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

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News

As of Thursday, the wildfire near Smithville in Bastrop County was well contained at 85 percent and had covered about 4,500 acres — that hasn't changed in several days. The Texas A&M Forest Service says the cause of the fire is still under investigation. But the Bastrop County Judge has said the fire was probably caused by one of two things: farm equipment that overheated or a fire built in violation of the county’s burn ban.


Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT

After burning nearly 4,600 acres and destroying nearly 70 homes, the Hidden Pines Fire remains at 80 percent containment. As people in fire-damaged areas of Bastrop County take more steps toward the recovering, officials and residents are preparing for expected flooding this weekend as investigators determine the cause of the fire.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT

The Hidden Pines wildfire in Bastrop is now 80 percent contained, but just how do officials reach that determination? Well, it’s an art and a science.


Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT

The Hidden Pines Fire in Bastrop County started one week ago today. Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said Tuesday morning that the fire is 80 percent contained and has burned about 4,600 acres. Sixty-eight homes have been lost, and 95 are currently threatened. 

KUT News

The Environmental Protection Agency has released new rules to reduce ozone pollution.  The Austin area has managed to stay on the right side of current rules, but the new standards will be harder to meet.


Image via Flickr/TexasEagle (CC BY-NC 2.0)

In Texas, there's been a job opening for what you might call a monarch over Monarchs. The formal title is "Monarch Outreach Specialist."

The challenge? To get the Monarch butterfly to return to Texas, where their numbers seem to have been dropping.

 


Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

This week the US Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce new limits on the amount of ozone Americans breathe. Those limits could force Austin and other Texas cities to reduce ground-level ozone pollution in an effort to mitigate the pollutant’s harmful health effects.


Wikimedia Commons

It might sound surprising that the U.S. does not allow the export of one of its most valuable and plentiful natural resources — but in the case of crude oil, it's true.

A lot of Texas politicians would like to see the ban overturned, and soon lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives may vote on just that.  But why is there a ban in the first place?

YouTube

Yesterday, we heard about a new goal set by the federal government: a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030.

One way to waste less food is to compost it – by storing organic material in a bucket, for example, until it can be used to fertilize soil. In 2012, the City of Austin and a local company each started their own composting programs.


Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is back from his first official trip to Mexico. While he was there, the governor met Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and talked border security, trade and energy. As KUT’s Mose Buchele reports, cross-border energy issues are of growing importance on both sides of the border.


sarowen/flickr

The Texas horned lizard — also known as the horny toad, or the horned frog to TCU fans — lives in some of the harshest deserts in the Southwest.  But scientists are learning more about how the lizard survives, and what they’ve discovered could have applications for the rest of us.


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.”

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