The latest drought monitors and forecasts for Texas are a study in contrast. Take a look at the U.S. Drought Monitor Map for the state and you might feel like jumping for joy: large swaths of the state are drought-free. Less than one percent of the state is in the worst stage of drought. During the peak of the drought in October 2011, that figure was at 88 percent. The drought map hasn’t looked this good since early December 2010:
But dig a little deeper and examine the state of reservoirs in Texas and you’ll see a different story. (The Drought Monitor Map tracks soil moisture, not reservoir levels.) Overall, the state’s reservoirs are only 63 percent full, according to data from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). In the western half of the state, many are empty are empty or near-empty. Continue Reading →
These days in Texas, you can’t go far without running into a billion-dollar industrial plant or drilling operation backed by some very non-Texan investors.
Dave Fehling / StateImpact
OCI's Omar Darwazah
“We’re very big fans of Texas,” said Omar Darwazah, a corporate development executive with OCI.
OCI is a fertilizer chemical company now based in the Netherlands but with roots in Egypt. A couple years ago it bought and rejuvenated an ammonia-methanol plant in Beaumont. A few weeks ago it announced it was building a new methanol plant next door that will cost at least $1 billion.
“And that’s the largest in the United States and arguably the largest in the world,” Darwazah told StateImpact.
Crews work to dislodge a barge from Longhorn Dam, the dam that creates Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin.
A lot of people who walk or drive past Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin probably assume it’s a natural feature. They appreciate the trails and parks that line the lake’s 416 acres, unaware of the series of floodgates on the Longhorn Dam that hold its waters in. But recent flooding along the waterway has called attention to longstanding mechanical problems at the dam, problems that the City of Austin is aware of, but hasn’t found the money to address.
While its been called the “jewel in the crown” of Austin, Lady Bird Lake was created to serve a utilitarian purpose: to provide water for a now-decommissioned gas power plant in the Holly neighborhood of East Austin. Because of its connection to the power plant, the dam is operated under the supervision of Austin Energy, the city’s publicly-owned electric utility. Built in 1960, the floodgates on Longhorn Dam have stored and released water from the lake for over 50 years. Now that age is showing.
“There’s been a lack of maintenance on the dam for the last 15 years,” Dennis Hipp, a recently-retired Austin Energy employee tells StateImpact Texas. “It’s steadily gotten worse and it’s to the point now where it’s going to start doing some damage. [Both] upstream and down.”
The Keystone XL pipeline could start full operations in early January. Over the next few weeks, millions of barrels of oil will be sent through it as part of final testing.
The Keystone XL pipeline has come to Texas. The controversial project that will bring heavy oil mined from sand pits in Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast has been waiting on presidential approval for years. But in the meantime, the company has gone ahead and built the stretch of pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas.
On Saturday morning, TransCanada, the Calgary-based company behind the project, put the first barrels of oil into the pipeline. It’s part of a testing phase expected to last several weeks. Over that time, some three million barrels of oil will flow through the pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas to prepare for a full launch, which could come in early January.
“We are not going to be in a position to provide an update on when the Gulf Coast Project will go into commercial service,” says TransCanada spokesperson Shawn Howard. “We have provided general guidance to our customers, based on the contracts we have in place with them.” Continue Reading →
The climate is changing, and Texas is growing. For a bird’s eye view of these developments, NASA has put together a ‘State of Flux‘ image gallery that shows how climate change, urbanization, and natural disasters have changed certain geographic features in Texas, and across the world. The gallery puts two satellite images side-by-side to show the changes.
We culled the images about Texas below, where you can see seven side-by-side comparisons that show the effects of drought and urbanization on the state. While not every weather and wildfire event below was directly caused by climate change, scientists say climate change has made them worse. (You can click on the photos to enlarge them.)
Drought Drains Lake Merideth
Photo by NASA
Photo dates (L-R): June 18, 1990 and June 12, 2011
Lake Meredith is located in the Texas Panhandle, about 35 miles north of Amarillo. The picture on the right shows Lake Meredith at a record low of 26.41 feet after the 2011 drought. The bright green portions indicate areas of healthy vegetation growth.
After the jump: wildfires, sprawl and storm surges …
After 20 earthquakes in a month, will state regulators respond?
State Oil and Gas Regulator Says No Changes Needed After Latest Earthquake Swarm
Update: The USGS is reporting that another earthquake struck Azle late Saturday night, measuring 3.6. That would tie for the strongest quake to hit the area since the swarm began last month.
Original Story: After twenty minor earthquakes in a month, residents in the small towns of Azle and Springtown outside of Fort Worth are understandably confused about why their once-stable region is now trembling on a near-daily basis.
Teachers in the Azle school district are taking a page from the California playbook and holding earthquake drills for students. Inspectors are making regular visits to the earthen Eagle Mountain Lake dam, as well as others in the area, checking for damage. (So far they’ve found none.) And locals like Rebecca Williams are constantly looking at their own homes for damage. So far she’s found cracks in her home, driveway and in a retaining wall in her backyard.
The quakes have been small, below the threshold that is known to cause significant damage. But they’ve unnerved residents like Williams, who moved out to Eagle Mountain Lake looking for some peace and quiet.
“You can actually see my house rocking from side to side,” Williams says. She was at home when the largest of the quakes (magnitude 3.6) struck on the evening of November 19th. “I tried to get up and run downstairs,” she says. “And for a moment, I couldn’t run, because the house was shaking so bad!”
In September, the most recent month for the data, drillers in Texas pulled about 2.7 million barrels of oil a day from the earth, most of it from the state’s two hottest shale plays, in the Eagle Ford region in South Texas and the Permian Basin in the west.
“The Permian’s already producing over a million barrels a day of oil, and the Eagle Ford’s up to about 650,000 barrels per day. And so it appears to be only a matter of time before we have two oil fields in Texas producing — by themselves — a million barrels per day,” Tom Tunstall, Director of the Center for Community and Business Research at University of Texas at San Antonio tells StateImpact Texas.
But the current 2.7 million barrel per day figure figure is “record-breaking” only in terms of government records. The fact is that Texas pumped far more oil in the early seventies, but the EIA simply did not keep track of daily oil production back then. According to historical annual data, provided to StateImpact Texas by the EIA, the Texas oil boom peaked in 1972, when drillers pumped around 3.4 million barrels a day on average from Texas oil fields.
Still, if trends continue, experts say the new boom could rival the previous one in a matter of years. Continue Reading →
The floods that hit Austin in the early hours of Halloween morning killed at least five people and damaged more than 500 homes.
Some parts of the city received nearly 10 inches of rain in a 24 hour span, and Austin’s rivers, creeks, and streams rose to historic levels.
One of the lasting images from the floods was a photo of the statue of Austin legend Stevie Ray Vaughan waist-deep in water. The photographer who captured that photo, Reagan Hackleman, rushed down to Lady Bird Lake to get the photos. His images show water bursting up from manholes and the Lamar Street Bridge nearly covered by the rising river.
Hackleman spoke with StateImpact Texas’ Mose Buchele about the experience of taking the photographs, and what it was like to see the city transformed by the floods.
NRG Limestone Electric Generating Station in Limestone County
When it comes to spectator sports, it might not rank with college football in Texas. But when a state senate committee held a hearing last week to figure out if something is wrong with the state’s deregulated market for electricity, people far from Texas were glued to their computers, watching the hearing live over the internet.
“In all my experience, I’ve never really seen anything in which the Texas Public Utility Commission’s officials have been taken to task in such an aggressive manner by a state legislative hearing,” said Paul Patterson, a New York-based investment analyst who watched the hearing.
Patterson and others who keep close tabs on the nation’s electricity industry are eager to see how Texas handles a problem also facing other states: is there a risk of power shortages if more power plants aren’t built? And if the risk is real, who will foot the gigantic bill? Continue Reading →
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