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

Eddie Seal/Texas Tribune

An inquiry by the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry in Texas has found that oil and gas activity did not likely cause a swarm of earthquakes around the north Texas towns of Azle and Reno starting in 2013. The finding, however, flies in the face of a peer-reviewed scientific study of the quakes.


flickr.com/mattzor

Last week, members of the Austin City Council heard a proposal to halt the practice of putting fluoride in the city’s water supply, but, ultimately, they found no persuasive evidence of any harm from the practice.

However, the City of San Marcos is still very much in the middle of a battle over its water fluoridation program – a battle that’s gotten all the way to the Texas Supreme Court.


Mose Buchele/KUT

Oil closed at its lowest price in more than six years yesterday and, while it’s risen slightly since then, some project the price to drop even further

In some parts of Texas that's bad news for almost everyone. The economic ripple effect of low prices has led to layoffs and slammed the brakes on local economies.  But there’s one business that’s going through a boom in the oil patch right now: the repo man.

Mose Buchele/KUT News

Even before oil prices plummeted last year, the town of Alice, Texas was feeling the pain caused by a restless oil industry. Some oilfield service companies had moved operations from Alice, located near Corpus Christi, to places deeper in the Eagle Ford Shale. That cost the town jobs and tax revenue. Then, starting around Thanksgiving, the value of Texas crude dropped by more than half. More layoffs came, and the real trouble started.

"A lot of people are in depression right now. And in denial," says Bonnie Whitley, volunteer coordinator at the Alice Food Pantry. "They just can’t come to grips with what’s happened. So there’s depression and we really need some good counselors down here. Which we don’t have…”

U.S. Geological Survey

The story starts with six scientists and six glaciers. They set out to Alaska and Greenland to study earthquakes caused by glaciers breaking up. To do this, they hooked seismic sensors up to these big pieces of ice. However, when they pulled this data down, they heard something new: the sound of melting glaciers.

Tim Bartholomaus, a postdoctoral fellow at UT’s Institute for Geophysics, says the melting glacial water makes a buzzing, whirring sound. It’s a sound that the research team found completely by accident.

Flickr/Beth Cortez-Neavel (CC BY-NC 4.0)

From Texas Standard:

The Obama administration announced what it calls the Clean Power Plan — an ambitious plan to dramatically reduce carbon emissions. From an international perspective, the plan could give the United States more weight in future discussions on curbing so-called greenhouse gases. But there’s some politics here as well: The move is seen by many analysts as legacy-building, and there’s no doubt Texas is in the crosshairs.

Travis Bubenik of Marfa Public Radio has been following this for Inside Energy. Bubenik sat down with The Texas Standard to discuss President Obama's new Clean Power Plan.

flickr.com/criminalintent

Have you ever wondered about if you could recycle your paper coffee cup? Or if the cap from that Topo Chico you had would gum up the recycling sorter? Have you wondered the fate of that plastic bag you filled with recyclables and tossed into the blue bin with trepidation? 

Well, today was your lucky day, Internet user. 

This morning Austin Resource Recovery took to Reddit for an "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) to answer Austinites' burning recycling questions — offering a glimpse of a possibly forthcoming composting program and tips on what exactly to do with all those plastic bags you've been hoarding. Check out the highlights below.

Wikimedia Commons

Texas leads the nation in wind power, but some environmentalists worry about bird deaths cause by wind turbines – typically, birds fly into the blades of the turbines.

Now, a new approach pioneered by the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to decrease those fatalities by trying to calculate the probability of bird-turbine collisions, while recognizing the inherent uncertainty of the phenomenon.

flickr.com/mrgarin

Austin’s seen its first triple-digit day of the summer. Just before 1 p.m. yesterday, Central Texas thermometers cracked the triple-digit seal, according to the National Weather Service. While the thermostat has thankfully stayed pretty low so far this year in Austin, that’s going to change.

When it comes to triple-digit days in Austin, the best way to describe what’s happening is, “Never would’ve been better than late.”

Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

This week, oil prices dropped below $50 for the first time since February, a development that could upend the state's predictions of oil revenue for this year.

Estimates from the Comptroller of Public Accounts put oil prices at an average of just over $64 per barrel in 2015 and 2016. And, as of now, those predictions are rosier than the reality of the market, meaning the state's loss in oil and gas tax revenue could impact the Texas budget going forward.

In January, when Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar released his estimate of how much tax revenue the state would bring in for the Texas budget, he did so with a caveat.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

For the first time since 2010, none of Texas is in drought condition. But that doesn’t mean water worries don’t still plague some parts of the state.

The latest drought report from the Texas Water Development Board doesn't signal the end of the state's water woes, but it's still good news. After more than five years, spring rains saturated the ground enough to finally end our long drought — our long soil moisture drought.

Photo via Flickr/jaredzimmerman (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

 From the Texas Standard.

Improvements and enforcement aren't coming fast enough.

If you live near the Eagle Ford Shale you may have heard an ad from the Texas Department of Transportation warning drivers in the area to be extra cautious on the roadways.

It’s part of a campaign called "Be Safe, Drive Smart." Roadways aren’t like they used to be. Before the shale oil boom, the 26 counties that make up the Eagle Ford were small, bucolic places – country roads, few cars.

Now, not so much.

Texas Eagle/flickr

Between January and March, Travis County residents called in more than 260 coyote incidents. Some of these were just sightings, but others called in because their pets had been attacked.

In November, the Austin City Council adopted its first-ever plan to handle coyotes. The main thrust of the plan? Handling them humanely.

But what does handling them humanely mean, exactly?

Isaac Sanchez/flickr

Some conservative groups are petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the golden-cheeked warbler from the list of endangered species.

But environmentalists say the species, which thrives here in Central Texas, should remain on the list because its numbers aren’t strong.

Eddie Seal/Texas Tribune

For the first time this year, the number of oil rigs operating in the U.S. went up, according to oil field services company Baker Hughes. But what does that mean for the largest oil producing state in the country?

For Texas, and the U.S., the increase is more of a bellwether, but after months of declines it could signal a stabilizing of the U.S. oil markets. According to Baker Hughes, there was a net gain of only three rigs – a loss of nine gas rigs was offset by the addition of 12 oil rigs.

Star Spencer is a senior editor for Platts Energy Information Service. She says it looks like the industry is betting that U.S. crude has settled around $60 a barrel.

Marc Morrison

Texas will receive more than $750 million of the $20 billion BP oil spill settlement announced this week. The state will use some of that money to prepare for future disasters in the Gulf of Mexico.

Five years ago, oil was still pouring into the Gulf after an offshore rig exploded, killing 11 people and causing the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Florida State University oceanographer Ian McDonald, like a lot of researchers, felt frustrated at the time that civilian experts weren’t being included in the government’s emergency response.

“There’s a terrific brain trust of academics and professionals in the Gulf Coast region, and there are none of them that are not prepared at any time to go and try to fight this thing,” McDonald said.

Austin Monitor

Austin will remain in Stage 2 water restrictions despite above average rainfall for the year and the historic amount that fell in May. The city is also examining whether to adopt those restrictions permanently.

Mose Buchele/KUT News

This year state lawmakers severely restricted the ability of Texas towns to regulate local oil and gas drilling.

A law known as House Bill 40 was a reaction to a fracking ban passed by voters in the North Texas city of Denton.

Denton has come to represent local fracking bans and clashes between local governments and the oil and gas industry. But while Denton was the first city in Texas to ban fracking, it wasn't the first city to ban drilling within city limits.

That practice goes back years, according to a survey by the Texas Municipal League.

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.”

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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