Texas

Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

4 Ways Texas Could Win Big Under New Climate Change Rules

A coal power plant in Fayette, Texas.

Photo by Andy Uhler/KUT News

A coal power plant in Fayette, Texas.

Earlier this year, the earth hit a frightening milestone: carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached its highest level since humans have inhabited the earth. The last time there was this much carbon on the planet was nearly a million years ago.

As the heat-trapping gas proliferates, the world warms, and the climate effects domino: droughts intensify, floods increase, ice melts and seas rise. The question now isn’t whether human activity is changing the global climate; the question is what to do about it.

The Obama administration proposed new rules last month that would take a first step in curbing carbon emissions from power plants in the U.S. Their target? Coal power plants. The response to the rules from Republican leaders in Texas was predictable: Gov. Rick Perry said the regulations “will only further stifle our economy’s sluggish recovery and increase energy costs.” And Attorney General (and candidate for Governor) Greg “I  go into work to sue the Obama Administration” Abbott vowed to fight the “job-killing” rules just as he’s fought other rules from the EPA.

But Texas may want to sit the fight over the new carbon rules out: because they could be an economic windfall for the state, to the tune of billions of dollars a year.

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Don’t Frack on Me: Local Challenges to the Right to Drill

Video shown to Denton City Council by citizens concerned about flares at drilling sites near neighborhoods

Via CityofDenton.com

Video shown to Denton City Council by citizens concerned that flares at drilling sites threatened neighborhoods

In Texas, a government official has warned that groups opposed to fracking might be acting on behalf of Russia.

In Colorado, a TV ad portrays fracking opponents as goofy idiots who believe the moon may be made of cheese.

The attacks on drilling opponents may reflect how deeply concerned the industry has become over citizen-led efforts to curb fracking, the now widely-used drilling technique that’s dramatically increasing oil & gas production from shale rock formations.

In both states, there are new and serious proposals for referendums to allow voters to impose statewide restrictions on drilling or to allow local bans on fracking. The public referendums would by-pass state legislatures and state regulatory agencies where, especially in Texas, the oil and gas industry enjoys enormous clout and support.

Texas law also officially promotes oil & gas drilling. The state’s Natural Resources Code says the “mineral resources of this state should be fully and effectively exploited.” But the code also says local governments have the right to regulate drilling.

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In Big Bend, Battle Looms on Fracking Along the Border

From Marfa Public Radio:

Dawn in the Big Bend of Texas; it shares some tectonic and geographic characteristics with the Permian Basin, home of the country's highest-producing oil field.

(Jim White III)

Dawn in the Big Bend of Texas; it shares some tectonic and geographic characteristics with the Permian Basin, home of the country's highest-producing oil field.

The Big Bend of Texas, so named for the way the region hugs a massive bend in the Rio Grande, is renown for its desert landscapes, open spaces and tranquility.

But parts of it lie within the oil-rich Permian Basin, the nation’s highest producing oil field thanks in large measure to fracking technology.

And now, Mexico is drilling at least 29 exploratory wells across the border from the Big Bend, a saying it wants to jumpstart fracking operations there.

Of course, fracking requires water. And in the Big Bend, some landowners are selling water for fracking, pitting some conservationists against private property holders, who also consider themselves to be good stewards of the land.

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Presidio County Water Managers Offer Answers, but Citizens Have More Questions

From Marfa Public Radio: 

Tanker trucks lined up inside the City of Marfa’s water treatment plant after a group of residents blocked the trucks’ access to city fire hydrants.

Tanker trucks lined up inside the City of Marfa’s water treatment plant after a group of residents blocked the trucks’ access to city fire hydrants.

Two weeks ago, a small group of citizens vocalized concerns over Marfa’s practice of selling bulk water to clients outside the city.

“Our water is too cheap. It needs to be expensive. We need water conservation. We need to think about that,” said Buck Johnston.

Two weeks ago the Marfa resident formed a small protest to block tanker trucks using city water for their oil and gas speculation. The protest worked briefly but soon the trucks were rerouted to other spigots.

Later, it was announced that no oil or gas was found. And though the trucks disappeared from Marfa city streets, the concern about water use in Presidio County hasn’t. Continue Reading

Tesla’s Interest In Dallas County Inland Port Brings Attention To Quiet Area

From KERA News: 

Goods from around the world arrive at Union Pacifics Intermodal Terminal in the Inland Port.

Shelley Kofler KERA News

Goods from around the world arrive at Union Pacifics Intermodal Terminal in the Inland Port.

Could South Dallas County become home to one of the world’s largest factories? Developers and local officials recently learned electric-car manufacturer Tesla is checking out an area known as the Inland Port as it considers where to build its battery plant.

The industrial development, 20 minutes south of downtown Dallas, can feel like a world away.

Less than a mile from Interstate 45, corn ripples in the hot summer breeze. Hay fields grow green with recent rain. Small homes — some of them vacant — dot the landscape.

Developer Mike Rader turns his Chevy SUV onto Pleasant Run Road, as he surveys property near the towns of Wilmer and Hutchins he began buying up 30 years ago. Continue Reading

Texas Slams EPA Website that Compares State Pollution Enforcement

The ECHO website uses data from state pollution regulators

Dave Fehling / StateImpact

The EPA's ECHO website uses data from state pollution regulators to compare compliance and enforcement

Compared to other states, Texas has a consistently higher percentage of major industrial plants with “high priority violations” of air pollution laws. Yet, compared to other states, Texas does far fewer comprehensive inspections of polluting facilities.

Or at least, that’s what data seem to show on website run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Not surprisingly, Texas, with a history of fighting the EPA at every turn, says the website has “tremendous potential” for being misleading, deceiving, and inaccurate.

The site is called ECHO for Enforcement and Compliance History Online. The EPA launched it in 2002. The goal was to give the public access to data on how state and federal regulators were enforcing pollution laws. The site not only allows access to detailed compliance reports for specific facilities, it also allows a comparison of enforcement action by state.

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Climate Change Clouds Future of El Niño Forecasting

In Central Texas, where water reservoirs sit at under 40 percent capacity, all eyes are on watch for El Niño, a global weather phenomenon that generally brings generous rain to the area. The National Weather Service predicts an 80 percent chance of a weak to moderate El Niño this fall, dampening hopes for a season of strong rains to alleviate drought across much of the southwest US.

But some scientists have warned that El Niño, itself poorly understood, cannot be well forecast amidst the effects of man-made climate change. As the global climate changes in reaction to increased manmade carbon emissions, forecasting global weather patterns can be difficult.

This map shows a very warm year with most measured temperatures well above average.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association / National Climate Data Center

This map shows a very warm year with most measured temperatures well above average.

In June, worldwide sea surface temperatures were higher than the 20th Century average by a greater margin than ever before. On land and sea, the month was the hottest June ever recorded, according to the most recent monthly climate analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Predicting global weather year to year becomes increasingly tricky as the basic climate gradually changes. Some researchers say El Niño will come more often in the future. Others say it will be less frequent and more intense. Continue Reading

Sheep Keeping Grass Under Control At OCI Solar “Farm” In San Antonio

From Texas Public Radio: 

The program is a test project that, if goes well, could be put into place at OCI's other solar farm in San Antonio.

Ryan Loyd/TPR

The program is a test project that, if goes well, could be put into place at OCI's other solar farm in San Antonio.

OCI Solar Power thought of an idea that leaders there say is sheer genius. They’ve put sheep to work on the grounds of a solar farm on the far northeast side to keep the grass cut.

As solar panels soak up plenty of hot Texas sunshine, there’s plenty landscaping work to do at the Alamo 2 Solar Farm off Binz-Engleman near North Foster Road. But instead of people, OCI Solar Power is employing lambscapers.

“This was a good test site,” said OCI Solar Power spokesperson Sara Krueger. “It was a little bit smaller and it had really nice grass growing under the panels so it gave us a really good opportunity to see how well sheep really could maintain the lawn and keep grass out of the way of the equipment.”

The company started using sheep three months ago to maintain the grass at the 50-acre site. It’s the first time in Texas this has been done although it’s nothing new in California and Europe, Krueger said. Continue Reading

Despite Obstacles, Solar Gains Ground in Texas

From Marfa Public Radio: 

photo-2-8-500x375

(Travis Bubenik/KRTS)

This week we have examined the opportunity and challenge for solar power in Texas. There are no state mandates or incentives for solar.

And the head of the Public Utilities Commission says Congress should end solar’s 30 per cent federal tax credit. 

Despite that landscape solar is breaking through in parts of Texas, providing models that renewable energy advocates hope will resonate in the rest of the state, starting with the price of solar power.  Continue Reading

New Study Shows Rate of Groundwater Decline Slowing in Texas

Scientists at Texas A&M AgriLife Research have published the first long-term statewide survey of Texas groundwater.

According to the study, statewide median groundwater levels fell by about 70 feet, or 22 meters, between 1930 and 2000, although the changes vary greatly between areas of the state. The rate of decline in groundwater levels has slowed in recent years, attributed to new policy and technology in water conservation.

TX_WaterLevels_Figure-Copy

Dr. Sriroop Chaudhuri and Dr. Srinivasulu Ale with Texas A&M AgriLife Research

“Our intention is just to give an overview of what’s happening in terms of these long-term groundwater levels. It varies across the state. There are some areas where the water level declines are much deeper and in some areas there has not been a huge difference,” says Srinivasulu Ale, an author of the study and assistant professor at Texas A&M AgriLife Research. Continue Reading

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