Energy & Environment

Energy & Environment
9:35 am
Tue June 23, 2015

Study Finds Nearly Half of Austin's Landfill Trash Is Recyclable

A study found that nearly half of the trash collected by Austin Resource Recovery could have been recyclable.
therefore/flickr

According to a new study released by Austin Resource Recovery, almost half of residential trash collected from curbs and going into Austin landfills could have been recycled. The city-commissioned study also found that 46 percent of the residential trash that ends up in the landfill could have been composted.

“Too much paper, too much plastic, too much metals [are] going to the landfill instead of in the blue cart,” says Bob Gedert, director of Austin Resource Recovery. “So although Austinites believe in recycling and set out their recycling cart with some of their recyclables, we need more recyclables from the household.”

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Energy & Environment
12:11 pm
Wed June 17, 2015

Quiz: Which of These Aren't Official Tropical Storm Names?

Let's face it: Bill isn't the most exotic name for a tropical storm or, as it is now, a tropical depression.

Sure, as far as storm names, it was meme-worthy, but it didn't conjure the gravitas or mystique that, say, Odalys or Gaston might. So, we thought it might be eye-opening to dig into the list of names given to tropical storms — agreed upon by the World Meteorological Organization — by testing whether you could spot a fake one. Take the quiz below, and let us know which names surprised you in the comments. 

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Energy & Environment
10:21 am
Wed June 17, 2015

Denton Repeals City Ban on Fracking

The City of Denton repealed its municipal ban on fracking last night weeks after the Texas Legislature passed a law that made Denton's ban unenforceable.
Cooper Neill/Texas Tribune

The North Texas City of Denton made headlines last year when voters there banned the oil drilling technique known as fracking. Early this morning, the Denton City Council repealed that unenforceable ban in a move to head off costly future legal battles.

Many Denton City Council members said they had no choice but to repeal the ban. Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law earlier this year that takes the power to regulate most drilling activity away from local governments.

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Energy & Environment
11:23 am
Wed June 10, 2015

Why Advocates Who Helped Pass Denton's Fracking Ban Now Want to See It Repealed

After a hard-fought campaign to ban hydraulic fracturing wells in Denton, some advocates want the city to repeal its ban.
Mose Buchele/KUT

When voters in Denton banned the oil drilling technique called fracking there last year, the North Texas city took center stage in a national debate over oil and gas, property rights and the environment. But now some of the same people who pushed for the ban are calling to repeal it.

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Memorial Day Floods
8:27 am
Thu May 28, 2015

Is Texas Doing Enough to Regulate Floodplain Development?

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

The deadly flooding that hit central Texas this week struck in one of the most rapidly growing parts of the county. And it’s reignited a debate over whether the state is doing enough to regulate development in floodplains.

Professor Nicolas Pinter teaches environmental science at Southern Illinois University.  He says a big study back in the late ‘90s put Texas at number two in the country in number of properties that have flooded repeatedly and the number of properties that have received repeated flood insurance payouts. And Texas is second to Florida in flood insurance, with just over 681,000 policies to Florida's 2.1 million, according to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The reason for that's simple: Texas gets a lot of floods.

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Memorial Day Floods
5:10 pm
Tue May 26, 2015

Despite Floods, Stage 2 Water Restrictions Remain in Place For Now

Even though Austin had torrential rains that flooded Lady Bird Lake, water usage restrictions forced by the drought may not be lifted.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

The lakes that supply Austin with water - Travis and Buchanan - have risen dramatically over the past few days, but city of Austin officials are not ready to lift water restrictions just yet.

Before this most recent round of rains, the lakes were 39 percent full, combined. Now, they're 55 percent full

The Lower Colorado River Authority's vice president for water, John Hoffman, says they're happy the reservoirs are rising, but they still see it as a glass half empty. 

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Energy & Environment
3:38 pm
Thu May 14, 2015

Plan to Clean Up San Marcos River Could Mean You Pay More for Tubing

Safety and environmental concerns along the San Marcos River prompted the state senate to pass a bill that could create a fee system for river recreation.
Patrick Lewis/flickr

Each year, more than 80,000 people visit the San Marcos River to tube (or "toob") the waters and have a good time. But those crowds leave a lot of litter and create safety concerns for local law enforcement. Now a bill at the state senate aims to solve the problem.

Senate Bill 234 would let voters in Caldwell and Guadalupe counties set up a “recreation district” on the river downstream of San Marcos that would be funded by fees charged to river revelers. The district would have the authority to hire law enforcement to patrol the water and crack down on litter.

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Energy & Environment
10:32 am
Wed April 29, 2015

Could Texas Be Doing More to Protect Against Manmade Earthquakes?

A dozen smaller earthquakes have struck Dallas in the last few weeks, following a SMU study that showed a connection between disposal well sites and earthquakes.

There have been earthquakes in almost every corner of Texas since the start of the state's most recent oil and gas boom. One swarm that really captured people’s attention started in the town of Azle in 2013.  When oil and gas regulators at the Railroad Commission of Texas visited the town, local people suggested ways to handle the waste water disposal wells thought to be causing the quakes. One idea came up over and over again.

“Why is it we can't shut the wells down around here for a period of time?” asked resident Gale Wood. "If nothing happens after a while, that would be one way to determine what’s going on."

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Texas Standard
1:09 pm
Fri April 24, 2015

Statewide Drought Over? Yes, But…

Texas has been in an ongoing drought since October of 2010. But the statewide drought may now just be a regional one.
Via Pixabay.

From Texas Standard:

The U.S. Drought Monitor puts out a map every week that updates drought conditions in Texas. This week’s map looked mostly white – which indicates no drought at all – with some peach, orange and red in the center – indicating moderate to exceptional drought.

Last year at this time, only small parts of the state were in the clear. Two years ago, 99 percent of the state was in some level of drought.

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Energy & Environment
9:30 am
Mon April 20, 2015

Downward Oxygen Trend a Risk for Salamanders

Lower levels of dissolved oxygen in the Edwards Aquifer, along with lower flow, could affect the endangered Austin Blind salamanders in Barton Springs.
City of Austin, via YouTube

From the Austin Monitor:

Barton Springs is the only known home to the endangered and federally protected Barton Springs and Austin Blind salamanders. Unfortunately for these unique creatures, the level of life-sustaining dissolved oxygen in their ecosystem has dropped on average over the past 35 years.

Watershed Protection Department engineer Abel Porras brought the issue to the Wednesday meeting of the Environmental Board, noting that water flow in the Edwards Aquifer is a major determining factor in the equation, though man-made contaminants may also play a role.

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Energy & Environment
10:38 am
Thu April 16, 2015

How Austin Gardeners Can Unearth the Mysteries of Their Own Backyards

Clarence Jackson, an Environmental Scientest from the EPA, tests soil with an X-ray fluorescence analyzer as a part of The Soil Kitchen, a three-day opportunity for backyard gardeners to receive free soil tests in Austin.
Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT News

The City of Austin recently offered free soil testing so people could see what contaminants and nutrients they have in their yards. But, so many people wanted the testing – myself included – that the city was overwhelmed with samples.

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Energy & Environment
4:01 pm
Mon April 13, 2015

Texas Haze, The ‘War on Coal,’ and How Lawsuits Shape Environmental Policy

Photographer Melton says that there are days at Big Bend when haze, partially from coal power plants, makes it tough to photograph.
Mary Ann Melton

One week remains for the public to comment on an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to reduce smog in one of Texas most beloved national parks. The EPA's plan to limit so-called 'regional haze' is one of a slew of new air quality rules that have critics accusing the Agency of waging a 'war on coal.' The reality, of course, is more complicated.

To see how, look no farther than the hazy skies over Far West Texas.

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Energy & Environment
4:16 pm
Fri April 10, 2015

How 'Miss Piggy' Helps Scientists Study Oil and Gas Field Emissions from Above

Researchers fly in planes over Texas to gather data about pollution resulting from oil and gas extraction.
Mose Buchele/KUT News

This week, a team of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA – has been flying high over Texas, gathering data.

The flights are part of a project to find out exactly how emissions from the state’s sprawling oil and gas fields pollute the air we breathe.

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Weather
7:18 am
Sat March 21, 2015

Rain, Flood Watch in Effect for Austin Area

Dark green indicates a flash flood watch; light green areas have a flash flood warning.
National Weather Service

Saturday update 7:15 a.m.: The National Weather Service says Central Texas could receive an additional one to three inches of rain before the flash flood watch expires tonight. More low water crossings are now closed because of high water.

Friday: There is a flash flood watch in effect today until 7 p.m. Saturday.

There is a 100 percent chance of precipitation this evening and an 80 percent chance on Saturday. Thunderstorms are possible tonight after 7 p.m. The temperature Saturday will be in the mid-60s.

No official SXSW events have been canceled at this point, so if you're going out, take your rain gear. 

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Energy & Environment
8:54 am
Wed March 11, 2015

Deer Are Being Bred Just to be Hunted. Is it Ethical?

Hunters boil antlers to kill bacteria and add to the preservation process.
flickr.com/fraserelliot

This week, State Rep. Kyle Kacal (R-College Station) filed a bill that would require the release of antlered deer in the spring – rather than in the fall right before hunting season begins. It will limit the time that deer breeders have to transport their deer. It's an effort to curb the practice of captive deer farming, which breeds deer for their impressive antlers. It's a method that some deer hunters argue is unfair and unsportsmanlike. 

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Energy & Environment
2:05 pm
Tue March 10, 2015

Here's Why People Are Blaming Refineries For Higher Gas Prices

Drivers have noticed the cost of gasoline inching up lately.
Eric Reyna/KUT News

You might have noticed gas prices inching up, but crude oil prices are still waaaay lower than they were a year ago – so what’s behind the jump in gasoline?  Usually, higher prices at the pump are linked to the higher cost of crude oil. But at this time of year, people blame refineries.  

"What we’re seeing is that strong relationship between gas and oil fade," says Patrick Dehane, an oil analyst with Gasbuddy.com. "It is… I wouldn’t say a nasty breakup. But the two are becoming more distant because of refining.” 

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Energy & Environment
9:35 am
Wed February 11, 2015

EPA Team Looking At Relationship Between Quakes and Disposal Well

Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section for Region 6 in Dallas.
Credit Philip Issa/KUT News

The earthquakes that have shaken Dallas and Irving, Texas the last several months have people looking into whether oil and gas activity in the area plays a role.  Some of those people work at the Environmental Protection Agency. But EPA researchers say they’re not getting the data they’ve requested from Texas state oil and gas regulators to investigate the link.

Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section in Dallas.  At a conference of the Groundwater Protection Council on Tuesday, he showed early results from a study his team conducted on earthquakes around Irving.

The group looked at the use of waste water disposal wells closest to Irving earthquakes. Dellinger does not necessarily believe the recent quakes are related to disposal wells, where waste water from oil and gas drilling is pumped underground. But these types of wells have caused other earthquakes, so his team wanted to see what wells were close to the Irving events.

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Energy & Environment
11:55 am
Fri January 30, 2015

Financial Markets Betting On Keystone XL Construction

Credit shannonpatrick17/flickr

The financial markets may be betting that the Keystone XL pipeline is a done deal.

The U.S. House and Senate have now both passed bills to force approval of the controversial pipeline.  The southern leg of the project already delivers oil from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast. But approval of the full build-out would link existing pipe to the Canadian border, allowing more crude from the tar sands of Canada to reach Texas refineries via Cushing.

President Obama has vowed to veto the bills, but one expert says the fate of the project may already be written in futures contracts for crude oil.

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Energy & Environment
1:28 pm
Mon January 26, 2015

Quiz: Beer, Coffee, or Crude Oil? Sometimes It's Hard to Tell

Credit Amanda/flickr

Anyone who spends time looking at how oil is drilled for and refined around the world comes to notice something strange. The names people give to different types of crude oil can sound surprisingly delicious.

In reporting on the role that benchmark oil prices play in moving the price of gasoline,  I was introduced to one person who had made a game out of it. Rice University student Aruni Ranaweera created the quiz "Beer, Coffee, Crude" to test her classmates' ability to distinguish between types of crude, types of beer, and blends of coffee.  It's harder than is sounds. Go ahead, crack open a can of Tia Juana Light and give it a shot.

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Energy & Environment
11:12 am
Wed January 21, 2015

Texas Earthquake Risk Levels To Increase In New USGS Map

The current map delineates "non-tectonic" quake activity in areas where man-made earthquakes have been studied.
Courtesy of USGS

A seismic hazard map is essentially what it sounds like: a map that shows the potential for earthquakes in certain areas. The maps give people a sense of the likelihood of earthquakes occurring, where they might occur, and how strong they might be.  The maps can influence everything from public policy to building codes to insurance rates.

“They govern hundreds of billions of dollars in constructions and insurance cost every year,” says Mark Peterson, project chief of the USGS’s National Seismic Hazard Mapping project.

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