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

Photo courtesy Clear Channel Outdoor

The Texas Gulf Coast is preparing for the upcoming hurricane season.

Today emergency and traffic officials tested digital billboards that will provide emergency messages throughout the Houston area.

Drivers saw a message that said, “Emergency Alert: This is only a test.”

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As wildfire season begins in Central Texas, the Texas Forest Service has launched a new website to let people know what the wildfire risk for their area is. uses the same data the Forest Service used ahead of last year's devastating fires. The Forest Service's Tom Spencer says now anyone in Texas can see how susceptible their area is to wildfire.

“They can click on the 'what's your risk' tool, click on the map where their home is and it would actually go in and calculate the average risk within about a two mile radius of their home,” says Spencer. “And then give them an idea of what the wildfire risk is to them – whether it's low, moderate, high, very high."

"The first criminal charges in connection with the BP oil spill have been filed against a former BP engineer named Kurt Mix," NPR's Carrie Johnson reports exclusively.

Carrie just told our Newscast unit that Mix has been charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly deleting text messages after the spill. The texts were related to the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf. Mix will make his first appearence in court today.

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Once a hippie holiday, now a fully mainstream observance (especially in Austin), Earth Day 2012 is coming this Sunday.  Get your credit card and your Djembe drum ready, because here in town, there are plenty of ways to celebrate Mother Earth, and give a little something back.


Over 110 Austin businesses will donate five percent of their profits to environmental causes, such as Friends of Barton Springs Pool and the Hill Country Conservancy.  That makes Sunday a great time to do grocery shopping (Whole Foods and Wheatsville Food Co-Op are participating), go to the cleaners (at Eco Clean Garment and Laundry), or take your pet to the vet (at Austin Vet Care), to name a few participants. 

Austinites can opt-out of receiving mailings like phone books.
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It’s often remarked that in the Internet age, the phone book is obsolete. And now, with a few keystrokes, Austinites can opt out of receiving them.

Austin Resource Recovery has partnered with the nonprofit organization Catalog Choice to offer a registry where citizens can elect to stop receiving phone books and certain types of junk mail – the dead-tree version of a “Do Not Call” list. You can register at

Aside from the environmental impact, the city notes the cost savings it may realize from saving on cleanup of unwanted litter. “More than 100 billion pieces of unsolicited mail are received by Americans each year—and municipalities foot the bill for waste collection and disposal,” the city notes in a release announcing the initiative.

Most Americans believe that global warming has played a role in a series of unusual weather events during the past year.

A poll released today by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that 72 percent of Americas believe global warming played a role in the very warm winter the United States just experienced.

There's a boom in natural gas production in the United States, a boom so big the market is having trouble absorbing it all.

The unusually warm weather this winter is one reason for the excess, since it reduced the need for people to burn gas to heat their homes. A bigger reason, however, is the huge increase in gas production made possible by new methods of coaxing gas out of shale rock formations.

The National Weather Services says "strong thunderstorms with locally heavy rain" may hit by Sunday.
Photo courtesy National Weather Service

The weird weather systems that produced hail by the foot in the Texas Panhandle this week is hanging around. And while Austin isn’t expected to bear  the brunt of severe weather, it still could make for a wet weekend.

The National Weather Service writes that a tornado outbreak is likely across the nation’s midsection this weekend. A technical version of its forecast can be found here, but on its Facebook page, NWS writes:

The Storm Prediction Center is forecasting a high risk of severe weather, including strong tornadoes, over Kansas and Oklahoma on Saturday evening into the overnight hours. The overall risk area includes Nebraska, much of Iowa, western Illinois, northwest Missouri, and northern Texas.

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The Mexican free-tailed bats living under the Congress Avenue Bridge are renowned as the world’s largest urban bat colony. But their cousins in the Hill Country are no slouches either.

New tours are beginning at the Bracken Bat Cave, on the outskirts of San Antonio at the Natural Bridge Caverns, where participants can witness the evening exodus of bats from what’s called the world’s largest summer bat colony -- period.

Unlike the bat watching along Lady Bird Lake, the tours aren’t free: they costs $25. But they're being held in conjunction with Bat Conservation International, an Austin-based group dedicated to preserving bats and their habitat.

Photo courtesy National Weather Service

A freak storm dumped a whopping four feet of hail on part of North Amarillo this week, says the National Weather Service.

KUT News’ StateImpact Texas project noted the strange occurrence, news of which proliferated across Facebook thanks to an incredible photo the National Weather Service office in Amarillo shared: an area firefighter standing next to a makeshift retaining wall filled to the brim with hailstones.

StateImpact Texas writes:

In an interview with MSNBC, Krissy Scotten, a spokeswoman for the National Weather Service in Amarillo, denied that the photo just showed ice on top of rocks, as some skeptics asserted after seeing it. “I can assure you we do not have big rocks like that in West Texas,” she told MSNBC. She said the four feet of ice was caused by a lot of rain and water. “Anytime you have hail accumulate 2 to 4 feet high and get over three inches of rain, no matter how it occurs, it’s pretty incredible,” she told the news site. 

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The city of Kyle is lifting its water restrictions.

In a letter sent out today, the city says recent rains have "sufficiently recharged" supplies "to allow for the removal of water restrictions beginning immediately. However, even with the removal of mandatory twice a week watering and other restrictions, City officials continue to ask residents to do their part to conserve water." Tips include checking your home and property for leaky pipes and not using a lawn irrigation system that is damaged or is spraying water onto a road or parking lot.

Photo by Carlos Morales for KUT News

Austin Water launched “Renewing Austin” today, a five-year program to replace 75 miles of old cast-iron waterlines. 

The announcement was made this morning at a construction site downtown, where old pipes were already being replaced.

“We’re going to try to replace about 15 miles of those projects every year for at least the next five years,” said Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros. “And hopefully much beyond that, and so we’re going to be investing ... millions dollars over the next five years to replace those projects that are high priority for us.”

The search for the killer of America's bees is a little bit like an Agatha Christie novel.

You've probably heard of compost – that thick chocolate-colored stuff that's an organic gardener's best friend and supplies plants with all kinds of succulent nutrients.

Updated drought maps show the drought has eased across Texas in the past week. But the lingering effects persist.

Quoting "a White House official," CNN and USA Today are reporting that in a speech tomorrow President Obama will push for fast-tracking the construction of the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline.

USA Today reports:

Image courtesy U.S. Geological Survey

Tech blog Mashable has created a Storify timeline culling links and social media updates on the recent Mexico earthquake, and its reverberations in the United States. We've embedded it below. 

The USGS says an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.4 hit southwest Mexico today.

The United States Geological Survey says it was 6.2 miles deep and about 120 miles east of Acapulco.

We'll have more on this story as it develops.

Update at 3:54 p.m. ET. Back To Normal:

NPR's Jason Beaubien, reporting from the Zocalo area of Mexico City, says officials report no deaths and no major damage.

Photo by ramk13

The City of Austin has lifted a burn ban for all city parks. You can grill in designated areas, but campfires are only allowed at Emma Long Metropolitan Park.

Victor Ovalle is with Austin Parks and Recreation. He says recent rainfall has improved drought conditions in the area, but s park-goers should still be careful.

“We’re asking the public to be very careful when they’re out," Ovalle said. "There’s still a lot of timber in the area, in our parks, and so we ask them not to leave their fires unattended, to keep a source of water nearby, and before leaving the site, making sure the fire is completely extinguished."


Just days after a Texas farmer’s restraining order against Keystone XL pipeline builder TransCanada was lifted, the Alberta company announced it is starting work on a portion of the pipeline stretching from Oklahoma to Texas.

The company announced today it was reapplying for a permit to route the pipeline through Nebraska. Concerns over the route through Nebraska’s environmentally-sensitive Sand Hills region lead in part to rejection of TransCanada’s earlier application.

But TransCanada also announced it would commence building the southernmost portion of the pipeline -- from Cushing, Oklahoma to Texas ports at the Gulf of Mexico -- while it waits on permitting for the northern portion of the line, which requires presidential approval.