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

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. 


Mose Buchele / KUT

Deep in South Texas oil country, there’s a place known as the “Hotel Capital of the Eagle Ford Shale.” More than 20 hotels were built in the small town of Cotulla during the oil boom, but that boom came to a standstill in 2015. 

KUT reported on the town a year ago and recently returned to see how Cotulla and other oil towns are faring. 


Mose Buchele for KUT News

Cattle rustlers have been both reviled and mythologized in Texas since there was cattle on the range. Now, the downturn in oil prices may be giving rise to a new kind of criminal in South Texas: oil rustlers.


Wikimedia Commons

If there’s one bit of conventional wisdom when to comes to oil prices it’s this: What goes down, must go up. The boom-bust cycle of the oil markets means that the cheap gas you’re enjoying now will cost you more sometime in the future. But what if low oil prices are actually the new normal? Some people are saying just that.

Photo via flickr/MarcDalio; photo illustration by Andrew Weber/KUT

It’s been a few weeks since Congress lifted a decades-long ban on crude oil exports, but something that often gets lost in talking about the end of the ban is that not all oil is created equally.

Oil from one place might have has more sulfur or more impurities than oil from another place; you might hear it called “heavy” or “light” crude. The differences have a big effect on what that oil can be used for, but explaining those differences can be, well, boring. But The Wall Street Journal's Russell Gold says he has a much more interesting corollary that might help illustrate those differences: alcohol.


NASA, via Getty Images

Texas is winding down a year of extreme weather. A lot of it is attributed to the El Niño weather pattern that pushes more moisture in our direction. 

Recently the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, took a look at past severe El Niño years, with an ear to what music was popular at the time.

It was a historical perspective so unique, KUT’s Mose Buchele decided to put it on the radio.


Flickr user Señor Codo

In another lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Texas is taking aim at tightened standards on ground-level ozone — President Obama’s effort to cut down on smog that chokes the nation’s skies. 

Mose Buchele/KUT

The Texas Water Development board has $7 million to spend to improve the state’s emergency response to flooding.


Shelby Knowles/Texas Tribune

Tucked into the semi-wilderness a few miles north of this Central Texas town, within spitting distance of a federal prison, Nahja, a 25-year old chimpanzee at the Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research, wraps a handful of woolly nesting material around her head into something that resembles a shawl.

New technology developed here in Austin promises to give advanced warning for floods, but what exactly would that mean for first responders struggling to rescue people? A look at recent flooding in Central Texas shows how a project to provide real-time flood prediction software on a national scale could help.


flickr/smreilly

The low gas prices a lot of us are enjoying when we fill up our cars are thanks, in part, to a glut in the global supply of oil.  In fact there’s so much crude oil being pumped right now that it's created a traffic jam in an unlikely place.


Ivan Pierre Aguirre/Texas Tribune

Natural gas, coal, wind are the resources that usually come to mind when we think about power generation in Texas. But a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey estimates Texas has enough uranium underground to power nuclear plants across the country for five years.

The USGS assessment found a 60-million-ton concentration of unmined uranium oxide embedded in sandstone under the Texas Coastal Plain – a deposit that, if developed, the agency estimates could supply a year’s worth of power to U.S. nuclear reactors.


Staff Sgt. James L. Harper, Jr., USAF, via flickr/chucksimmins

Over seven years after hurricanes Ike and Dolly devastated the Texas coast, $3.1 billion in federal disaster relief remains unspent. It's a number that recently became a point of focus at a state Senate Committee hearing on disaster recovery.


Courtesy: Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

In some part of the world, including a site near the Texas-New Mexico border, nuclear waste is kept in rock salt deposits deep underground.  It’s long been thought that these geologic formations were some of the safest places to store humankind’s most toxic waste, but new research suggests those places may not be as safe as we thought.


UT Austin

A team of scientists at UT Austin has brought us closer to understanding how some animals turn almost invisible in certain lights by studying fish deep in the ocean.


Mose Buchele/KUT

Austin’s creeks and waterways are part of what’s attracted people to this part of the world for thousands of years.  But, of course, they also create flooding hazards. When one heavy rain on top of another sends tons of debris into the creeks, that flood risk becomes even more difficult to control.

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