurate, factual and fully explained science. I wish I had more time to address all of the inaccuracies in this "techbook" but time is not on our side. I suggest you vote on the side of caution and reject this failed attempt at creating opinion to be taught as science.
Reply: It should be obvious that almost all of Becky Berger's misleading, inaccurate, and incomplete criticims of the Holt McDougal Environmental Science textbook are without merit. We need students informed with accurate, factual, and fully-explained science, not the half-baked misunderstood, fallacious, and misleading criticisms of a political opportunist and polemicist who obviously doesn't understand what she is reading or writing about. Isn't it time that the politicization of the instructional material adoption process in Texas cease? It is bad enough when the members of the State Board of Education indulge in this misuse of public authority, but now Tea Party candidates are visiting the SBOE hearing room because they know the example has been set and they feel they have license to emulate them (and be graciously welcomed by some SBOE members). Our students have experienced one tragedy after another caused by right-wing political opportunism, and now they are getting comedy: the theater of the absurd.
I was told that this document was written quickly in a hotel lobby by a HMH editor only hours before it had to be delivered to the Texas State Board of Education in reply to Becky Berger. I am not going to analyze it here except to say that I read it have no objection to its replies to Ms. Berger's critical comments. I used it to inform my replies to one or two of the criticisms.
The Assessment of Errors and Updates to the HMH Holt McDougal Environmental Science by Leslie Savage, Chief Geologist of the Texas Railroad Commission
Mr. Leslie Savage's corrections are of two different types: (1) updates to information about the petroleum industry that is out of date in the environmental science textbook, and (2) correction of errors. I am not going to spend much time on the updates, all of which are valid and about which Mr. Savage is a recognized authority. For example, he notes the increased number of producing states by listing those for which advances in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling have made major producers. He notes that source rocks, not just reservoir rocks, are now major sources of oil and gas. Most of the world's large oil reserves are no longer in the Middle East, but also in the United States. The out-of-date sentence that says that few large oil reserves have been discovered in the last decade is wrong; at least three extremely large oil basins are now being exploited in the U.S. (Permian Basin mudstones, Eagle Ford Shale, Bakken Shale) and there are many gas basins (Barnett Shale, Marcellus Shale, Cline Shale, etc.). These are all exploited by fracking. I believe more will be exploited in the future around the world; only the U.S. now really has the technology for fracking but this technology will eventually spread worldwide to similar basins. He corrects misconceptions about fracking technology.
I want to focus on two topics that Mr. Savage discusses. First, he mentions that the Duke Researchers found naturally-occurring methane had contaminated local drinking water aquifers in Pennsylvania, but found no direct connection between the contamination and fracking operations in the region. I cited the primary and secondary literature above and agree with this. According to some scientists and the EPA, there is some evidence of a connection, but it is ambiguous and cannot be cited as a confirmed example. Rather, emphasize the risks and hazards of the other parts of fracking operations rather than the subsurface fracking itself.
Second, he says "there is no truth to the statement that "deep and cold drilling" increases the risk of pollution. The context of the statement, however, is "Global climate change is making arctic seas more accessible for drilling, but both deep and cold drilling increases the risk of pollution." I don't think there is any question that the Arctic Ocean and marine shelves are more risky and dangerous for drilling, but not because they are deep and cold (which are common marine conditions). It is because the region is far from civilization, petroleum infrastructure such as rescue ships, oil spill cleanup equipment, an oil spill or well blowout would be much more difficult to fix and clean up, etc., and because the moving ice, currents, strong winds, and onset of winter are trecherous. The sentence needs to be reworded. Shell Oil Company's exploration effort last year foundered because of the harsh and unexpected conditions. One rig was run aground by storm currents and winds. Offshore rigs drill in deep and cold ocean water all the time all over the world with quite acceptable risk, but weather conditions in the Arctic make drilling operations there much more risky. All deep ocean water is cold, just as cold as Arctic ocean water.
Finally, Mr. Savage understandably doesn't volunteer any negative aspects of fracking but I discussed the fact that there are plenty. No highly technical operation on this scale lacks risk. Finally, the problem of increased climate change due to the abundant new oil and gas resources accessible by fracking should be discussed. Just a few years ago it was thought that petroleum resources were decreasing rapidly and nations would be forced to move quickly to alternative energy sources. Now the pressure to do that is gone with the abundant new petroleum resources. The new abundance of traditional fossil fuels will undoubtedly set back efforts to transition to alternative energy sources, thus increasing the liklihood of irreversible runaway anthropogenic climate change and global warming. This aspect of the fracking problem is the most important issue there is and should be focused on. I haven't included references to it but these can easily be found with web searches.