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

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

The deadly flooding that hit central Texas this week struck in one of the most rapidly growing parts of the county. And it’s reignited a debate over whether the state is doing enough to regulate development in floodplains.

Professor Nicolas Pinter teaches environmental science at Southern Illinois University.  He says a big study back in the late ‘90s put Texas at number two in the country in number of properties that have flooded repeatedly and the number of properties that have received repeated flood insurance payouts. And Texas is second to Florida in flood insurance, with just over 681,000 policies to Florida's 2.1 million, according to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The reason for that's simple: Texas gets a lot of floods.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

The lakes that supply Austin with water - Travis and Buchanan - have risen dramatically over the past few days, but city of Austin officials are not ready to lift water restrictions just yet.

Before this most recent round of rains, the lakes were 39 percent full, combined. Now, they're 55 percent full

The Lower Colorado River Authority's vice president for water, John Hoffman, says they're happy the reservoirs are rising, but they still see it as a glass half empty. 

Patrick Lewis/flickr

Each year, more than 80,000 people visit the San Marcos River to tube (or "toob") the waters and have a good time. But those crowds leave a lot of litter and create safety concerns for local law enforcement. Now a bill at the state senate aims to solve the problem.

Senate Bill 234 would let voters in Caldwell and Guadalupe counties set up a “recreation district” on the river downstream of San Marcos that would be funded by fees charged to river revelers. The district would have the authority to hire law enforcement to patrol the water and crack down on litter.

There have been earthquakes in almost every corner of Texas since the start of the state's most recent oil and gas boom. One swarm that really captured people’s attention started in the town of Azle in 2013.  When oil and gas regulators at the Railroad Commission of Texas visited the town, local people suggested ways to handle the waste water disposal wells thought to be causing the quakes. One idea came up over and over again.

“Why is it we can't shut the wells down around here for a period of time?” asked resident Gale Wood. "If nothing happens after a while, that would be one way to determine what’s going on."

Via Pixabay.

From Texas Standard:

The U.S. Drought Monitor puts out a map every week that updates drought conditions in Texas. This week’s map looked mostly white – which indicates no drought at all – with some peach, orange and red in the center – indicating moderate to exceptional drought.

Last year at this time, only small parts of the state were in the clear. Two years ago, 99 percent of the state was in some level of drought.

City of Austin, via YouTube

From the Austin Monitor:

Barton Springs is the only known home to the endangered and federally protected Barton Springs and Austin Blind salamanders. Unfortunately for these unique creatures, the level of life-sustaining dissolved oxygen in their ecosystem has dropped on average over the past 35 years.

Watershed Protection Department engineer Abel Porras brought the issue to the Wednesday meeting of the Environmental Board, noting that water flow in the Edwards Aquifer is a major determining factor in the equation, though man-made contaminants may also play a role.

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT News

The City of Austin recently offered free soil testing so people could see what contaminants and nutrients they have in their yards. But, so many people wanted the testing – myself included – that the city was overwhelmed with samples.

Mary Ann Melton

One week remains for the public to comment on an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to reduce smog in one of Texas most beloved national parks. The EPA's plan to limit so-called 'regional haze' is one of a slew of new air quality rules that have critics accusing the Agency of waging a 'war on coal.' The reality, of course, is more complicated.

To see how, look no farther than the hazy skies over Far West Texas.

Mose Buchele/KUT News

This week, a team of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA – has been flying high over Texas, gathering data.

The flights are part of a project to find out exactly how emissions from the state’s sprawling oil and gas fields pollute the air we breathe.

National Weather Service

Saturday update 7:15 a.m.: The National Weather Service says Central Texas could receive an additional one to three inches of rain before the flash flood watch expires tonight. More low water crossings are now closed because of high water.

Friday: There is a flash flood watch in effect today until 7 p.m. Saturday.

There is a 100 percent chance of precipitation this evening and an 80 percent chance on Saturday. Thunderstorms are possible tonight after 7 p.m. The temperature Saturday will be in the mid-60s.

No official SXSW events have been canceled at this point, so if you're going out, take your rain gear.

This week, State Rep. Kyle Kacal (R-College Station) filed a bill that would require the release of antlered deer in the spring – rather than in the fall right before hunting season begins. It will limit the time that deer breeders have to transport their deer. It's an effort to curb the practice of captive deer farming, which breeds deer for their impressive antlers. It's a method that some deer hunters argue is unfair and unsportsmanlike. 

Eric Reyna/KUT News

You might have noticed gas prices inching up, but crude oil prices are still waaaay lower than they were a year ago – so what’s behind the jump in gasoline?  Usually, higher prices at the pump are linked to the higher cost of crude oil. But at this time of year, people blame refineries.  

"What we’re seeing is that strong relationship between gas and oil fade," says Patrick Dehane, an oil analyst with "It is… I wouldn’t say a nasty breakup. But the two are becoming more distant because of refining.” 

Philip Issa/KUT News

The earthquakes that have shaken Dallas and Irving, Texas the last several months have people looking into whether oil and gas activity in the area plays a role.  Some of those people work at the Environmental Protection Agency. But EPA researchers say they’re not getting the data they’ve requested from Texas state oil and gas regulators to investigate the link.

Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section in Dallas.  At a conference of the Groundwater Protection Council on Tuesday, he showed early results from a study his team conducted on earthquakes around Irving.

The group looked at the use of waste water disposal wells closest to Irving earthquakes. Dellinger does not necessarily believe the recent quakes are related to disposal wells, where waste water from oil and gas drilling is pumped underground. But these types of wells have caused other earthquakes, so his team wanted to see what wells were close to the Irving events.


The financial markets may be betting that the Keystone XL pipeline is a done deal.

The U.S. House and Senate have now both passed bills to force approval of the controversial pipeline.  The southern leg of the project already delivers oil from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast. But approval of the full build-out would link existing pipe to the Canadian border, allowing more crude from the tar sands of Canada to reach Texas refineries via Cushing.

President Obama has vowed to veto the bills, but one expert says the fate of the project may already be written in futures contracts for crude oil.


Anyone who spends time looking at how oil is drilled for and refined around the world comes to notice something strange. The names people give to different types of crude oil can sound surprisingly delicious.

In reporting on the role that benchmark oil prices play in moving the price of gasoline,  I was introduced to one person who had made a game out of it. Rice University student Aruni Ranaweera created the quiz "Beer, Coffee, Crude" to test her classmates' ability to distinguish between types of crude, types of beer, and blends of coffee.  It's harder than is sounds. Go ahead, crack open a can of Tia Juana Light and give it a shot.

Courtesy of USGS

A seismic hazard map is essentially what it sounds like: a map that shows the potential for earthquakes in certain areas. The maps give people a sense of the likelihood of earthquakes occurring, where they might occur, and how strong they might be.  The maps can influence everything from public policy to building codes to insurance rates.

“They govern hundreds of billions of dollars in constructions and insurance cost every year,” says Mark Peterson, project chief of the USGS’s National Seismic Hazard Mapping project.

Mose Buchele/KUT News

By now, the initial surprise over low gas prices has worn off. But people looking for the very best deals might have noticed a trend: Small, unbranded gas stations are often the first to cut prices when the price of crude oil falls. Many continue to stay competitive even when larger brand-name stations start cutting their prices as well.

Take Pronto Food Mart. It’s a tiny neighborhood gas station that was one of the first places in Austin to slash prices. It still offers the cheapest gas in Central Austin according to

Shopkeepers at Pronto pride themselves on being on the front lines of the war against high gas prices.


People in Dallas were surprised by a swarm of small earthquakes that started shaking the city a couple of days ago. There have been 11 by last count.  And the quakes, though new to the Dallas area, are just the most recent in a major upsurge in earthquakes in Texas over the last few years.

Earthquakes were pretty much unheard of in the Dallas area until 2008. Since then there have been a lot of these swarms of quakes. In Irving, Texas, where this new cluster is located, there have been more than 50 in the last several years, according to the city manager. This current swarm started around September.

Twelve earthquakes shook North Texas Tuesday and Wednesday -- and seismologists are intensifying their focus on all of the rumbling and rattling near the old Texas Stadium site.

Wikimedia Commons

The use of lead ammunition for hunting has long worried environmental groups. They've  even tried suing the Environmental Protection Agency to push it to regulate lead ammo. But some hunters have been resistant to using steel bullets, saying they are less effective.  A new study takes a look at whether that's backed up by fact. 

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department looked at the effectiveness of lead versus steel shot in dove hunting in different parts of the state. 

The double-blind study suggested a switch from lead shot to steel shot wouldn’t limit hunters' dove season harvests. Corey Mason is a biologist with the department and – despite the study’s finding that nearly 73 percent of hunters couldn’t discern between the two ammunitions – he says he’s heard from hunters that steel shot doesn’t do the job as well as lead.