Texas

Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

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

Who’s Behind Denton’s Fracking Ban? Head Texas Regulator Thinks It Could Be Russia

The Denton City Council listened to seven hours of public testimonies from more than 100 people.

Doualy Xaykaothao KERA News

The Denton City Council listened to seven hours of public testimonies from more than 100 people.

After collecting thousands of signatures from local residents, a proposal to ban the oil and gas production technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in the city of Denton will end up before voters this fall. While the Denton City Council turned down an opportunity to pass the ban themselves very early this morning, the proposal could still go into effect if voters approve it in November.

It would mark the first time a Texas city has outright banned fracking, and will likely result in a lengthy legal battle. Whether or not Texas cities can have bans like the one proposed in Denton is an open question, and the ban could push Texas courts or the legislature to answer it.

The proposal was put together by a citizen environmental group called the Denton Drilling Awareness Group. Locals in favor of the ban packed City Hall last night (and well into this morning) to speak in favor of it; there were oil and gas industry voices that spoke in opposition as well.

One prominent critic of the proposed ban is Barry Smitherman, the chair of Texas’ oil and gas regulator, the Railroad Commission (which regulates drilling and production, but not railroads). In a letter sent to the city council ahead of the vote, Smitherman cautioned strongly against it, writing that a ban on fracking would mean a ban on drilling. “If other cities were to follow your lead, then we could potentially, one day, see a ban on drilling within all cities in Texas.”

In the letter, Smitherman implies that it isn’t locals pushing the ban. It’s Russia.

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Small-Scale Solar Energy Projects take Advantage of Abundant Sunlight in West Texas

From Marfa Public Radio: 

Continuing their weeklong series on the future of solar power in West Texas, Marfa Public Radio takes a look at small-scale solar projects around the Big Bend region:
Bennett Jones points to the solar panels he helped design for Alpine Public Library.

KRTS/Tom Michael

Bennett Jones points to the solar panels he helped design for Alpine Public Library.

The Big Bend region is ranching country. Miles of barbed-wire fences, cows clustered in the distance, and windmills on the horizon. Those windmills, of course, draw well-water from the ground. It’s alternative energy, but it’s old technology.

Preston Fowlkes and his family has been in ranching for generations. For the past five years, he’s been replacing his old windmills with solar panels for his water wells, especially in remote locations.

“We’ve used windmills in the past, but were just not reliable. In my opinion it’s become the best alternative., versus a generator or a windmill or an engine which requires fuel,” Fowlkes says. Continue Reading

In Texas, Using Fire to Protect and Expand Water Supplies

Fire and water may seem at odds with each other, but Austin’s city-owned water utility is using prescribed burning in an effort to help more rainfall make its way underground to the Edwards Aquifer.

A fire official with the Wildland Conservation Division starts a blaze with a drip torch at a 2009 prescribed burn on Water Quality Protection Lands in Hays County.

Courtesy of Austin Water's Wildland Conservation Division

A fire official with the Wildland Conservation Division starts a blaze with a drip torch at a 2009 prescribed burn on Water Quality Protection Lands in Hays County.

Austin Water’s Wildland Conservation Division is conducting the burns on over 380 acres of Hay County that feed into the Barton Springs Segment of the Edwards Aquifer. The goal of each blaze is to remove brush, cedar, large plants and invasive species that can crowd the land and displace the native grasses. The division oversees prescribed fires on between 2,500 and 5,000 acres of preserved land each year.

“If there’s a woodland environment and it rains, about 30 to 40 percent of that water will be captured in the canopy of those trees,” says Amanda Ross, spokeswoman for the Wildland Conservation Division. “But grasses will allow the water to come down to the ground and run off slowly into nearby creeks or percolate into the soil through the deep root systems of the grasses.”

The fires mimic naturally-occurring wildfires in order to maintain a grassland habitat, Ross says. Continue Reading

Construction Begins on Largest Carbon Capture Project in the World

Carbon dioxide will be captured and piped to an oilfield

Dave Fehling/StateImpact Texas

Carbon dioxide will be captured and piped to an oilfield

Here’s a head-scratcher: Over a million of tons of carbon dioxide a year will be captured from a coal plant near Houston, Texas. Then that captured carbon will be used to get more fossil fuels out of the ground, specifically from an old oilfield that’s been in use since the 1930s. Construction has begun on the Petra Nova Project, which the U.S. Department of Energy is calling “the first commercial-scale post-combustion carbon capture retrofit project in the U.S.”

The carbon capture will take place at the NRG W.A. Parish coal plant in Fort Bend County, the largest coal plant in Texas. The carbon capture project has quadrupled since its conception, now aiming to capture 90 percent of the emissions from one of the generating units at the plant. That carbon dioxide will be compressed and sent via pipeline 80 miles away to the West Ranch Oil Field

Dave Fehling of StateImpact Texas took a look at the project in February 2012: Continue Reading

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