Energy & Environment

Water, energy, conservation, sustainability, WTP4, pollution, oil and gas, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), recycling, and other environmental issues related to Austin and the Central Texas counties of Travis, Hays, Caldwell, Bastrop and Williamson

Night owls and stargazers, get ready for something spectacular on Thursday.

The annual Perseid meteor shower, already one of the most reliably impressive celestial events, promises to be especially good this year.

The Perseid shower happens every year in August "when Earth ventures through trails of debris left behind by an ancient comet," according to NASA.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUTX

It's summer in Texas. That means it's hot, but just how hot? That depends on what temperature you pay attention to.  In our reporting, we often provide two different numbers. There's  the air temperature – that's the temperature of the outdoor air in the shade. Then, there's the "heat index" – that's how hot it's supposed to feel outside, when you take humidity into account.  

Some skeptics argue that reporting those two numbers is unnecessary or even misleading. "Why bother tacking on a few extra degrees whenever you read the weather?" they might argue. "Hot is hot!"

Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / KUT

Walls. They can shelter us. They can divide us. But can a wall itself become an object of curiosity? Well, one wall on the campus of UT Austin has done just that.


The earth is crumbling in West Texas. Scientists from Southern Methodist University have new research that shows two massive sinkholes between the towns of Wink and Kermit are expanding.

Years of drilling for oil and gas have helped wash away salt beds underneath the ground. A shifting water table has made the problem worse and in some places the ground is sinking five inches a year, according to the satellite readings.

Why a West Texas Nuclear Dump May Be a Short-Term Fix

Jun 28, 2016
David Bowser / Texas Tribune

A West Texas site wants to get its hands on the nation’s spent nuclear fuel. And if a National Academy of Sciences report is to be believed, this may be safer than the status quo.

Spent nuclear fuel rods are about the width of a Sharpie, a few yards long and deadly for hundreds of thousands of years. And, even after 60 years of commercial nuclear power, the Department of Energy (DOE) has no storage plan.


ERCOT Report Suggests a Bright Future for Solar in Texas

Jun 17, 2016
Austin Monitor

Right now, Texas gets most of its electricity from coal and natural gas power plants. But a new report from the agency that runs Texas’ electric grid says the way the state generates electricity could be changing in the next few years.


flickr/MacroscopicSolutions

Somewhere in the forests of Northeast Texas there is a tree, or maybe group of trees, where an invasive species is breeding.  It’s a beetle called the emerald ash borer (EAB), and it’s wiped out forests of ash trees since it arrived in the U.S. from Asia a few decades ago. If unchecked, it has the potential to decimate trees in Texas, but there’s a plan to fight the ash borer.

And, it sounds almost like something from a horror movie. 


Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT News

Austin has a goal to become a so-called “zero waste” city by 2040. That means only 10 percent of the city’s garbage can end up in a landfill.  A conference in town this week aims at helping the city meet that goal.


Environmental Protection Agency

The Obama administration has been both cheered and vilified for releasing a lot of new environmental regulations over the last few years. Texas conservative political leaders have become well-known for challenging those rules in court. But now that the clock is running down on President Obama’s second term, what’s in store for those regulations when there’s a new president in office?


Miguel Guitierrez Jr./KUT

When a lot of people suddenly notice the same thing at the same time, it might be worth looking into. This year in Central Texas that's what's happening with fireflies. There is an unusually large number of them lighting up the early evening, and people are wondering why. 


Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

The Lower Colorado River Authority manages the water used in much of Central Texas and parts downstream. For most of the last several years it’s been worried about drought  – but not anymore. Earlier this week, the LCRA opened floodgates below Lake Travis for the first time since 2007 to allow excess water out. Now, the abundance of water is bringing its own set of challenges to the agency.


Texas A&M Agrilife Extension

When you think about West Texas you usually don’t think about aquatic life. But that’s exactly where some researchers have discovered a new kind of fish – or, really, rediscovered.


Courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife

Enchanted Rock State Park is a popular and strikingly unique location in Central Texas. So, many park-goers were angered when they heard that a boulder at the park had been tagged with graffiti last month.  Police say they’ve arrested the couple responsible, but some think the problem of vandalism at parks is growing.


Miguel Guitierrez Jr./KUT

Bastrop County leaders reviewed the final report on last fall’s Hidden Pines fire today, which found that the 9-1-1 call reporting the fire near Buescher State Park led to a delay in response by the Smithville Fire Department. 

Jerod Foster for the Texas Tribune

When the oil and gas fields of Texas are booming, it’s busy times for the state agency that regulates the industry. And when there’s a downturn, it can be even busier. One reason: abandoned oil and gas wells.

That was a big takeaway from a meeting this week of the Texas House Energy Resources Committee.  The topic came up when Chairman Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) said people around his hometown are seeing oil and gas companies get into financial trouble and walk away from their wells. 

Spencer Selvidge/Texas Tribune

Aubrey McClendon was a pioneer in the world of fracking who ushered in an American energy boom.  So it was big news when the former head of Chesapeake Energy was indicted on anti-trust charges last week.

When McClendon died in a fiery car wreck a day later, it sent shockwaves through the business world. Investigators are looking into the crash. But what of the charges that preceded it? 


Texas Archive of the Moving Image

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is not getting a lot of love in Texas these days. David Porter, top oil and gas regulator at the Railroad Commission of Texas, has accused OPEC of declaring an "oil war" against the state. Porter is leaving the Commission this year, and some of those running to replace him have used similar rhetoric.  

Tom Michael for Marfa Public Radio

From Marfa Public Radio: It’s a warm afternoon on top of Mount Locke in Far West Texas, but inside and under the dome of the oldest telescope here, astronomer Stephen Odewahn shivers, “It is cold. Yeah, we’re in the dome of the 82-inch telescope, the first observatory out here. And it’s cold, because usually all of the domes, we try to condition them through the day, to have the temperature that it’s going to be at night, when you open up.”


The Texas Tribune

A jury in Medina County is expected to announce damages soon in a case that pitted landowners against the Edwards Aquifer Authority — a case that could tell us something about how Texas water will be regulated in in the future.

Anton Cruz via Wikimedia Commons

From The Austin Monitor: The battle over whether to loosen or make permanent some current water restrictions played out, once again, Wednesday at the City Council Public Utilities Committee, as Council Member Don Zimmerman questioned the intent of a recent public survey by Austin Water.

According to the survey data (collected at five public meetings held throughout January), roughly 57 percent of the public polled disagreed with a move to permanent once-a-week watering restrictions. 


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