Energy & Environment

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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Energy & Environment
12:34 pm
Mon January 19, 2015

Why Mom-and-Pop Gas Stations Are Often First to Slash Gas Prices

Al Mak is a manager at Pronto Food Mart. They offer some of the lowest gas prices in central Austin.
Credit Mose Buchele/KUT News

By now, the initial surprise over low gas prices has worn off. But people looking for the very best deals might have noticed a trend: Small, unbranded gas stations are often the first to cut prices when the price of crude oil falls. Many continue to stay competitive even when larger brand-name stations start cutting their prices as well.

Take Pronto Food Mart. It’s a tiny neighborhood gas station that was one of the first places in Austin to slash prices. It still offers the cheapest gas in Central Austin according to GasBuddy.com.

Shopkeepers at Pronto pride themselves on being on the front lines of the war against high gas prices.

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Energy & Environment
5:05 pm
Wed January 7, 2015

Earthquakes Are New, But Not Unique, To Dallas Area

Credit OLIVER BERG/DPA/LANDOV

People in Dallas were surprised by a swarm of small earthquakes that started shaking the city a couple of days ago. There have been 11 by last count.  And the quakes, though new to the Dallas area, are just the most recent in a major upsurge in earthquakes in Texas over the last few years.

Earthquakes were pretty much unheard of in the Dallas area until 2008. Since then there have been a lot of these swarms of quakes. In Irving, Texas, where this new cluster is located, there have been more than 50 in the last several years, according to the city manager. This current swarm started around September.

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Energy & Environment
3:40 pm
Tue January 6, 2015

After 12 Quakes In 2 Days, Scientists Deploy More Seismographs In Irving

An aerial view of the old Texas Stadium site in Irving. Several earthquakes have been recorded near the old stadium.
Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram http://www.star-telegram.com/news/traffic/your-commute/article3847242.html

Originally published on Fri January 9, 2015 10:26 am

Twelve earthquakes shook North Texas Tuesday and Wednesday -- and seismologists are intensifying their focus on all of the rumbling and rattling near the old Texas Stadium site.

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Energy & Environment
10:11 am
Tue January 6, 2015

Study Says Hunting With Steel Shot Just as Effective as Lead

A two-year study compared the lethality of traditional lead shot versus steel shot while hunting mourning doves, examining the environmental impact of both ammunitions.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

The use of lead ammunition for hunting has long worried environmental groups. They've  even tried suing the Environmental Protection Agency to push it to regulate lead ammo. But some hunters have been resistant to using steel bullets, saying they are less effective.  A new study takes a look at whether that's backed up by fact. 

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department looked at the effectiveness of lead versus steel shot in dove hunting in different parts of the state. 

The double-blind study suggested a switch from lead shot to steel shot wouldn’t limit hunters' dove season harvests. Corey Mason is a biologist with the department and – despite the study’s finding that nearly 73 percent of hunters couldn’t discern between the two ammunitions – he says he’s heard from hunters that steel shot doesn’t do the job as well as lead.

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Energy & Environment
12:15 pm
Mon January 5, 2015

After Scores of Quakes, Researchers Head to Irving to Study Surge in Seismic Activity

This map from the USGS shows the approximate location of a recent quake near Irving, Texas.
Credit 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.

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Energy & Environment
1:21 pm
Thu January 1, 2015

Report: Texas Not Doing Enough to Keep Track of Its Water

A report from Texas A&M found fracking isn't such a drain on Texas' water resources, but suggested the state revamp water rights policies.
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. 

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Energy & Environment
10:32 am
Fri December 19, 2014

After a Lark of a Year, Austin Birders Prepare for Annual Christmas Count

The red-legged honeycreeper was one of three rare species found in the state this year by Texas ornithologists.

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.

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Energy & Environment
10:25 am
Fri December 19, 2014

Copenhagen Turns to Two Wheels and Takes Off

Cyclists commuting in the Copenhagen neighborhood of Norrebro.
DPA /LANDOV

From StateImpact Texas:

Rain or shine, in the light of summer or the early afternoon darkness of winter, under heavy sleet, unrelenting winds or drifts of snow, people in Copenhagen just bike. They bike in fur coats, they bike in suits and ties. They bike old, they bike young. They wheel their kids around on a cargo bike with a wooden box carrying the children up front, taking them to and from school; this is Copenhagen’s take on a minivan. People just bike, and after arriving in the city myself, I soon found out why: it’s usually the fastest way to get around. So I rented a bike, too.

Today, 60 percent of people in the city’s core commute by bike. In the greater Copenhagen area, over 40 percent do. “We see the same numbers [of commuting by bike] all year round,” says Copenhagen Environmental and Technical Affairs Mayor Morten Kabell.

“It’s not something that’s in Copenhagen’s genes, or that we’re weirder or stranger than any other people on earth,” Kabell says. “Every city can do this.”

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Energy & Environment
11:02 am
Thu December 18, 2014

How Denmark and Texas Became Wind Energy Kings

Three turbines sit just offshore at the Avedore Holm wind energy test site near Copenhagen, Denmark. The turbines are operated by DONG Energy.
Terrence Henry/StateImpact Texas

From StateImpact Texas:

Standing on the shore of the Baltic sea a few miles outside of Copenhagen, Denmark, the view’s about what you’d expect. Rocky shore, grey horizon, a boat here or there. But this shore is special. Look up, and you’ll see — and hear — three giant offshore wind turbines cutting through the air. Each stands 500 feet tall, with three blades (each close to 200 feet long), spinning non-stop.

“The blades look quite thin, but don’t be cheated,” says Rune Birk Nielsen, with DONG Energy, which runs the turbines. “They each weigh about twenty tons. They are massive.” Each turbine has a capacity of 3.6 megawatts, or enough to power 3,000 Danish homes.

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Energy & Environment
12:06 pm
Wed December 17, 2014

What Spain Can Teach Texas About Solar Energy

A tower at Abengoa solar plant at "Solucar" solar park.
Marcelo del Pozo/REUTERS

From StateImpact Texas:

About an hour’s drive outside of Sevilla, Spain’s old city, past grazing black-footed pigs and olive orchards, sits the Abengoa Solucar complex, and it’s truly a sight: Imagine cresting a hill and then all of the sudden seeing several large towers, over 500 feet high, with hundreds of beams of light striking them — solar rays from an army of mirrors arrayed in a circle on the ground below. They’re called heliostats.

“These heliostats are reflecting solar radiation toward the receiver that we have at the top of the tower,” says Valerio Fernandez, manager of the complex. The rays from the heliostats strike the top of the towers, like hundreds of magnifying glasses focused on one point in mid-air. The top of the tower shines so bright, you can’t look at it without sunglasses.

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Energy & Environment
9:46 am
Fri December 12, 2014

CO2 and the History of Weighing Smoke

The science of weighing carbon gas is tied to Sir Walter Raleigh's attempt to weigh smoke after a wager with Queen Elizabeth I.
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.

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Energy & Environment
3:20 pm
Thu December 11, 2014

The City Wants Input on How to Make Austin Emissions-Free by 2050

The city wants to expand the use of solar panels ahead of its 2050 goal to make Austin greenhouse-free by 2050.
Austin Monitor

One of the city of Austin's sustainability goals is pretty ambitious - to be a net-zero greenhouse emissions city by 2050. In order to get there, it would take a city-wide buy in and that's why the city wants to get the community's pulse through a survey.

The 10 question-long survey is in English and Spanish, asking things like "Would you e-commute, or ride a bus?" and "What about putting up solar panels?" The answers to those questions aim to help the city start crafting a plan.

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Energy & Environment
11:21 am
Tue December 9, 2014

New Study Sheds Light on Natural Gas And Global Warming

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. 

 

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Energy & Environment
10:18 am
Fri December 5, 2014

If El Nino Ever Arrives, It Likely Wont Bring Much Rain

El Nino heats up parts of the ocean, and begins a pattern that can bring rain to North America.
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.

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Austin Energy
9:48 am
Tue December 2, 2014

Austin Energy Low-Income Assistance Program Benefits Some High-Earners

Austin Energy's program designed to benefit low-income customers has, some say, inadvertently benefitted wealthy customers.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/jvk

With hundreds of thousands of customers, Austin Energy must rely on computer programs to filter through their customer database when it sends out bills. As intricately as some of these systems are designed, there are a few recent instances in which those programs have led to unintended consequences.

If you're an Austin Energy customer you may have noticed one item on your bill called a "Community Benefit Charge,” a fee which partly helps low-income Austin Energy customers pay their bills. Some of that money, however, is actually going to wealthy customers.

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Energy & Environment
2:49 pm
Wed November 26, 2014

EPA Proposes Ozone Crackdown, Rankling Texas Officials

Credit Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

Over the objections of Texas officials, the Obama administration on Wednesday proposed a long-delayed rule to slash levels of ozone – a smog-forming pollutant known to worsen asthma, lung disease and heart conditions.

The regulation is the latest example of the federal Environmental Protection Agency's use of the Clean Air Act to crack down on the pollution wafting from factories, power plants and tailpipes.

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Energy & Environment
10:11 am
Tue November 25, 2014

How Underground Sensors in Texas Will Help NASA Predict Drought and Floods

Soil moisture meters across the state could one day help predict weather patterns across the state.
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.

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Energy & Environment
11:39 am
Thu November 20, 2014

Keystone XL or Not, Canadian Crude Already Shipping Out From U.S.

While efforts to build out the Keystone XL pipeline have stalled in Congress, Canadian crude oil is still being shipped internationally from the Texas Gulf Coast.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/shannonpatrick17

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.

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