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.
A stream of workers leave the TXU Monticello power plant near Mt. Pleasant, Texas February 26, 2007.
In Austin, business leaders and politicians blasted new federal rules aimed at reducing air pollution from power plants. At a hearing held by the Texas Public Utility Commission, there were dire predictions of a ruined Texas economy and higher electricity costs for residents.
Hour-after-hour, the three members of the Texas Public Utility Commission heard why the state’s roaring economy, some call it the Texas Miracle, could be brought to its knees
“I fear were going be on the road again to try to persuade people why this is the potential — if it were to come to pass in this form — death knell to the Texas Miracle and frankly the kind of economic destruction this would create nationally is a little hard to overstate, “said Phillip Oldham, a lobbyist for the big business group, the Texas Association of Manufacturers.
The chairman of the PUC, Donna Nelson, predicted an end to the Texas deregulated electricity market. Continue Reading →
A hydraulic fracking operation in the Barnett Shale.
An environmental group says it’s found over a hundred oil or gas wells being drilled in Texas using techniques that the group says are illegal. At issue is “fracking” which injects huge quantities of water and chemicals deep underground.
Fracking is what’s revolutionized drilling in Texas. The technique uses all sorts of chemicals including acids that are injected by the thousands of gallons down into wells to break up rock so gas and oil can escape.
There’ve always been concerns that the chemicals could risk contaminating groundwater, but state and federal regulators have allowed drillers to use dozens of different substances.
Houston has the third highest number of CEOs with pilot licenses according to a study assessing risk-taking among executives
It’s a sign of success: having your own plane and being your own pilot. In fact, Houston ranks third in the nation for the number of corporate chief executives who have pilot licenses. Dallas ranks sixth. But as highlighted by a tragedy earlier this spring in West Texas, there may be an added risk. But is that bad for the company’s bottom line?
On a Wednesday afternoon this past June, a turboprop plane took off from Aspen Colorado.
Destination: Brenham Texas, northwest of Houston.
As the plane headed southeast, crossing over the Texas panhandle, it encountered a big line of thunderstorms. The on-line tracking service FlightAware shows the plane turned sharply to the south. It was sometime later that afternoon that a rancher would find the crumpled wreckage in an open field just west of Lubbock.
Luke Metzger, Environment Texas, who testified at EPA hearing, passing by a photo of a refinery explosion in California.
People who live near refineries along the Gulf Coast are calling for tougher, federal rules to curb air pollution. The pleas were made at a Federal Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), public hearing held Tuesday in Galena Park. The community is on Houston’s east side is in the heart of the oil-refining complex along the Ship Channel.
The industry says the new EPA rules would be a waste of money. But residents like Yudith Nieto say they are desperately needed.
“I’m from a community in Houston called Manchester which is surrounded on all fours by industry,” Nieto testified. She and other residents told a panel of federal EPA officials how childhood leukemia, asthma and bronchitis are unusually common here, citing health studies to back up their claims.
“This is something that is a disparity, an obvious disparity because other parts of the city, other parts of the area don’t bear that same burden,” said John Sullivan with the Sealy Center for Environmental Health in Galveston. He was talking about the burden of breathing what may be coming from refineries. Continue Reading →
Do Hydrogen Cyanide Leaks Show Weakness of Current Regs?
Houston's Ship Channel is home to one of the nation's biggest oil refining and petrochemical complexes and is the site of the EPA hearing
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will set up its microphones for an all day hearing Tuesday in Galena Park, a community on Houston’s east side in the heart of the enormous Houston Ship Channel refinery complex. It’s the second of two such hearings with the first held last month in a similar community in Los Angeles.
At issue: new EPA rules that would make oil refineries invest in better equipment to reduce pollution emissions from storage tanks and to improve the efficiency of flares that burn emissions during plant “upsets”. Refineries would also have to increase fence-line monitoring to track exactly what pollution is blowing into adjacent communities.
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.
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.
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.
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.
New EPA regulations would place new restrictions on coal-burning power plants, a major source in Texas for greenhouse gases
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week on a lawsuit over how much latitude the federal government has to regulate facilities that emit greenhouse gases, victory was claimed both by environmentalists who want more regulation and by Texas state officials who wants less.
Texas and 16 other states brought the action.
The Texas Attorney General’s office proclaimed after the ruling that the Supreme Court had “overturn(ed) EPA’s Illegal greenhouse gas permitting scheme.” The Court had “delivered a stern rebuke to the President” said Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general and candidate for governor.
Clean air advocates wondered what Abbott was thinking.
“Oh my gosh, when you lose one suit after another you’re desperate to claim a victory anywhere, and I guess that’s what Attorney General Abbott did,” said James Marston, Vice President for U.S. Climate and Energy at the Environmental Defense Fund.
Exhibit from lawsuit: worker's time sheet showing 90 hours in eight consecutive days
In states with the most oil and gas drilling, including Texas, Oklahoma and North Dakota, the U.S. Department of Labor has won back pay for over 4,000 energy industry workers in just the past year.
It totaled $6.7 million dollars, accounting for a third of all such settlements by all types of industries nationwide.
“We were hearing that workers were being misclassified as independent contractors, that they were being paid straight-time for their hours over 40 in a workweek. And we were hearing this consistently throughout the Southwest Region,” said Cynthia Watson, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Regional Administrator in Dallas.
“In Texas, I don’t think there’s anybody else doing quite what we’re doing,” says research scientist Kevin Schug.
Dave Fehling / StateImpact
Becky Burke's home in Denton County has a water well in her side yard and a gas well in the front yard
What Schug is doing can be found in a two big kitchen refrigerators in a lab on the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington. The fridges are crammed with hundreds of plastic bottles containing samples from private water wells located mostly in North Texas, but some of them in West Texas, too.
The project hopes to determine if drilling for oil and gas and burying chemical waste generated by the work is contaminating groundwater. The project is not sponsored by Texas environmental regulators nor the oil and gas industry but rather by UT Arlington. UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology is also involved.