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 Nathan Bernier for KUT News

Texas environmental activists are pleased with changes in fracking disclosure laws and renewable energy initiatives that cleared the state legislature this session, but they are unhappy with cuts to state parks, delays in air quality requirements for oil and gas miners, and environmental legislation that died before making it to the Governor’s desk.

Photo by 自分で撮影

New research from the Brackenridge Field Laboratory at UT Austin is revealing the secret – and very strange – sexual practices of clams. Corbicula is an Asian freshwater clam that reproduces by cloning. They are physically hermaphroditic, meaning a clam possesses both male and female reproductive systems, but they are genetically male. A species of male hermaphroditic clones might sound bizarre, but it’s not completely unusual in the animal kingdom.

Photo by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service via

Rain barrels and other rain catchment systems could soon be installed on state government buildings.

The rainwater harvesting bill made it through the Texas Legislature this week and is headed to the Governor’s desk. HB 3391 requires that future state buildings that are large enough must have rainwater harvesting systems incorporated in the buildings’ design and construction plans.

Photo by Erika Aguilar for KUT News.

The groundwater bill is closer to becoming a law. The Texas House passed SB 332, which states that a property owner also owns the groundwater beneath their land. The bill goes back to the Senate for a final vote before it goes to Governor Rick Perry.

Photo by KUT

The Texas House has given its approval to a bill that formalizes landowner’s full ownership of groundwater below their land.

Property rights advocates had pushed for the bill, which allows landowners to pump and sell groundwater, though the state would still be able to impose some restrictions.

Texas is one of the few states that still gives landowners control over the water underneath their property.

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

A bill that would require natural gas drillers to disclose the mix of chemicals they use in a controversial process called hydraulic fracturing has apparently gone under the radar of the state senator in charge of overseeing the industry.

Photo by Mose Buchele for KUT News

Update at 8:50 am Friday: Austin Energy says power was completely restored to customers at 3 am. Here's their final release.

The majority of outages were due to either tree limbs on power lines or lightning strikes. In all repairs had to be made at more than 260 locations. Many of those repairs were on lines located at the rear of properties rather than at the street. This prevents the use of bucket trucks and requires materials be carried in through backyards, tree trimmers climb trees to remove limbs in power lines and linemen climb poles to make the necessary repairs. About half of the Austin Energy electric system is located at the back of lots rather than at the street.

Update at 5:26 pm: Austin Energy now says the number of people without power is down to 2,400.

Update at 4:50 pm: Austin Energy says the number of people without power is now below 5,000.

Earlier: Austin Energy says it currently has about 11,500 customers without power at 140 different locations across the city. The worst affected area is this part of southeast Austin, where more than 1,700 people are without electricity.

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

A large area of rain and thunderstorms moved into Central Texas this morning bringing much needed moisture to our drought stricken region.  Almost two inches of rain fell at Camp Mabry this morning with another one to two inches on the way. A flood advisory was issued until noon.

Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

A team of researchers from the University of Texas at Austin will investigate the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking", a process used to extract natural gas from shale rock. Fracking has become a widespread practice in the United States and Texas for extracting vast reserves of domestic energy, but it is also the subject of fierce criticism from environmentalists who say it pollutes ground water and air.

Photo by Erika Aguilar for KUT News

Mike May says he loves living right off the Barton Creek Greenbelt. But he knows the apartment complex he is in is at risk during high fire season. So do managers. After burnt coals were dumped in the dog park, the managers started warning tenants about fire dangers.

“They put signs on the fences and things like that when things are going on and they actually just come around and put it on your particular door,” May said.

Photo by Robert S. Donovan

Extreme drought conditions in Central Texas have prompted the Austin suburb of Kyle to implement Stage One water restrictions.  The biggest implication for home owners is limits on the times and frequency with which they can water their lawns.

Here are the complete details from the City of Kyle's website.

Mandatory Twice Per Week Watering Schedule

View in a larger map

It's Earth Day, in case no one told you already, and all the businesses plotted on the map above (also listed here) have vowed to contribute 5 percent of their gross receipts today to local non-profits devoted to ecological preservation and the environment.

Photo by NASA Earth Observatory

As large wildfires in Texas grab most of the US media's attention, a large piece of sparely populated land is being scorched by flames in Northern Mexico.  The fires, named El Bonito and La Sabina, are among the largest in Mexican history. More than 493,827 acres have been scorched since mid-March, the Latin American Herald Tribune reports.

Photo by Austex

A 3,500 gallon gasoline spill in a residential neighborhood of Georgetown is being investigated by the state to see how deeply the fuel may have seeped into the ground. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is leading the environmental assessment in the Sun City retirement community.

Photo by KUT News

Austin City Council approved new rules this morning that could have a big impact on the owners of apartment buildings and the people who live in them. The Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure (ECAD) Ordinance will require multifamily property owners to conduct specialized audits that reveal the energy efficiency of apartments and townhomes. That information would be disclosed to tenants, and the most inefficient buildings would require upgrades.



Our current drought has ravaged crops and pastures, and is contributing to devastating wildfires in West Texas. Using data from the US Drought Monitor, we are able to show you the history of drought in Texas from 2000 to 2011. The higher the bar, the greater percentage of Texas' land mass was in drought.

Photo by Wigwam Jones

Cornell University researchers are about to publish scientific evidence that a controversial method to drill for natural gas used in Texas and elsewhere is more damaging to the environment than using coal for energy production, reports The Hill.

It's not everyday you see environmentalists protesting a bill that would require grocery stores to recycle plastic bags.

Mose Buchele for KUT News.

It's that time of year again. 

April 1 to October 31 is ozone season in Central Texas.  These are the months when we expect the highest amounts of ground level ozone in the air. Last year, the Austin area came dangerously close to falling out of attainment of the federal clean air standard of 74 parts of ozone per-billion.  With the Environmental Protection Agency set to announce even stricter standards, it could be even harder for the region to stay in attainment this year.

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

The city's public utility, Austin Energy, will issue its first rebate check tomorrow for a homeowner who installed an electric vehicle charging station. The rebates are worth up to $1,500. A "Level 2" charging station can be installed for about $2,400.