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 by Eddie Seal, Texas Tribune

An earthquake hit outside of Oklahoma City on Saturday night. The magnitude 5.6 quake was the strongest in Oklahoma history. The US Geological Survey has released an initial report on the quake, but has not yet given an official cause.

Photo by KUT News

This Wednesday, don't be alarmed if you turn on your radio or TV and hear an Emergency Alert System test. The test will be run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

Photo by I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

The Texas drought has been in effect for about a year now, give or take a month depending on whom you ask.

Thousands of demonstrators ringed the White House on Sunday afternoon, demanding that President Obama deny permission for a proposed pipeline to carry crude oil from the tar sands of Canada to refineries in Texas.

Business and labor groups support the Keystone XL project; many environmentalists oppose it. But deliberations in Nebraska may play a decisive role.

Part 1 of a four-part series, Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities

The system Congress set up 21 years ago to clean up toxic air pollution still leaves many communities exposed to risky concentrations of benzene, formaldehyde, mercury and many other hazardous chemicals.

Photo by Muliadi Soenaryo for the Texas Tribune

In Texas House and Senate hearings this week, state lawmakers heard repeatedly about the crisis created by the record-breaking drought — and the need for Texans to conserve water.

One elected official who has lagged on this front is U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin.

From October 2010 through September 2011 — a time period that corresponds almost exactly to the first 12 months of the drought — a property belonging to McCaul and his wife was the sixth-largest water user among all Austin residential customers, according to records obtained from Austin's water utility. The McCauls' water consumption, 1.4 million gallons over those 12 months, comes to about 15 times the consumption of the average Austin home over that time.

Photo by Alan English

Wild donkeys, also known as burros, are wandering into Texas from Mexico. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department considers about 300 burros in Big Bend to be destructive intruders that hog food and water needed by the park's native species.  

Brent Leisure with Texas State Parks and Wildlife says they’re dealing with the problem by hunting the burros.

“We’re managing for indigenous native plant and animal communities, and that not being a part of it, we do know that the burros have a negative impact and effect on native wildlife and plants,” Leisure said.

The City of Austin is still in the early design stages of a project to fix the eroding banks along Shoal Creek. KUT took a tour of the creek erosion in Pease Park this week with one of the city’s civil engineers.

“Probably 30 or 40 years ago, they used a lot of concrete or rock filled wire baskets, which also break down over time,” Morgan Byars with the City of Austin's Watershed Protection Department said. “We’re trying to use more sustainable solutions that can last centuries.”

Check out the video above for an example of what he’s talking about.


A few years back, Lance Armstrong was caught. He apologized, admitted the error of his ways, and promised to do better in the future. His offense? Using too much water.

Armstrong had used 330,000 gallons of water in July 2008. He hadn’t even been home at his three acre, 14,475 square foot estate. “I’m a little shocked,” he told a newspaper at the time. “There’s no justification for that much water. I need to fix this.”

Well, it’s been several summers since then, this last one being notable for being the hottest and driest on record. And the city is in stage two watering restrictions because of the historic drought.  But it would appear Armstrong has not learned how to conserve. According to data from Austin Water Utility, he used around 1.3 million gallons of water in the last year, putting him among the top ten residential users of water in town.

Photo by Gary Nored, Texas Parks and Wildlife

If Texans pass Proposition 8 on the ballot next month, they will authorize a possible way to keep the water clean in the dried-out state in exchange for a reduced property tax bill.

Does Austin support or oppose a plastic bag ban or would it prefer some kind of alternative? You decide! Two groups have somewhat conflicting polls on the issue, so you can pick whichever one supports your argument, Choose Your Own Adventure-style.

Four years after it shut down, deconstruction is set to begin on the Holly Street Power Plant in East Austin. A “first-bolt removal ceremony” is planned for Saturday at 10 a.m. and will include city officials and neighbors.

Environmental justice groups such as People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources (PODER) fought for years to have the plant decommissioned, complaining of increased cancer rates in the surrounding residential neighborhood and a loss of hearing caused by the constant noise from the plant.

Photo by AgriLife Today / Kay Ledbetter

While already-sodden northern regions of the United States can expect above-average rains this winter, the worst one-year drought in Texas history looks set to persist in the coming months, federal forecasters said today.

It is "most likely that severe drought will persist through the winter" in the Southern Plains, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA's Climate Predictions Center, speaking on a press call timed with the release of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Winter Outlook, which covers the months of December through February.

Eddie Seal, Texas Tribune

A 4.8 magnitude earthquake struck an area of South Texas today that is a center point for natural gas and oil production in the Eagle Ford Shale. The quake’s epicenter was here in the unincorporated community of Campbellton in Atascosa County near Karnes County. You can see numerous wells in the county in this map from the Texas Railroad Commission. (Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly placed the epicenter in Karnes County.)

A University of Texas seismologist says hydraulic fracturing itself does not cause earthquakes. But he says earthquakes have been associated with the disposal of fracking fluids.

Photo by adav

The plastic grocery bag has few friends at Austin’s City Hall. Council voted in July to move forward with a plan that would ban single-use plastic bags at local stores, putting Austin in the company of cities like San Francisco, Portland, San Jose, Washington, DC and even Brownsville, Texas.

But the specifics of the plan are still being ironed out. Next Monday, city officials hope to hear from you on how it should be done. They’re holding a public input session from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Austin Energy building.

KUT’s Matt Largey talked about it with Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

You like Barton Springs Pool? So does a small, endangered amphibian. But unlike you, the Barton Springs Salamander is legally protected by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. If the city wants to keep operating the pool, it needs to renew a permit with the federal government that explains how Austin will protect the slithery little creature.

The current permit was issued in 1998 and based on this Habitat Conservation Plan. That permit expires in October 2013. But the review process takes a long time, so the city wants to submit its application soon to stave off closing Barton Springs Pool, even temporarily.

Photo by furyksx

Pumpkins are kind of like fruit cakes. They only sell for about six weeks out of the entire year. And it’s usually around the time specials like this one air on television.

But the great pumpkin might be harder to find these days, according to agricultural experts.

Photo by KUT News

FEMA is trying to get the word out to Texas wildfire victims that, if they get a letter saying they're ineligible for federal aid, it's may not be the final word.

Ericka Lopez is a FEMA Public Information Officer in Bastrop. She says people can submit a formal appeal within 60 days, if they believe the feds made error.

Photo by Mose Buchele for KUT News

More than one-third of timber damaged by wildfires in East Texas has been salvaged and resold by property owners. Separate wildfires across the eastern part of the state in June scorched over 30,000 acres. The salvaged timber will be repackaged and sold as building materials, paper, and fuel. The value of the resold goods is expected to exceed $100 million.

Photo by KUT News.

Texas longhorn cattle descended from cattle brought in by Spanish explorers. Today some make their home at state parks and historic sites. But budget cuts and the drought could send state-owned longhorns off to market.

Talks are under way on the fate of nearly 400 longhorns living on state lands, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials say. The herds may be removed or reduced this fall, a prospect that upsets longhorn enthusiasts.