Dave Fehling

Reporter

Dave Fehling is the Houston-based broadcast reporter for StateImpact. Before joining StateImpact Texas, Dave reported and anchored at KHOU-TV in Houston. He also worked as a staff correspondent for CBS News from 1994-1998. He now lectures on journalism at the University of Houston.

  • Email: dfehling@houstonpublicmedia.org
  • Twitter: @DaveFehling

Tragedies In Texas: Why Senators Say New Chemical Safety Rules Are Needed

Texas Department of Public Safety Sergeant Jason Reyes walks past the site of an apartment complex destroyed by the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West.

Photo by REUTERS /POOL/LANDOV

Texas Department of Public Safety Sergeant Jason Reyes walks past the site of an apartment complex destroyed by the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West.

Accidents at facilities that handle dangerous chemicals in Texas were at the center of a hearing in Washington.

Accidents at facilities that handle dangerous chemicals in Texas were at the center of a hearing in Washington. Some senators are pressing for quick action to reduce the risk of deadly chemical leaks and explosions. They wanted to know if there’s been any progress since President Obama issued an executive order to improve chemical safety, an order that followed the fertilizer explosion in the city of West.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, said she was disappointed that “little progress” had been made.

“And we know there are problems because they keep happening. And people are dying, and people are going to the hospital,” said Boxer.

Other members of the Senate committee used a recent example of yet another deadly chemical accident. Continue Reading

Federal Investigators: Chemical Industry Has A Safety Crisis

An aerial view shows investigators walking through the aftermath of a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, near Waco, Texas April 18, 2013.

Photo by REUTERS/Adrees Latif

An aerial view shows investigators walking through the aftermath of a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, near Waco, Texas April 18, 2013.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board says the industry it oversees is experiencing a safety crisis. The board investigates industrial accidents. It says recent deadly explosions and chemical leaks in Texas make a strong case for action.

It’s been a tragic couple of years for some people who work around dangerous chemicals in Texas.

“Fertilizer plant on fire, there was an explosion; we have several buildings that have been destroyed,” said a dispatcher to first responders headed to a fertilizer business in the city of West. It was on the evening of April 17, 2013. Ten volunteer firefighters would be among the 15 people killed by the explosion.

Then last month in La Porte, workers at a DuPont pesticides plant called for help. From a 911 call from the plant: “We have five people unaccounted for; we have had a chemical release.”

Four of those workers would later be found dead, apparently overcome by chemical fumes. Continue Reading

Listening For The Call Of The Quail

Jim Willis restored his land in Colorado County with native grasses

Dave Fehling/StateImpact Texas

Jim Willis restored his land in Colorado County with native grasses

Helped by $6 million from the State of Texas, prairies west of Houston are being restored with native grasses to increase the population of Bob White Quail.

There’s something missing these days around ranches and farms just west of Houston: the unmistakable call of the Bob White Quail.

“Everybody knows that sound, “said Robert Perez, a game bird specialist with Texas Parks and Wildlife.

He does a great imitation of the Bob White Quail whistle which you can hear by clicking below.

“That sound has become something folks don’t hear as much. We’ve seen massive declines,” Perez told StateImpact Texas.

Why are there fewer quail these days? Continue Reading

Oil & Gas Executives Bullish On Future

Survey says: energy executives see U.S. oil & gas outlook bright and getting brighter but worry about new EPA regulation.

John England, Deloitte’s Vice Chairman Oil & Gas Sector, at the company’s conference in Houston

Dave Fehling/StateImpact Texas

John England, Deloitte’s Vice Chairman Oil & Gas Sector, at the company’s conference in Houston

It’s been a big week already for Houston’s oil & gas industry with the proposed takeover by Halliburton of Baker Hughes. Economists say it’s one sign the industry is optimistic about the future.

Some other signs are what you’ll find in a new survey by the consulting firm Deloitte, which took the pulse of energy executives earlier this fall. The share — who felt the U.S. has already achieved energy security because it’s producing so much oil & gas — shot up to 40 percent of them from just 12 percent two years ago.

Eighty percent of them said the U.S. energy business is doing better now than it was five years ago.

Not that there weren’t any worriers. Over half the executives said they were concerned that oil prices might collapse — and this was what they said back in September, before prices dropped some 15 percent in recent weeks. Continue Reading

New Federal Regulation Coming For Oil and Gas Well Pollution

Oil & gas facilites in LaSalle County, part of the Eagle Ford Shale.

Photo by Dave Fehling.

Oil & gas facilites in LaSalle County, part of the Eagle Ford Shale.

The federal government says the oil & gas industry is the largest industrial source of pollution that creates smog. In coming months, Texas drillers could learn what the government plans to do about it.

New pollution rules could mean that thousands of oil & gas wells in Texas will have to have their leaks fixed.

“It’s an issue because we’re now drilling in heavily populated areas,” said Melanie Sattler, a researcher at the University of Texas in Arlington. Continue Reading

Texas Enviromental Regulators Question Ozone’s Impact On Health

A pollution haze over Houston East End.

Dave Fehling

A pollution haze over Houston East End.

The Texas agency that regulates industries that pollute, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, is questioning federal research into the health threat posed by breathing ozone and is using its website to publish articles that critics call “provocative” and “misleading.”

First, some background. Houston has an ozone pollution problem and so do Dallas and big cities across the country that for years have exceeded federal limits for ozone.

Ozone forms when air pollution from industrial plants and vehicles reacts to sunlight. Breathing ozone has long been considered harmful especially to people with conditions like asthma and heart disease.

In coming months, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue even stricter, lower limits for ozone which could put even more Texas cities in violation of the federal Clean Air Act. That could cost industry money to upgrade equipment to reduce pollution. And in Texas, where the state has repeatedly — and for the most part, unsuccessfully — sued the EPA to block pollution regulations, state officials are questioning whether ozone at current levels is really all that bad. Continue Reading

Does Drop In Oil Prices Make Texas Crude Too Expensive?

A Permian Basin oil rig.

Photo by Mose Buchele

A Permian Basin oil rig.

Recent financial news headlines have warned about:

  • The dangers of “falling oil.”
  • Or enduring the “Oil Crash of 2014.”
  • Or having oil producers headed for “oblivion.”

Could it really get that bad? Maybe, if it’s like it was a few decades ago.

“There were bankruptcies everywhere,” said Ed Hirs, a Houston oil man and energy economist. “Exxon laid off 50,000 employees in 1986.”

But to mimic the great oil bust of the 1980’s, prices today have a long, long way to drop. Continue Reading

Texas PUC Leaves CenterPoint’s ‘Excess Revenue’ Untouched

CenterPoint says it will actually ask for a rate increase next year.

Photo by KUT News.

CenterPoint says it will actually ask for a rate increase next year.

CenterPoint Energy, a state-regulated utility that maintains poles and wires for over two million electricity customers, had millions of dollars in “excess revenue” last year. At its meeting Friday morning, the Texas Public Utilities Commission considered whether something should be done about that.

A report from the PUC’s staff said that last year alone CenterPoint had “excess revenue” of almost $47 million. News 88.7 reported earlier how company executives this summer bragged to investors that for the last three years, the utility had been earning “well in excess” of the amount authorized by the PUC.

But at the meeting, PUC staff member Darryl Tietjen told the commissioners: “We have recommended the commission take no action for any of the companies we have reviewed.”

The commissioners agreed. Continue Reading

How Much ‘Excess Revenue’ Did CenterPoint Energy Make?

CenterPoint's power station in downtown Houston.

Photo by Dave Fehling

CenterPoint's power station in downtown Houston.

The Texas Public Utility Commission meets Friday and will consider a report that says the Houston utility company, CenterPoint Energy, made almost $47 million in “excess revenue” last year. According to one utility watch-dog group, that’s too much.

CenterPoint Energy doesn’t sell electricity. It delivers it through thousands of miles of power lines. A charge is added to electric bills to pay CenterPoint.

“This is a regulated monopoly. They do not face competition,” said Thomas Brocato, a lawyer who works with the group Texas Coalition for Affordable Power.

Brocato is an expert on utility regulation and is a watchdog on utility companies. He said CenterPoint is, in essence, being allowed to make too much money. Continue Reading

Global Warming And The Texas Surge Of New Chemical Plants

Along the Texas Gulf Coast, billions is being spent to build or expand petrochemical plants.

Dave Fehling

Along the Texas Gulf Coast, billions is being spent to build or expand petrochemical plants.

A big, new expansion of a petrochemical plant is under construction in Clear Lake. It’ll make methanol, a key ingredient for producing other chemicals. But will it also make pollution that will add to global warming?

The expansion of an existing complex owned by Celanese is part of trend along the Texas Gulf Coast as low prices for natural gas have made making chemicals cheaper.


“There’ve been several methanol and ammonia plants proposed for the area. And those are very natural gas intensive,” said Katie Teller, an analyst with the Federal Department of Energy.

Continue Reading

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