A Bike Ride Across the Permian Basin

Author, climate scientist, and CCAN board member Dave Goodrich is an avid cyclist. So much so that he has embarked on a 700 miles journey across the Permian Basin. On his way he has been taking in the sites of the most active oil producing area in the country, and documenting what he sees. 

We are so excited to be have been able to chat with him last week after his first leg of the journey. Stay tuned for the rest of his story! 

Read the full transcript below.

Charles Olsen  0:12  

Hi, my name is Charlie. And this is upside down the podcast from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Janet Redman  0:33  

Dave, how are you?

Dave Goodrich  0:35  

Good, Janet, good talk to you.

Janet Redman  0:37  

Thanks for joining us today. So this will be the first of three interviews that we have with you. And before we jump in too far, I just want to let everybody know who you are. Among other thing here, the chairman of the board of directors with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and you also had a long career as an NOAA scientist, and you’re currently partaking on a bike ride from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Austin, Texas, covering the Permian Basin.

Dave Goodrich  1:12  

That Yeah, that’s correct. And actually, I, I literally came right in from a ride, which is why I’m a little bit a little informal. But yeah, it’s about 850 miles from Santa Fe to Austin. Where are you

Janet Redman  1:28  

on the ride right now?

Dave Goodrich  1:29  

Right now? I’m in Midland, Texas, which is a little past the midpoint of the ride. I did have a guy in one of these man camps the other day. He said, Where are you riding from? I said Santa Fe. And he paused a little bit. So where you going, Austin? He said, I’m on purpose, or did you loopback spike. Okay, so this I haven’t seen too many other cyclists on this particular route? Actually, none. So, uh huh.

Janet Redman  2:00  

And this is, I know, you’ve done a few of these kind of, I call them climate rides, because you always go on these rides with the purpose of kind of educating people about the countryside that you’re crossing along the way. And the last time we talked, you had just done the Alberta, Canada ride the tar sands down to fields. And I’m curious, how did you decide to do this ride? What what drove you to want to do this

Dave Goodrich  2:28  

was a little bit of curiosity, because you can see in the satellite images, there’s a particular channel where you can see the flaring from oil, oil and gas fields where they’re they’re flaring, basically methane gas off of the oil fields. And if you look at the United States, you see a big, a big yellow, yellow blob in North Dakota, which is the Bakken field, but the biggest of them all is the Permian Basin. And that’s the biggest, biggest field in North America right now. It is the biggest producing field. And I thought, okay, be interesting to see, if you if you’re looking at where the carbon in the atmosphere, at least the US come from, this is this is a big place. But it’s also going across Texas. It’s one of the biggest deployments of wind fields. In the US actually, Texas is the biggest state for wind power generation. And I thought of arrived and maybe a book title eventually called the land, land of fire and wind. So I’ve seen quite a bit of both of those in the last the last week and a half.

Janet Redman  3:50  

Well, tell me about your day today.

Dave Goodrich  3:54  

Today was very neat. I mean, I’ve been For starters, I needed to get to a bike shop, because I do carry a frame pump to pump out my tires, but it’s actually pretty hard to do a lot harder a lot easier if you’ve got a floor pump, which they have a bike. So when I last told the last bike shop in Roswell, New Mexico, I said you better give me some really high quality air because it’s got to get me all the way to Midland Texas week away. which it did. Yeah. So it lasted out. So I stopped by the bike shop and probably the most interesting part of the day. I had a visit set up with a petroleum engineer who has worked for oil oil firms for years and years. He was one of the lead people in the Pluto Bay and Alaska, working in the Permian Basin and all around here for his entire career. And it was very neat to talk with him. We have a lot in common. I actually know. He’s from Missouri, and I actually know Missouri pretty well from riding across it. And, and my grandfather commanded to base there. But it’s an interesting perspective from from an oil, mg, you know, he’s an engineer engineers solve problems. And the problem that he has had in front of him his entire career is how do I get oil out of the ground better and more cheaply, and recently, more cleanly? And it’s not like he’s, he’s ignorant to the the issue of climate. I mean, he actually had a pretty good handle on the the number for the current number for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And one of the things that I was most interested in is, how do you get rid of all this flaring in the Permian Basin? You you ride through this land, and it’s there not too many places where you can’t see a couple of flares on the horizon? It’s not like it lights up the sky, which I thought I would see. But it is all over the place. Well, you know, I

Janet Redman  6:16  

on your blog, on your website, you have the map of it looks like a night sky. And you see the Bakken oil field, and then you see the Permian Basin all lit up. So is that is that a nighttime? Or like an infrared kind of visual because it’s very kind of ominous?

Dave Goodrich  6:35  

Yeah, it is. It’s from the NOAA veers satellite, I’m not sure what wavelength they use. It particularly picks up the wavelength of burning methane. So if there’s a flaring going on anywhere in the world, the satellite sees it and picks it up.

Janet Redman  6:56  

Okay. And beyond flaring, though, isn’t methane, just autumn? It just kind of is a byproduct Anyway, when you’re extracting oil. So isn’t there? A lot of methane in these areas that is not seen is not visible? Absolutely. And, and you can

Dave Goodrich  7:14  

actually, my old outfit, Noah has flown research aircraft, basically sampling over the major oil basins, and you can just see huge spikes in methane concentrations. So there’s no question that there’s a a large amount of methane coming off of the, the oil fields. And if you really want to go after climate change as fast as you can, and methane is what you go after, because it’s 180 times more potent than co2, it eventually eventually decays. Which co2 doesn’t but but still want to get a head start on it. And and what my friend the engineer was, was saying it says, you know, I’m not against, you know, I’m, I would be very much in favor of getting rid of the flaring. It’s, it’s kind of an embarrassment on that. Yeah, it’s a waste. I mean, this is the same stuff that that can be used to heat homes. And so there are ways to do it. And there was actually congressional action week. I think about a week ago, that overturned Trump overturned the the Obama era rules on meth. And that actually just got re overturned by Congress by the Senate two weeks ago. And, and the Biden’s ministration is actively working on rules for eggs. That’s that only applies to new wells. They’re working on rules for methane venting from existing wells, which is the major source of it. And the pushback they get from from the independence is, well, if they, you know, if we have to capture all the methane, it makes a lot of wells on economical, and I’m thinking, like, okay, so if you can’t use the atmosphere as a dumping ground,

Janet Redman  9:15  

well, you know, you make a good point, you’re, you’re out there where the oil industry has been established for well over 100 years. And, and it’s it’s helped build economies, it’s helped build wealth. It’s never, you know, it was not a bad thing back when it first started. And I’m, I’m wondering, are you seeing an if the engineering you spoke with today or anyone else along the way? Um, first of all, are they are they are they feeling like you’re going to attack them because of their oil connections? Or are they understanding that they need to work the transition to a clean economy in as well and, you know, renewable energy has to be added to the mix. Is there any resistance to that?

Dave Goodrich  10:04  

Certainly, today with the guy that I was was speaking with, you know, he’s been in the field a long way is certainly a very well educated man. And and he realizes that renewables are coming on very quickly. He points out some of the problems really, with with just the grid, getting the grid in shape for charging all of these cars. He says, you know, you know, how much a Tesla supercharger draws? It’s like, okay, there’s sounds like there’s lots of work to be done. Lots of work for engineers like me. But, um, I think there is an acceptance that this is coming. But that but I think in the back of people’s minds, it’s like, jeez, I just hope I can, you know, it’s like, like the T shirt you see out here in the, in the oil patch, sometimes it says, God, just give me another oil boom, I promise I won’t blow this one. The that’s that’s not, that wasn’t his perspective at all. But I think there is, there is an acceptance that renewables are coming. I’m think there’s certainly a nervousness about how fast they’re coming. Since this, I mean, I was, I was at the, this petroleum museum just a few minutes ago, which is the Midlands museum to the oil industry. And what you see is a lot of looking back about, boy, everybody used to say that we’re at peak oil, and we’re gonna run out of oil. And that’s clearly not happening with the revolution in tracking. But you don’t see the climate word anywhere there.

Janet Redman  12:08  

I am a little surprised to that. Because, you know, it is another way to generate revenue and put jobs in place. And obviously, we know it’s a cleaner way to do things. And I, I’m just surprised that there is not, you know, some sort of a, the beginning of a movement to, to go in a more sustainable way. Well,

Dave Goodrich  12:32  

I’m put a big Asterix there, even before I wrote into Midland, yesterday, I saw the first of many of the massive wind pride projects that Texas is known for this one was won by Duke Energy in a place with the poetic name, no trees. And, you know, there were turbans just as far as you could see down down the ridge. And then you look in the other direction, and there are pump Jacks in two dimensions at the horizon. So it’s sort of like you’re looking at at. Exactly, exactly. And I was talking to another guy at a at one of the man camps the other night, and he was actually from North Carolina, there are an awful lot of people that migrate into the oil patch from long distances, and spend time work there and go back home. He’s from North Carolina, and his house is he’s on Hatteras, and his house has been flooded out twice. And he asked me said, you know, to sea level rise thing for real? And I said, Yes, sir. It is, this is kind of what I spend my career on. And, and he said it curious, they said, No, there’s, there’s there’s some land out here. That’s not near any of the oil fields. That you know, start doing some investing in that. You know, there’s gonna there’s gonna be a need for more wind farms and more, you know, big solar generators. And, and Texas has been the leader, certainly on the wind side. Mm hmm. Trying to kill.

Janet Redman  14:24  

It’s surprising. It’s an X. It’s really it’s got both it’s got the isn’t aviators, one of the largest wind projects out there.

Dave Goodrich  14:34  

Yeah, I’m going to be visiting The Aviator project. Unfortunately, on Sunday on Mother’s Day, I really, like the guy said, Oh, the the guy’s going to make a trip out to open it for you and then I go, Oh, it’s Mother’s Day. But so I’m, I’m in touch with him saying if I’ll make it really quick. But aviator is is a big one. But they’re really all over the place. They’re not necessarily don’t necessarily have the political stroke that the oil and gas industry has. Because they’re after the big Texas freeze, if you call the governor was on fox news like that day, blaming the freeze up and the power shortages on, on the winter events, or as In fact, most most of the problems were with natural gas freezing up and just their general infrastructure is not built for a big hard freeze like they got. And they’re using that kind of an excuse to propose laying all kinds of new fees on

Janet Redman  15:42  

blind misinformation coming out of that.

Dave Goodrich  15:45  

Yeah, yeah. But it may be that the wind industry has enough political muscle here to survive. It’s, it’ll be interesting to see how about that one online?

Janet Redman  16:00  

So how much longer how many more days you have before you are insane? I’m sorry, in Austin,

Dave Goodrich  16:09  

I’m going to be in Austin, I believe it’s on the 16th if I if I don’t get blown out.

Janet Redman  16:16  

If everything goes Okay, um, and what what have been your biggest obstacles along the ride physically mentally with the people you met?

Dave Goodrich  16:27  

The two things I’m out I was, you know, I play when I was was writing with this thought of, you know, oh, scorpions and rattlesnakes and aliens in New Mexico and stuff. But really, the two two obstacles were very clear. To me. It’s wind and traffic. A You know, there’s a reason they put wind farms out here. And I was thinking, Okay, I looked at the wind rose is a, you know, a climatologist, and it’s like, okay, it’s normally coming hard from the south. And then yesterday when I was trying to get to middle and in time to to meet some folks. I woke up in the morning, you know, usually it’s calm in the morning. And it’s this howling headwind. At worst light, it’s and I’m making six miles an hour into the wind and I’m thinking I’m not going to make this I have to peel off early. So that was that’s happened a few times. I went from went from winter to summer in New Mexico. Overnight, the have a 60 mile ride and at the end of the ride was going up over a pass in suddenly 40 degree rain. I that’s not what I expect out of New Mexico

Janet Redman  17:55  

arese and out of elevation because you were back up in

Dave Goodrich  18:00  

elevation there. You know, it does rain, sometimes in New Mexico. And we were going through a mountain pass probably about 7000 feet. And and you know, I had to stop and you know, put on the rain jacket. I still had you know, long tights on and everything. But by the time you know the next after the six miles of downhill into the into the motel I was borderline hypothermia. So that was that was a little crazy.

Janet Redman  18:33  

I was reading your blog about one of the days when you said it was a rare day when you actually had a tailwind. It seems like you’ve been riding into headwinds predominantly here. And I guess was the first week and you still had Lind salvo riding with you and you wrote that you finally had a tailwind and without pedaling you were going 80 miles an hour.

Unknown Speaker  18:55  

Yeah. When we were coming into someone

Janet Redman  18:58  

was just playing with you then right because yeah, I say I’m sure it came right back around.

Dave Goodrich  19:03  

Yeah, I think we were coming into coming into to Carlsbad and yeah, I mean, when it’s good boy, it’s you know, you just stick your elbows out and get night get another couple of miles an hour. So that’s, you know, that’s fun. Um, I think riding with Lynn and I think I’ve told you this but lens, the Guinness Record holder for it. She’s the oldest woman to ride across the US. And also across Canada also holds it for Canada too. Yeah, I mean, she’s just you know, it’s not necessarily she is the the strongest out of the blocks but she owns the route 50 miles now at 50 without, without he owns the road. It’s like, I cannot stay with her. But if it’s not like that, it’s kind of like, I have some strong hours and she has some strong hours. And that really, that really helps things. And when

Janet Redman  20:13  

it sounded like the two of you were great partners riding together. And plus you had your wife helping you kind of a SAG wagon, right? Yes, that would have made it a lot nicer for that first week for you.

Dave Goodrich  20:25  

That was that was a lot that was a lot nicer when they when I saw them, turning head back towards Santa Fe, it’s like, oh, boy, I’m on my own now and into the ninja the Permian. Really, really?

Janet Redman  20:39  

Well. Um, so tell me what are you looking forward to between now and and Austin,

Dave Goodrich  20:45  

a couple of things the I’m interested in, in what this what these big wind projects look like. I mean, they’re the biggest in the country, some of the biggest in the world. And they’re not close to Metropolitan metropolitan areas, because you need big open spaces. And I’d like to see what the inside of one of them looks like. And there’s also a sort of the touristy side of things. Coming into Austin, I’ll pass through Johnson City, which is Lyndon Johnson’s hometown, the the western White House there. And also you wouldn’t think Texas would be a place for the Museum of the Pacific War. But Chester s came from Fredericksburg, Texas, went to the Naval Academy and did pretty well from there.

Janet Redman  21:42  

Crazy. So the Pacific War Museum is in Texas

Dave Goodrich  21:46  

is in Fredericksburg, Texas. And then, and then there’s Austin and Austin’s gosens kind of a whole whole different thing. And I’m looking forward to putting my feet up for a

Janet Redman  22:01  

day, what I really love about the rides that you take is that you are going to places that most people will never see, you know, you’re going through some really difficult terrain, some very bleak terrain. And, and you’re able to show that to people, the good and the bad, which I think is really really helpful. Um, and I appreciated that with with your last ride from, you know, Alberta, and I’m looking forward to what you’re, you know what this looks like to us. Are you going to write another book? Is that your thought or I’d like

Dave Goodrich  22:36  

to I’m trying to think about things quite a bit as I go along and try and preserve some of the the the stories along the way. And, and some of the lines that guy asking me if I did the right on I was doing the right on purpose or if I lost a bet it’s like okay, that’s it uh, so Um, so yeah yeah there’s there’s there’s some times where when you see half the trucks in West Texas coming at you in the in the other direction and you’re kind of on this skinny little shoulders like, Okay, it’s time to find a plan B real fast.

Janet Redman  23:27  

Are you seeing any other bikers out there?

Dave Goodrich  23:30  

Um, I haven’t seen one now, I mean, I had some some very kind truck drivers will will honk at me I think they’re they’re kind of encouraging on or or, or maybe you got to be nuts. clock that that’s there too. But But yeah, it’s it’s different. It’s like there’s there’s almost a royalty to the oil business here. One of the things that stuck in my mind, Artesia, New Mexico is a is an oil town. And they’ve got a whole statue of a wellhead and you know, kind of how it’s done. And on the side are two oilman real people basically cutting a deal on the hood of a pickup truck. And it’s like, yeah, that’s that’s kind of what it’s about here. It’s like here you come here to make your fortune. A lot of people have

Janet Redman  24:39  

very entrepreneurial and and kind of like a How the West Was one idea or restart of these empires? Very much. So

Dave Goodrich  24:47  

very much so and and, you know, the Permian museum is, you know, you build an empire you, you know, you want to, you want to put a monument to what it was about what you were doing.

Janet Redman  25:00  

Yeah, but it should as they should be, you know, that’s what they did was really ahead of the curve, you know that, that they were willing and had the courage to pursue. I mean, now obviously we aren’t. It isn’t how we wish we had done things maybe but at the time it was they were very brave, actually, you know, they were they were taking huge risks

Dave Goodrich  25:25  

to try to go after fossil fuels. Yep, it is, it is a boom and bust business. No question about that.

Janet Redman  25:33  

I was wondering if anything has actually been easier than you expected?

Dave Goodrich  25:38  

Well, there’s one thing. The, the terror of writing in the, in the southwest for for cyclists. What you hear about is goat heads. And it’s like, what is that goat heads are actually an invasive species of weed that are perfectly designed, they’re about this big. And if you look at them closely, they’ve got two thorns that are the perfect size for a bike tire. I’ve run into them before riding out west and, and lens written across Texas. And she said, one thing you don’t do, you don’t put your tire in any kind of greenery, because you don’t know what’s in there. I mean, most most, everything out here has thorns in it. I made from mesquite, and, uh, you know, all kinds of things. So I was thinking I was going to have a lot more flats, and kept expecting them. I’ve got three spare tubes with me and a patch kit. So it’s like, I’m ready. But so far, the tires have held up very well, there’s a brand called schwabe marathon that’s got some puncture protection in it, and they’re really good. So that mechanically, things have held up pretty well. Okay. And

Janet Redman  27:11  

I know you were ultra prepared.

Dave Goodrich  27:15  

Yeah, well, that’s one thing about the big rides, it gets you, if you know, you’re going to do it, then it really you know, it’s kind of like the impending doom the focus the mind wonderfully, that. It’s like, I better be in shape, you know, when the wheels start spinning here, and especially since I was riding with Lynn, who’s, who’s always in ridiculous shape. I mean, she’s an athlete. And the, so I’m it. I was trying to be very prepared. But as you get close, every little twinge in your knee, or, you know, oh, my foot didn’t, didn’t feel right, getting up to you today, is that a problem? And you start getting get paranoid about that. But, um, so far, you know, all with all the tendons and spokes seem to be intact, incredible,

Janet Redman  28:12  

incredible. Dave, I mean, you qualify as an athlete to you know, that you absolutely, absolutely. It’s just, it’s so exciting. And, you know, we’re very proud of you and very excited to follow along with what you’re doing.

Dave Goodrich  28:27  

Well, thank you. Thanks. It’s, it being out here does make you kind of swallow hard about the climate job we have ahead of us. Because there is so much momentum and money and, and people’s livelihoods that are that’s involved here. With changing the economy, and right now, Midland and the Permian Basin is powering a big chunk of our economy, whether we, you know, where we thought and that’s, that’s something that we kind of have to go after. Go after is a bad word find find other you know, find other ways to generate our energy.

Janet Redman  29:15  

Yeah. And and making it a just transition. So we are keeping people employed. as we as we make the transition. It’s so important. I can tell you we owe them a lot actually, you know, we owe the people that are out there in the in the oil fields, a lot that we’re here where we are today.

Dave Goodrich  29:36  

So and then I’ll tell you there there are so many abandoned wells out here too. are in need of capping. capping. Yes. But

Janet Redman  29:47  

that’s that’s one of Biden’s ideas right to tell people to work capping the old abandoned walls out there.

Dave Goodrich  29:54  

I mean, you can see what happened in Pennsylvania from the the coal mine From 100 years ago, are still leaching acid. And so many of the streams in Pennsylvania are still acidified because of acid mine waste. It’s like, we don’t need to repeat that,

Janet Redman  30:15  

in my mind, learn learn from history this time.

Dave Goodrich  30:18  

Yeah. Yeah, I think so.

Janet Redman  30:21  

Well, I know we’re talking again, on one day.

Dave Goodrich  30:26  

Very good. And I should be in in San Angelo, then and I’m looking forward to seeing seeing you again.

Janet Redman  30:33  

All right, thanks. Thank you so much. Stay safe out there. Take care of yourself and eat and sleep and everything else you need to do to be healthy and get through this. We’re looking forward to talking to you again.

Dave Goodrich  30:46  

Looking forward to talking to you, Janet.

Charles Olsen  31:05  

Thanks for listening to upside down. This podcast is produced by me, Charles. with incredible support from the entire weekend staff. Check out the show notes for links to all the things discussed in this episode. If you want to know more about how you can get involved with seeking in the climate fight, check out our website at Chesapeake climate.org. If you want to get in touch with us, follow us on instagram and twitter at seeking and if you enjoy the work we do, why don’t you share us with your friends. Sharing the show is a super easy way to help spread the word about the work we’re doing in the fight for bold climate action. Thanks again for listening. We’ll see you next time.

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