Energy & Environment

Environment
7:54 am
Fri January 25, 2013

$29 Million: The Cost of Protecting Central Texas Salamanders

The Jollyville Plateau Salamander.
City of Austin by Mark Sanders

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it would cost $29 million over the next 23 years to designate critical habitat land for four central Texas salamanders.

The service wants to list the Austin blind salamander and three other species as endangered. It also wants to designate more than 6,457 acres of land in Travis, Williamson and Bell counties to help protect them. That acreage is up from 5,983 acres in a previous proposal.

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Environment
12:31 pm
Wed January 23, 2013

Texas Ranks Tenth in U.S. for Sustainable Building

UT's LEED Gold certified Student Activity Center.
University of Texas at Austin

Texas ranks tenth in the country in Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. That's according to a report issued by the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that issues LEED certification.

The LEED 100-point scale rates the design, construction, and operation of buildings, neighborhoods, and homes to promote sustainable infrastructure. It looks at factors such as sustainability, water and energy efficiency, materials, indoor environmental quality, as well as design and innovation to issue one of four different levels of certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

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Environment
5:30 am
Tue January 22, 2013

Scientists Close to Testing Tracers for Drilling Fluid

Andrew Barron, a researcher at Rice University, holds up a vial of "nano rust". This fluid may be used to identify drilling operations that are contaminating ground water.
Dave Fehling/StateImpact Texas

As the debate over the safety of fracking continues between politicians, environmentalists and oil companies, some scientists may have found a way to test the drilling procedure.

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Environment
5:31 am
Fri January 18, 2013

Drilling Regulators Tight-Lipped on Fracking Quakes

Drilling's subterranean effects are not a priority for Texas officials.
courtesy flickr.com/dayland

The science linking oil and gas drilling activity and earthquakes has been established for decades. And with the current boom in domestic drilling, more earthquakes are happening and states are taking action to fight them. But not in Texas, where the most drilling is taking place. For StateImpact Texas, KUT’s Mose Buchele reports.

Environment
3:57 pm
Thu January 17, 2013

Drought Forecast Still Worrisome

Most of Texas remains in some state of drought.
U.S. Drought Monitor

A new reading on the Texas drought shows rains from last week helped drought severity fall for the first time since October. But it wasn’t a large decline, and as KUT’s Mose Buchele reports for StateImpact Texas, the long-term outlook is not good.

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Environment
5:37 pm
Wed January 16, 2013

LCRA Proposes Relief for Rice Farmers

Rice mills and related businesses in southeast Texas have suffered from the water shortages in recent years.
Jeff Heimsath/StateImpact Texas

The Lower Colorado River Authority approved a plan this week that could ease the strain on the Highland Lakes in the future. For StateImpact Texas, David Barer explains plans to build a new reservoir for downstream rice farmers.

It’s a decision that should have very positive impacts for the basin from top to bottom. So, looking forward for the board and staff moving forward in that.

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Weather
11:53 am
Wed January 9, 2013

Flash Flood Watch Canceled; Lighter Rains Expected (Update)

An updated map reflects less rain for Austin.
National Weather Service

Update: The flash flood watch for Travis and surrounding counties has been canceled. The National Weather Service says heavier storms have moved east of the region.

But Williamson County, which had closed several low-water crossings, reminds drivers that even if a road is open, people should use common sense.  

“People do need to be cautious, slow down, and if they do see water flowing over the roadway, don’t cross the roadway,” county spokesperson Connie Watson says. “And if you feel there are road conditions that are dangerous for people to be crossing and driving on them - perhaps we haven’t gotten there to close the road yet - you can certainly call 911 to report a dangerous road condition.”

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Water
8:05 am
Wed January 9, 2013

Amid a Trickle of Regulation, Private Wells Surging in Austin

A Tarrytown residence keeps its lawn green with well water.
Karen Bernstein for KUT News

The ongoing drought in Central Texas sapped the green out of many lawns – and spurred private well drilling in Austin. It’s a costly and fairly unregulated way for homeowners to get at the water from the aquifer below. 

Computer records held by the state are backlogged and numbers are unreliable, but the Texas Water Development Board estimates that more than 150 wells have been drilled in Austin since 2006. At least 50 of those wells were drilled in the 78703 zip code. That encompasses West Austin, Tarrytown, and Pemberton Heights.

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Weather
5:04 pm
Tue January 8, 2013

Flash Flood Watch: Turn Around, Don't Drown (But Try to Tweet)

Austin and Travis County may bear the brunt of the region's storm system.
National Weather Service

Austin’s in for a good soaking.

Central Texas' daylong rain is expected to continue overnight and through tomorrow. The National Weather Service says a flash flood watch is in effect through noon Wednesday for several counties: Bastrop, Caldwell, Dewitt, Fayette, Gonzales, Lavaca. Lee, Travis and Williamson. NWS is still expecting up to six inches in the Austin area.

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Weather
4:36 pm
Mon January 7, 2013

Flash Floods, Hail, and Strong Winds Possible Tomorrow

Austin may see the most rain in a half a year beginning tonight and through Wednesday.
National Weather Service

A powerful storm system is headed into Austin, projected to bring the area its heaviest rainfall in six months. A low-level pressure system rolling in from California is expected to combine with moisture generated from the Gulf of Mexico. That means Austin can expecting three to five inches of rain, with isolated spots possibly receiving even more.

Scattered showers are expected to begin overnight, building in intensity Tuesday afternoon and lasting through Wednesday afternoon. And damaging winds, hail and flash flooding are all a possibility.

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Weather
3:39 pm
Mon January 7, 2013

Texas Insurers Tally Their Losses in the 'War on Hail'

Hail that fell in Grand Prairie over the summer proved everything's bigger in Texas.
flickr.com/yumievriwan

Insurance companies doing business in Texas have counted their losses after reviewing the state’s  catastrophic weather events last year.

According to the Insurance Services Office, a catastrophic event is a weather or man-made event that causes at least $25 million or more in insured property losses and affects a significant number of people. Texas had seven catastrophic events in 2012, and it cost insurance companies some $2.3 billion in losses.

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Weather
6:56 pm
Thu January 3, 2013

Drought Likely to Continue in Central Texas

Forecasters say little change for Central Texas drought over the next months.
Reshma Kirpalani for KUT News

After tonight and tomorrow’s wintry weather passes through, we’re not expected to see a lot of moisture.

The National Weather Service updated its 3-month drought outlook this morning. It shows the drought will likely continue in Central Texas and the Hill Country… at least through March.

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Weather
5:40 pm
Thu January 3, 2013

Showers, Sleet Possible in Austin

Austin is spared a winter weather advisory, but a wintry mix is expected.
National Weather Service

Update: (Jan. 3, 5:31 p.m.) National Weather Service reports temperatures in Austin will get down to around 39 degrees tonight. Chance of precipitation is 30 percent with little or no snow accumulation expected.

The National Weather Service has issued a hazardous weather outlook for Travis County.

Parts of Central Texas have already seen some sleet today. And scattered patches of light rain, occasionally mixed with light sleet are expected to blow into Travis County this afternoon. But the wintry weather isn’t expected to really make an impact until later tonight and into tomorrow morning.

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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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