Energy & Environment

Energy
4:59 pm
Thu January 3, 2013

Wind Industry Secures Tax Credit, But Damage May Be Done

Wind turbines dwarf a church near Wilson, Kan. Although Congress voted to extend a wind energy tax credit, the temporary uncertainty dealt a blow to the industry.
Charlie Riedel AP

Originally published on Thu January 3, 2013 5:10 pm

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

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BP Oil Spill
1:44 pm
Thu January 3, 2013

Transocean To Pay $1.4 Billion In Gulf Oil Spill Settlement

The Transocean Discoverer Enterprise drill ship collects oil from the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil well as workers try to stem the flow of the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, June 12, 2010.
Saul Loeb AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu January 3, 2013 5:10 pm

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.

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Energy
7:59 am
Mon December 24, 2012

Forget Fracking: 2012 Was A Powerful Year For Renewables

Wind turbines stand alongside an electrical tower at the National Wind Technology Center, run by the U.S. Department of Energy, outside Boulder, Colo.
Brennan Linsley AP

Originally published on Mon January 7, 2013 10:44 am

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.

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Environment
3:57 pm
Tue December 11, 2012

Is the Power Grid Ready For the Electric Car?

A pair of electric vehicles parked outside the Blanton Museum. A discussion on electric cars is taking place there tonight.
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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Environment
3:58 pm
Thu December 6, 2012

Review Finds Conflict of Interest in Fracking Study (Update)

Leader of a group behind a controversial fracking study, Dr. Charles "Chip" Groat retired.
University of Texas Energy Institute

Update and correction: In a press release, UT announced that ​Dr. Raymond Orbach had “resigned.” It did not say, however, that Orbach will be staying at UT as a tenured professor. Orbach has only resigned as head of the Energy Institute, effective Dec. 31. This post has since been corrected. 

Original post: One University of Texas professor has retired and another has stepped down from a leadership role after a review found a conflict of interest in a controversial report on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

As KUT News previously reported, the report from the UT Energy Institute, “Separating Fact From Fiction in Shale Gas Development,” stated that fracking, when executed properly, doesn’t contaminate groundwater. But StateImpact Texas reported that the study's leader failed to disclose financial ties to the drilling industry, including a seat on the board of a drilling company.  

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Environment
1:25 pm
Fri November 30, 2012

Austin Finishes its Driest November in 100-Plus Years

The drought's impact on McKinney Falls State Park.
Daniel Reese for KUT News

It didn’t rain at all in Austin this month, making it the driest November in more than 100 years. Only three other years on record show no rainfall for the month, all in the 1800’s: 1861, 1894 and 1897.

In fact, it hasn't rained 0.03 inches or less in Austin in November since 1950.

So will the dry weather stick around? The latest forecasts don’t indicate either an unusually dry or an unusually wet winter for Texas.

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Environment
9:28 am
Fri November 30, 2012

Train Derails Near Philadelphia, Chemicals Reportedly Spilled

The scene of the derailment today in Paulsboro, N.J., from above.
NBC10 Philadephia

Originally published on Fri November 30, 2012 9:54 am

There's a developing story this morning from Paulsboro, N.J., south and across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, where several railroad tank cars have derailed and fallen into a creek after a bridge collapse.

It's being reported that the cars were transporting vinyl chloride, which could ignite and would be highly irritating if breathed in. There are local reports of about 18 people being treated for breathing problems.

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Environment
7:47 pm
Wed November 28, 2012

Sea Level Rising Much Faster Than U.N. Projections

A swan swims near the flooded home of the Maziekien family on November 21 in Mantoloking, New Jersey. Mantoloking was one of the hardest hit areas by Superstorm Sandy.
Mario Tama Getty Images

Originally published on Thu November 29, 2012 8:27 am

A new peer-reviewed study by climate scientists finds the rise in sea level during the past two decades has been 60 percent faster than predictions from the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The scientists also found that IPCC's estimates for warming temperatures was just right.

NBC News explains:

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Environment
10:22 am
Wed November 28, 2012

Eww... There's Too Much Fecal Bacteria in Four Austin Creeks

A storm drain empties into Waller Creek.
City of Austin Watershed Protection Department

The City of Austin and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) are asking the public to come out tonight to be involved in finding solutions for cleaning up four Austin streams.

Walnut Creek, Waller Creek, Taylor Slough and the Spicewood Tributary of Shoal Creek all exceed the acceptable standard for E. Coli. The high levels of fecal bacteria make the streams potentially unsafe for people to get in the water.

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Environment
4:37 am
Fri November 23, 2012

An Arbor Embolism? Why Trees Die In Drought

A forest near Trieste, Italy, is largely dead owing to drought stress during the summer of 2012.
Andrea Nardini Nature

Originally published on Fri November 23, 2012 12:53 pm

Scientists who study forests say they've discovered something disturbing about the way prolonged drought affects trees.

It has to do with the way trees drink. They don't do it the way we do — they suck water up from the ground all the way to their leaves, through a bundle of channels in a part of the trunk called the xylem. The bundles are like blood vessels.

When drought dries out the soil, a tree has to suck harder. And that can actually be dangerous, because sucking harder increases the risk of drawing air bubbles into the tree's plumbing.

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Environment
7:47 am
Wed November 21, 2012

Kyle Wastewater Plant Spills Sewage

The City of Kyle says the wastewater system has about 2,127 manholes and 119 miles of sewer mains.
City of Kyle

More than 100,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater, which contained solids, was discharged from the City of Kyle wastewater treatment plant.

Aqua Texas, Inc. operates the plant. The company said in a press release that it’s still reviewing the conditions that caused the spill but "an upset of the sludge blanket in the clarifier" occurred.

The company is trying to clean up Plum Creek downstream of the spill using mobilized vacuum trucks.

So far, the company says, no fish kill has been seen, and live fish have been observed.

Fracking
12:24 pm
Tue November 20, 2012

Another Texas Earthquake in Fracking Hot Spot

A fracking rig in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale. A small earthquake occurred in a North Texas area linked to fracking.
flickr.com/wcn247

A small quake rattled the Fort Worth area last night – the latest North Texas quake to occur in proximity to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” sites and their disposal wells.

Fracking is the practice of pumping hydraulic fracturing fluid into wells to break up and extract oil shale and natural gas deposits.  StateImpact Texas writes that “while it’s difficult to link any individual quake to a specific cause, North Texas has seen a significant uptick in seismic events since hydraulic fracturing technology opened up the area to widespread oil and gas drilling.”

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Environment
10:50 am
Fri November 16, 2012

Fire On Oil Rig In Gulf Of Mexico Leaves 11 Injured

Originally published on Fri November 16, 2012 12:33 pm

Update at 1:26 p.m. ET. No Confirmed Deaths:

The U.S. Coast Guard tells WWLTV that 11 people have been sent to hospital but no deaths have been confirmed in a oil rig fire off the coast of Louisiana.

WWLTV, KHOU and Reuters were reporting two deaths earlier.

Our Original Post Continues:

A fire on an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana has killed two people, Louisiana's WWLTV is reporting.

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BP Oil Spill
10:48 am
Thu November 15, 2012

BP Pleads Guilty, Will Pay $4 Billion In Criminal Penalties For Gulf Oil Spill

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig burned on April 21, 2010.
U.S. Coast Guard Getty Images

Originally published on Thu November 15, 2012 5:32 pm

Update at 11:30 a.m. ET: Oil giant BP has agreed to plead guilty to criminal misconduct related to the 2010 Gulf Oil spill and will pay a record $4 billion in criminal penalties, the company just confirmed. And it will pay $525 million in civil penalties in a resolution with the Securities and Exchanges Commission. BP will make the payments over six years.

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Weather
6:48 pm
Tue November 13, 2012

Freeze Warning for Central Texas

National Weather Service

The National Weather Service has issued a freeze warning for Central Texas tonight.

Temperatures are expected to keep falling this evening into early Wednesday morning, leading the NWS to issue a freeze warning for Travis County and surrounding counties. It begins at 3 a.m. and currently runs through 9 a.m. Austin is expecting highs in the mid-to-high 60s tomorrow, according to AccuWeather.

You can stay up on current conditions through the NWS website.

Energy
4:51 pm
Mon November 12, 2012

Despite ‘Green’ Label, Austin a Growing Oil and Gas Hub

About 175 people attended a happy hour held by the Austin Petroleum Exploration Society on Nov. 1. Austin is increasingly becoming an oil and gas hub.
Callie Richmond for Texas Tribune

Subjects like solar panels and smart-grid technologies become a topic of discussion at plenty of Austin happy hours. But when dozens of people gathered at a lakeside bar earlier this month, the talk drifted toward oil prices, shale plays and hydraulic fracturing.

“When you think Austin, you don’t think oil and gas,” said David Tovar, a geoscience technician at Three Rivers, an oil and gas company based in Austin, as he held a pint of Texas brew. The native Texan ended up at Three Rivers after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with a geological sciences degree.

Despite its “Keep Austin Weird” slogan and passion for clean energy, Austin is increasingly attracting oil and gas companies like Three Rivers, a small firm founded in 2009 that focuses on oil development in West Texas and New Mexico, aided by the high oil prices of recent years. Austin’s oil industry, about 4,000 workers strong, is still dwarfed by Houston and Dallas. But the city’s entrepreneurial bent and reputation as an attractive place to live, along with the top-tier petroleum engineering program at UT, have trumped the fact that Austin is far from the oilfields.

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Austin City Council
4:58 pm
Thu November 8, 2012

Are New Changes to Austin's Bag Ban Too Lenient?

Some retailers thanked council today for exempting restaurants from Austin's bag ban; others felt it created a loophole.
courtesy flickr.com/jonathanyoungblood

Austin’s commitment to becoming a “zero waste” city by 2040 came into question today, as the City Council approved adding exemptions to the plastic bag ban that takes effect in March 2013.

Restaurants will now be exempt from the bag ban. Some citizens expressed that the exemption deviates from the goals of the original ban and provides too big of a loophole. (Whole Foods, Central Market and Wheatsville Co-op all serve hot dishes, for example.) 

Mayor Lee Leffingwell disagrees. "This is addressing in a meaningful way something that's a real problem," Leffingwell said, "and we've done that for other uses of plastic bags where we've seen that there's not a reasonable alternative – newspapers, dry cleaning for example. I think it's pretty obvious once you think about it – obviously we didn't think about it [then], but once you do think about carrying out a bag full of barbeque sauce in a paper bag, it's not a good idea."

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Weather
4:50 pm
Mon November 5, 2012

Cold Front May Bring Severe Weather to Region

Scattered storms in the Austin region may produce high winds and hail.
National Weather Service

Areas east of I-35 and the Austin metro area may see some severe storms this evening as a cold front moves through.

Forecasters say the main threats are wind and possibly large hail.  Rainfall is expected to be light and spotty – although some areas may get up to one inch of rain.

The National Weather Service has a severe thunderstorm watch in effect for parts of the eastern Central Texas until 9 p.m.; no watch has been issued for Travis County, but the NWS has issued a “hazardous weather outlook.”

Deer Season
8:16 am
Mon November 5, 2012

Watch Out: It's Deer Mating Season!

Watch out drivers: It's deer mating season, and the ornery animals’ thoughts aren’t with traffic safety.
flickr.com/TooFarNorth

The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services department is warning drivers to be on high alert for deer in the road during November and December.

These two months are what’s known as the “rut,” or deer mating season. During this time, deer can be inattentive to their surroundings and are more likely to dart out into the road and into the path of an oncoming car.

According to data released by the City of Austin and APD, there were 50 deer-involved collisions in 2011.  There have been 11 so far this year. Nationwide, research has found that approximately 200 people a year in the United States die in deer-related car accidents. Eighteen percent of all accidents involving deer occur during November. December is the third most common month for accidents involving deer.

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Hurricane Sandy
1:40 pm
Sat November 3, 2012

Lessons From Katrina Boost FEMA's Sandy Response

Victims of Superstorm Sandy wait in line to apply for recovery assistance at a FEMA processing center Friday on New York's Coney Island. The agency has been praised for its response to the storm.
Bebeto Matthews AP

Originally published on Sat November 3, 2012 12:22 pm

Following Superstorm Sandy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has received good grades from politicians and even some survivors of the storm. In part, that's due to lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina seven years ago.

For Staten Island resident Deb Smith, whose house was flooded by the storm surge from Sandy, FEMA has been a savior.

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