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

4:30 p.m. ET — Latest from the National Weather Service:

"A major winter storm is expected to impact the Northeast and New England Friday into Saturday. As much as one to two feet of snow is forecast from the New York City metro area to Maine, with localized heavier amounts possible. This, in addition to wind gusts as high as 60-75 mph will create significant impacts to transportation and power. Coastal flooding is also possible from Boston northward."

Eddie Seal, Texas Tribune

Some people in the small East Texas town of Timpson are wondering if oil and gas drilling disposal wells are causing earthquakes in the area. The town registered its third earthquake in a week yesterday afternoon.

UT's Campus Enviornmental Center

University of Texas at Austin students who are part of the Campus Environmental Center are helping to reforest the burnt lands of Bastrop by sending the city more than 40,000 loblolly pine tree seedlings.

Vlad Codrea, a graduate research assistant at UT, is overseeing the project at the tree nursery at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. From 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Thursday, the Campus Environmental Center will extract the tree seedlings from their containers and package them to be sent to Bastrop.

Codrea said the project actually began in March 2011, before the Bastrop fires, when he first asked for funding for a tree nursery from UT's Green Fee Committee. The Committee reviews environmental projects pitched by UT students and awards grant money so the students can complete these projects. Codrea was awarded a $54,198  grant over four years.

City of Austin by Mark Sanders

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it would cost $29 million over the next 23 years to designate critical habitat land for four central Texas salamanders.

The service wants to list the Austin blind salamander and three other species as endangered. It also wants to designate more than 6,457 acres of land in Travis, Williamson and Bell counties to help protect them. That acreage is up from 5,983 acres in a previous proposal.

University of Texas at Austin

Texas ranks tenth in the country in Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. That's according to a report issued by the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that issues LEED certification.

The LEED 100-point scale rates the design, construction, and operation of buildings, neighborhoods, and homes to promote sustainable infrastructure. It looks at factors such as sustainability, water and energy efficiency, materials, indoor environmental quality, as well as design and innovation to issue one of four different levels of certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

Dave Fehling/StateImpact Texas

As the debate over the safety of fracking continues between politicians, environmentalists and oil companies, some scientists may have found a way to test the drilling procedure.

courtesy flickr.com/dayland

The science linking oil and gas drilling activity and earthquakes has been established for decades. And with the current boom in domestic drilling, more earthquakes are happening and states are taking action to fight them. But not in Texas, where the most drilling is taking place. For StateImpact Texas, KUT’s Mose Buchele reports.

U.S. Drought Monitor

A new reading on the Texas drought shows rains from last week helped drought severity fall for the first time since October. But it wasn’t a large decline, and as KUT’s Mose Buchele reports for StateImpact Texas, the long-term outlook is not good.

LCRA Proposes Relief for Rice Farmers

Jan 16, 2013
Jeff Heimsath/StateImpact Texas

The Lower Colorado River Authority approved a plan this week that could ease the strain on the Highland Lakes in the future. For StateImpact Texas, David Barer explains plans to build a new reservoir for downstream rice farmers.

It’s a decision that should have very positive impacts for the basin from top to bottom. So, looking forward for the board and staff moving forward in that.

National Weather Service

Update: The flash flood watch for Travis and surrounding counties has been canceled. The National Weather Service says heavier storms have moved east of the region.

But Williamson County, which had closed several low-water crossings, reminds drivers that even if a road is open, people should use common sense.  

“People do need to be cautious, slow down, and if they do see water flowing over the roadway, don’t cross the roadway,” county spokesperson Connie Watson says. “And if you feel there are road conditions that are dangerous for people to be crossing and driving on them - perhaps we haven’t gotten there to close the road yet - you can certainly call 911 to report a dangerous road condition.”

Karen Bernstein for KUT News

The ongoing drought in Central Texas sapped the green out of many lawns – and spurred private well drilling in Austin. It’s a costly and fairly unregulated way for homeowners to get at the water from the aquifer below. 

Computer records held by the state are backlogged and numbers are unreliable, but the Texas Water Development Board estimates that more than 150 wells have been drilled in Austin since 2006. At least 50 of those wells were drilled in the 78703 zip code. That encompasses West Austin, Tarrytown, and Pemberton Heights.

National Weather Service

Austin’s in for a good soaking.

Central Texas' daylong rain is expected to continue overnight and through tomorrow. The National Weather Service says a flash flood watch is in effect through noon Wednesday for several counties: Bastrop, Caldwell, Dewitt, Fayette, Gonzales, Lavaca. Lee, Travis and Williamson. NWS is still expecting up to six inches in the Austin area.

National Weather Service

A powerful storm system is headed into Austin, projected to bring the area its heaviest rainfall in six months. A low-level pressure system rolling in from California is expected to combine with moisture generated from the Gulf of Mexico. That means Austin can expecting three to five inches of rain, with isolated spots possibly receiving even more.

Scattered showers are expected to begin overnight, building in intensity Tuesday afternoon and lasting through Wednesday afternoon. And damaging winds, hail and flash flooding are all a possibility.

flickr.com/yumievriwan

Insurance companies doing business in Texas have counted their losses after reviewing the state’s  catastrophic weather events last year.

According to the Insurance Services Office, a catastrophic event is a weather or man-made event that causes at least $25 million or more in insured property losses and affects a significant number of people. Texas had seven catastrophic events in 2012, and it cost insurance companies some $2.3 billion in losses.

Reshma Kirpalani for KUT News

After tonight and tomorrow’s wintry weather passes through, we’re not expected to see a lot of moisture.

The National Weather Service updated its 3-month drought outlook this morning. It shows the drought will likely continue in Central Texas and the Hill Country… at least through March.

National Weather Service

Update: (Jan. 3, 5:31 p.m.) National Weather Service reports temperatures in Austin will get down to around 39 degrees tonight. Chance of precipitation is 30 percent with little or no snow accumulation expected.

The National Weather Service has issued a hazardous weather outlook for Travis County.

Parts of Central Texas have already seen some sleet today. And scattered patches of light rain, occasionally mixed with light sleet are expected to blow into Travis County this afternoon. But the wintry weather isn’t expected to really make an impact until later tonight and into tomorrow morning.

The wind energy industry is dependent on something even more unpredictable than wind: Congress. Hidden in the turmoil over the "fiscal cliff" compromise was a tax credit for wind energy.

Uncertainty over the credit had lingered long before the last-minute political push, causing the industry to put off further long-term planning. So while the now-approved tax credit revives prospects for an industry facing tens of thousands of layoffs, don't expect to see many new turbines coming up soon.

Growing Uncertainty

Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig where 11 men died in April 2010, has agreed to pay $1.4 billion in criminal and civil penalties to resolve Justice Department allegations over its role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Natural gas may have reshaped the domestic energy market in 2012, lowering energy prices and marginalizing the coal industry, but America's shale boom hasn't undermined renewables.

In fact, while analysts were paying attention to fracking this year, a record number of solar panels were being slapped on roofs — enough to produce 3.2 gigawatts of electricity.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Is the electric grid ready for an influx of electric cars?

That’s one of the topics under discussion Tuesday at a discussion on electric vehicles at the University of Texas.

The university’s Electric Vehicle Transportation and Electricity Convergence Center (EV-TEC) is hosting a panel discussion at the Blanton Museum with engineering and electromechanical experts, plus auto industry representatives. (Nissan and General Motors are listed as event sponsors.) The event begins at 4 p.m. this afternoon with a screening of “Revenge of the Electric Car.”

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