Energy & Environment

Energy & Environment
8:46 am
Tue August 26, 2014

Lawmakers Hear Proposals for Confronting Man-Made Quakes

After a surge in earthquakes across Texas over the last several years, state regulators are considering their options.
Credit Oliver Berg DPA/LANDOV

From StateImpact Texas: 

After a surge in earthquakes across Texas over the last several years, state regulators are considering their options. On Monday, the House Subcommittee on Seismic Activity heard some of those options.

Many of the quakes are likely caused by wastewater disposal wells, where the liquid waste from oil and gas drilling is pumped back into the ground. The Railroad Commission of Texas is the agency that regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, and it is proposing new rules for those wells.

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Energy & Environment
2:57 pm
Thu August 21, 2014

Texas Buys Conservation Land with Oil Spill Money

An aerial view of fringe marshes around Powderhorn Lake.
Earl Nottingham / Texas Parks and Wildlife

A deal that was decades in the making has finally closed on the largest conservation land purchase in Texas history: Just over 17,000 acres of undisturbed coastal prairie in Calhoun County for $50 million.

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LCRA
8:25 am
Thu August 21, 2014

LCRA Delays Vote on Water Plan

Extreme drought and releases to farmers have lowered levels in Lakes Buchanan and Travis (pictured) in Central Texas. Now a state agency is saying more study is needed into how the reservoirs are managed.
Courtesy of LCRA

Water from the Highland Lakes is important to everyone in Central Texas — from urban Austinites to rural rice farmers downstream. Wednesday, the board of the Lower Colorado River Authority was set to vote on a much-delayed plan to manage that water, but the authority's board postponed that vote to gather more public input. 

The proposed plan, which would ensure that more water stays in the lakes in times of drought, is widely supported by upstream stakeholders, namely the City of Austin.  But it’s unpopular downstream with agricultural interests that would likely see themselves cut off from water more often. The plan must ultimately be approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

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Energy & Environment
5:06 am
Thu August 14, 2014

This is an Ozone Action Day

First declaration for the 2014 ozone season
Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

For the first time since September, state officials have declared today an Ozone Action Day in the Austin-area. The declaration means weather conditions are expected to be conducive to lower-than-normal air quality.

The Air Quality Index is forecast to bad enough to affect sensitive groups, such as those with asthma or heart disease, elderly people and children. The general public should be okay. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets a minimum standard for ozone of 75 parts per billion. 

“Our standard last year, we ended the 2013 ozone season at 73 parts per billion, so we’re actually okay, for now, but EPA expects to announce a new ozone standard in December of this year,”  Clean Air Force of Central Texas director Sarah Holland says.

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Energy & Environment
10:16 am
Tue August 12, 2014

During Drought, a Once-Mighty Texas Rice Belt Fades Away

In the floodplain, several inches of fine silty mud sit atop thick, heavy clay. The clay is the finest dust eroded by the river, carried until this point then deposited as the river spreads out across the prairie. The silt is a thick rich mixture of sediment.
Credit DYLAN BADDOUR / STATEIMPACT TEXAS

From StateImpact Texas: 

In 2012, some farming districts on the Lower Colorado River were cut off from water for irrigation for the first time. Reservoirs were too low to flood tens of thousands of rice fields. Some asked, “Why would anyone be farming rice in Texas in the first place?”

The answer is long, and it begins with the fact that parts of Texas haven’t always been dry. For farmers like Ronald Gertson, who remembers driving a tractor through rice fields as a child, recent years have been hard to bear.

“It’s just unbelievable that it’s been so bad that we have had three unprecedented years in a row, and I recognize some experts say we could have a couple of decades like this. I hope and pray that’s not the case,” says Gertson, a rice farmer, chair of numerous water-related committees and, in recent years, unofficial spokesman for the Texas Rice Belt. “If that is the case then yeah, this whole prairie is going to change.”

But it has already changed.

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Energy & Environment
3:14 pm
Wed August 6, 2014

Up Close And Personal With A 40-Story Oil Rig In The Gulf

Shell's Olympus production platform and drilling rig is located about 130 miles south of New Orleans. It is 406 feet tall and weighs more than 120,000 tons.
Jeff Brady NPR

Originally published on Wed August 6, 2014 6:29 pm

The U.S. is in the middle of an oil drilling boom that few people saw coming. After decades of decline, crude oil production is rising again. Technologies such as hydraulic fracturing in places such as North Dakota are getting a lot of attention. But the Gulf of Mexico still accounts for more than one-fifth of domestic oil production.

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Energy & Environment
2:46 pm
Wed August 6, 2014

EPA's Proposed Emissions Limits Drawing Debate

An oil refinery is shown in the Houston Ship Channel in 2011.
Louis Vest via Texas Tribune

GALENA PARK — In this city east of Houston, petrochemical facilities are a common part of the landscape and a major engine for the local economy.

But they can also be heavy emitters of what the Environmental Protection Agency labels “toxic air pollutants,” such as benzene, which have been linked to health problems like cancer, reproductive problems and birth defects. And at times, the facilities can emit huge amounts of pollution that normally wouldn't be allowed, but are exempt from rules because they happen only when facilities are starting up, shutting down or malfunctioning. 

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Energy & Environment
8:41 am
Wed July 30, 2014

Four Guys and a Boat Tackle a Texas-Sized Water Problem

Workers cut open bags of WaterSavr, an evaporation suppressant, to apply the powder to Lake Arrowhead. WaterSavr's manufacturers claim it will save 30 percent of water that would have otherwise evaporated from the reservoir.
Neena Satija

As the sun rose on Lake Arrowhead late last week, four guys on a motorboat armed with 5,739 pounds of white powder set out to tackle one of Texas' most vexing water problems — evaporation from surface reservoirs. Last year, evaporation cost the state 2 trillion gallons of water, and it has been eliminating as much as 40 million gallons of water a day from drought-stricken Wichita Falls' supply this summer.

The four men, who work for a company called Flexible Solutions, were applying WaterSavr to Lake Arrowhead. The company claims that its product will save the city hundreds of millions of gallons of water by preventing evaporation. At a cost of $400,000 for the product and labor, the city is hoping the experiment, the first of its size in the nation, will work. And the rest of parched Texas is watching. But there are plenty of skeptics.

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Energy & Environment
3:26 pm
Tue July 29, 2014

4 Ways Texas Could Win Big Under New Climate Change Rules

Under the proposed regulations, coal power plants like this one will become a thing of the past.
Jonathan Warner/Flickr

Earlier this year, the earth hit a frightening milestone: carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached its highest level since humans have inhabited the earth. The last time there was this much carbon on the planet was nearly a million years ago.

As the heat-trapping gas proliferates, the world warms, and the climate effects domino: droughts intensify, floods increase, ice melts and seas rise. The question now isn't whether human activity is changing the global climate; the question is what to do about it.

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Energy & Environment
6:36 am
Wed July 23, 2014

Pop Quiz: 20 Percent Chance Of Rain. Do You Need An Umbrella?

Will it rain or not? How you interpret the forecast could mean the difference between getting soaked or staying safe.
Maria Pavlova iStockphoto

Originally published on Wed July 23, 2014 4:04 pm

This week, All Things Considered is exploring how people interpret probability. What does it mean to us, for example, when a doctor says an operation has a 70 percent chance of success?

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Hydraulic Fracturing
10:01 am
Wed July 16, 2014

Denton Council Punts Fracking Ban Proposal To Voters

World Resources Institute via Texas Tribune

From The Texas Tribune:

DENTON – Voters will decide whether this North Texas college town will become the state's first city to ban hydraulic fracturing. 

After a public hearing Tuesday night that stretched into Wednesday morning, the Denton City Council rejected a proposal to ban the method of oil and gas extraction inside the city, which sits on the edge of the gas-rich Barnett Shale. The 5-2 vote kicked the question to the city’s November ballot, the next step in a high-profile property rights clash that will likely be resolved outside of Denton.   

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Energy & Environment
6:13 am
Tue July 15, 2014

Water Service at Fort Hood, Killeen & Copperas Cove Still Not Back to Normal (Update)

Fort Hood is asking non-essential personnel to stay home today as a result of Stage 4 water restrictions.
KUT News

Update: Water service is still not fully restored at Fort Hood. The post is on limited supply because of a problem with its main water line.

Military personnel will report to the Central Texas Army post today a little later than usual and physical training is canceled.

Other parts of the post are starting to get back to work. Child care centers at Fort Hood and the Darnall Army Medical Center will be open today as usual.

Fort Hood is under Stage 4 water restrictions until the supply problem is resolved. And people there should boil water before drinking it or cooking with it – until the quality can be tested.

Original Story (July 14, 7:04 a.m.): Fort Hood is in an extreme, but temporary, water shortage. The Central Texas Army post's water supply has been interrupted as a result of a Stage 4 critical emergency conservation order from the Bell County Water Control and Improvement District.

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Energy & Environment
1:40 pm
Mon July 14, 2014

How One Austin Home Produces More Energy Than It Uses

Steve Bijansky climbs down from the attic of his "Net Zero" home in Allandale.
Mengwen Cao for KUT News

From StateImpact Texas:

As the mercury rises in Texas, so does our energy use. Air conditioners will work overtime to keep your house cool. And when that happens, the Texas grid can become stretched thin.

One solution is to build more power plants to meet growing demand. Another is to simply get Texans to use less energy.

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Energy & Environment
11:31 am
Wed July 9, 2014

BP Wants Unspent Spill Recovery Money Back

A BP attorney wrote a letter to Gov. Rick Perry requesting the state return a $5 million grant.
Photo Illustration: Todd Wiseman & Kris Krug

From The Texas Tribune

After watching a $5 million grant to Gov.Rick Perry’s office go unspent nearly four years after it was presented in the wake of the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP is asking Texas for its money back.

The funds were given to Texas in September 2010 to help with oil spill recovery, but few of the state and local officials who work on such projects were aware of the grant until a legislative hearing in May. Lawmakers at the hearing were angered and said the money should have been given to agencies with the expertise to spend it. BP was frustrated as early as last winter about the unspent funds and asked Perry to return the money, according to correspondence obtained by The Texas Tribune through an open records request.

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Energy & Environment
11:53 am
Mon July 7, 2014

Is the Oil Boom Helping Prices at the Pump?

Analyst Tom Kloza estimates the oil boom helped keep gas prices below $4 per gallon.
flickr.com/photos/87913776@N00/

From StateImpact Texas:

  Texas is getting more oil out of the ground than is has since the great boom of the 1970s. The oil fields of North Dakota are, for the first time ever, producing over one million barrels a day. Across the country, the boom has lead to predictions that the US will overtake even Saudi Arabia in oil production by the end of the year.  But is all that drilling helping US consumers at the pump?

A quick look at the numbers before the long weekend would indicate not. Prices were about 20 cents per gallon higher than this time last year, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

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Energy & Environment
12:30 pm
Wed July 2, 2014

Proposals to Prevent Another Fertilizer Explosion Immediately Meet Resistance

A helmet is carried in remembrance of a firefighter from the Abbott Volunteer Fire Department killed in a fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas last year.
PHOTO BY JORGE SANHUEZA-LYON/KUT

From StateImpact Texas: 

The explosion at a fertilizer plant in the small town of West, Texas last year took much more than fifteen lives. At least 262 people were injured; twenty percent of those were brain injuries. Homes and schools were destroyed. But judging from the response of some state lawmakers charged with stopping it from happening again, disasters like the one in West are just something Texans are going to have to live with from time to time.

There’s been no new regulations for fertilizer plants since the disaster until this month, but there’s been a consensus for some time about how to prevent another tragedy like the one in West: require fertilizer plants to store ammonium nitrate in non-combustible facilities or to use sprinklers; conduct inspections of facilities; and train first responders so they know how to deal with fires that may break out at sites with ammonium nitrate. 

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StateImpact Texas
12:01 pm
Mon June 30, 2014

Rising Oil and Gas Boom Does Little for Poor in Texas

From StateImpact Texas: 

When it comes to the oil and gas drilling boom in the country, Texas is king. Actually, make that crown a global one: over a quarter of all the active drilling rigs in the worldare right here in the Lone Star State.

The boom – taking place thanks to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and horizontal drilling – has brought jobs, money and more energy security to Texas and the country. It’s also damaged roads, increased traffic and accidents, strained local governments and caused housing prices to skyrocket in parts of the state. How the boom is leaving some communities behind is the subject of an in-depth report today in The New York Times.

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StateImpact Texas
12:42 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

How New Transmission Lines Are Bringing More Wind Power to Texas Cities

New transmission line projects are already resulting in more wind power making its way to cities in Central and North Texas.
Public Utility Commission

From StateImpact Texas:

We’re all going to be paying for it, so you might be glad to know that a new set of transmission lines to bring wind power from the Panhandle and West Texas to folks in North and Central Texas appear to be off to a good start. According to a new federal analysis this week, the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones power transmission project, also known as CREZ, is already resulting in fewer curtailments of wind power and more even prices in Texas’ energy market.

The project cost $7 billion, a price that will be paid for by tacking on a fee to Texans’ utility bills. On average, your power bill could go up several dollars a month.

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StateImpact Texas
1:50 pm
Wed June 25, 2014

As Renewables Grow in Texas, Battles Over Fees and Subsidies Emerge

Wind turbines in West Texas help produce record amounts of electricity for the state.
Mose Buchele/StateImpact Texas

From StateImpact Texas

In the coming years, the federal government wants Texas to reduce its carbon emissions by about 40 percent. With a goal like that, you might expect to see more programs aimed at promoting renewable energy in Texas. But something like the opposite appears to be happening.

Donna Nelson, chair of Texas’ Public Utility Commission, asked last month if wind power generators, not Texas utility customers, should pay for upgrades to transmission lines. The Commission regulates the state’s electric grid, among other things.

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StateImpact Texas
11:35 am
Tue June 24, 2014

Feds Target Oil and Gas Industry for Underpaying Workers

Exhibit from lawsuit: A worker's time sheet showing 90 hours in eight consecutive days.
Credit Dave Fehling/StateImpact Texas

From StateImpact Texas:

In states with the most oil and gas drilling, including Texas, Oklahoma and North Dakota, the U.S. Department of Labor has won back pay for over 4,000 energy industry workers in just the past year.

It totaled $6.7 million dollars, accounting for a third of all such settlements by all types of industries nationwide.

“We were hearing that workers were being misclassified as independent contractors, that they were being paid straight-time for their hours over 40 in a workweek. And we were hearing this consistently throughout the Southwest Region,” said Cynthia Watson, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Regional Administrator in Dallas.

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