Mose Buchele

Senior Reporter, StateImpact Texas

Mose Buchele is the Austin-based broadcast reporter for KUT's NPR partnership StateImpact Texas . He has been on staff at KUT 90.5  since 2009, covering local and state issues.  Mose has also worked as a blogger on politics and an education reporter at his hometown paper in Western Massachusetts. He holds masters degrees in Latin American Studies and Journalism from UT Austin.

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courtesy of USGS

Updated 1/6/14 with more comment from Railroad Commission and information on Tuesday January 6th earthquake.

A team of seismologists headed to the North Texas town of Irving Monday.  Like some other Texas towns, Irving has experienced scores of small earthquakes lately, 20 since last September, including a magnitude 3.5 quake that struck on January 6th. And the city is hoping to figure out what’s behind the shaking.

Lower Colorado River Authority

Texas is not doing a good enough job of tracking and managing its water resources, according to research from Texas A&M University.

Researchers looked at water used for the H2O-intensive drilling process called fracking in Texas, and how the practice could be draining resources. They found that only a small fraction of the state’s water supply goes to fracking, but tracking that water use itself is devilishly difficult. 

Via, flickr.com/photos/aquariawintersoul

A Christmas tree strapped to the roof of a car, or shimmering in a cheerfully decorated living room is a common sight this time of year.  The USDA estimates the Christmas tree industry to be a $14.5 billion enterprise. While states like Oregon, North Carolina and Michigan lead in harvests, a new USDA survey shows Central Texas leads the state in production, but where are those trees coming from?

The annual Austin Christmas bird count is happening this Saturday, when bird enthusiasts, or birders, take a census of what birds they can spot across the entire Austin area. So far, 2014 has already been an unusual year for bird sightings in Texas.

Three species of birds never seen in the state before were spotted this year in Texas. 

Those were a red-legged honeycreeper, a gray-crowned rosy-finch and a pair of common cranes – which, as the name might suggest, are indeed common, but they’re typically a European species.

Courtesy of Louis Vest, flickr.com/photos/oneeighteen

Officials from countries around the word have met for the last two weeks in Lima, Peru to talk global climate change.   At the heart of those talks is how to limit billions of tons of CO2 that are pumped into the atmosphere every year from coal burning power plants.  

But how do we keep track of the CO2 we’re releasing? And just how do we weigh something that floats in the first place? 

It turns out there is a venerable history to the science of weighing smoke.

Early voting ends tomorrow for the city of Austin’s runoff elections.  This is the first time the city elected a city council based on single member districts, where council members represent specific neighborhoods. But early voter turnout seems to be falling into a familiar pattern.

The latest numbers show 23,368 voters cast their ballots at nine of the top 10 voting locations, all of which were west of I-35. In total, 37,323 Austinites have voted in early runoff election voting, with 2,754 voting in mobile locations and 6,468 mailed in their ballots.

Courtesy of UT's Cockrell School of Engineering

Ever since the technique known as fracking unleashed massive reserves of natural gas in the U.S., the environmental cost of gas as an energy source has been a hot topic. Today, a new study out from the University of Texas aims to shed some light on the subject. 

 

NOAA

The Climate Prediction Center is out with an update on El Nino.  The weather pattern is often associated with heavy rains, so watching for its arrival has become something of an obsession in drought-stricken parts of the country like Texas.

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT

It appears that Larry Steve McQuilliams was motivated by racist ideology and anger at U.S. immigration policy when he attacked three buildings in Austin early last Friday, according to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo. One of the three targeted buildings was the Mexican Consulate of Austin, which McQuilliams shot at and attempted to burn down with homemade bombs that did not detonate. 

Rosalba Ojeda, the Consul General of Mexico in Austin, works out of that building. She says the attack underlines Mexico’s long-standing concerns over U.S. gun laws.

Photo by Mose Buchele

The nightly emergence of millions of bats from the Ann Richards Bridge on Congress Avenue is a popular attraction in Austin during the summer.  While many will tell you all those bats all fly south to Mexico for the winter and leave the bridge abandoned, it’s a little more complicated than that.  

“You know that was kind of a surprise. There was a really large emergence from Congress Avenue bridge and apparently they came out when there was still a little light in the sky,” says Diane Odegard of the conservation group Bats International.

Photo courtesy of Richard Casteel

From StateImpact Texas:

Stanley Rabke’s family has lived and worked on their Hill Country ranch since 1889. Generations of Rabkes have struggled with the extremes of Texas weather, but one storm sticks out in Stanley’s memory: it came after the drought of the 1950s.

“It rained and rained and rained,” he says. “Back then we raised turkeys, we lost thousands of turkeys that washed away in the creek.”

The disaster underscores an irony of life in Texas. “You hope and pray that you’re going to get a good rain, [but] on the other side of it, you hope you don’t get a flood,” says Rabke.

A quick walk from where the turkeys met their fate, some new technology that will help manage that risk is being installed — soil monitoring sensors in the ground.

Photo by Mose Buchele

A longtime fixture of the UT campus area closes its doors today. Players restaurant has served generations of UT students, state employees and others from its location at MLK and Guadalupe. 

Today, the lunch rush felt almost like the receiving line at a funeral, as the string of people that stretched out the door and into the parking lot traded memories and said their goodbyes.

Photo by Jorge Corona

The specifics of how undocumented people will register under the immigration overhaul announced by President Obama last week that would bring nearly 5 million immigrants "out of the shadows" are still unclear.  But some groups in Austin are already reaching out to people who may benefit.  

Bill Beardall is with the Equal Justice Center, one of the groups organizing a series of educational forums for immigrants that start this week.   He says after this kind of policy change, immigrants are often initially reluctant to register.

shannonpatrick17/flickr

Congress’ attempts to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline have re-ignited debate over the project, which would allow more crude oil to flow from the tar sands of Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.  It’s also re-ignited debate over what could happen to that oil once it gets to Texas.

President Obama and opponents of the pipeline say it will be used as a funnel to export Canadian crude to international markets. TransCanada, the company building the pipeline, has been unequivocal when asked about that.

Mose Buchele/StateImpact Texas

The clean energy plan put forth by the Environmental Protection Agency aims to combat climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by power plants.  But it may come at a price, according to a report released Monday by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the group that manages much of Texas electric grid.

The report says electricity bills could rise as much as 20 percent because of the carbon reduction goals, adding that the goals could also endanger electric reliability. Part of that is due to the way the plan would change Texas' energy mix.  

“What we found is that the likely impact of the clean power plan is going to be the retirement of a significant portion of the coal-fired capacity in ERCOT," says ERCOT Director of System Planning Warren Lasher.

The goal of the EPA’s clean energy plan is to reduce Texas carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

Courtesy of the City of Austin

A plan to turn 735 acres of East Austin parkland into a high-end golf course will get a public airing this evening. The City of Austin is hosting a meeting on the proposal for Walter E. Long park from 4:30 to 7:30 at the Morris Williams Golf Course at 3851 Manor Road

The city says the plan will bring jobs and tourist money to the east side. Under the proposal, developers would pay to build and maintain the course and give the city a cut of the revenue. That appeals to the Parks Department which doesn’t currently do upkeep on the land.

But there’s opposition.  Some residents don’t think Austin should give up so much space to a costly sport that a lot of people don’t play. The parkland is in Austin's City Council District 1. Ora Houston, the front-runner for the District 1 seat opposes the plan and has asked the City to postpone a vote until after the new council is seated.

Jonathan Warner/Flickr

The deal that the U.S. and China have struck to curb carbon emissions has been hailed as a breakthrough by many concerned with climate change, and panned by politicians opposed to President Obama. But it's also captured the interest of a group of researchers -- some in Texas -- who specialize in carbon capture and sequestration technology.

The deal is short on specifics. But it commits the U.S. and China to continue investing in carbon capture, use and storage. That’s technology that filters CO2 from coal power plants and then pumps the carbon underground. Texas has been doing it for decades to get oil out of the ground in a process called enhanced oil recovery.

“It’s always poor form for Texas to do too much boasting, but the source of expertise for injecting CO2 for enhanced oil recovery lies mostly in Texas," says Susan Hovorka, a senior researcher scientist at UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology, who works on carbon sequestration.

Mose Buchele/KUT

  This week Denton, Texas became the first city in the state to ban fracking within its city limits. The ban passed with nearly 59 percent of the vote.

Many in Denton worry about how fracking and associated activities impact their health and quality of life.  But opponents say the ban is bad for the economy. The drilling industry, which pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign against the ban, is concerned with the precedent Denton could set for other Texas towns.

Just hours after the vote, the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TxOGA) filed a legal challenge to the ban, as did the Texas General Land office with a suit.

There may be more legal challenges on the way.

The TxOGA lawsuit asserts that "the public policy of Texas is to encourage the full and effective exploitation of our mineral resources," says Tom Phillips, a lawyer with Baker Botts who is working on the challenge.

GRAPHIC COURTESY OF THE TEXAS TRIBUNE

Update: Ryan Sitton defeated Steve Brown in the race for Railroad Commissioner 58.31 percent to 36.49 percent.

Original Story (Nov. 4, 4:14 p.m.): An empty seat on a strangely-named state regulatory agency usually flies under the radar of voters. But the race to serve on the Railroad Commission of Texas has gained additional attention and importance this election. That’s because whoever wins will not oversee railroads, as the name suggests, but will regulate the Texas oil and gas industry. It’s an industry in the midst of a boom that’s transforming global energy markets and pumping billions into the Texas economy.

The two major party candidates competing for the seat offer starkly different visions for what the job entails.

Mose Buchele/KUT

From StateImpact Texas:

For Cathy McMullen, the reasons to ban fracking in Denton are as obvious at the drilling rig that sits on the corner of Masch Branch and Hampton Road on the northwest side of town. It’s big, it’s noisy, and she believes it vents toxic emissions into the community. The site is, however, not very close to any houses.

“I’ll show you where this exact same thing was sitting by someone’s home,” she says.

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