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.
Texas Governor Rick Perry waiting to be introduced at Energy & Climate Policy Summit in Houston
Governor Rick Perry says the United States can keep Russia in check by increasing the production of oil and gas here at home.Perry spoke last night in Houston at a conference on energy and climate policy, sponsored by the conservative think tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
“The reliance on oil has made us more dependent than we should have been on sources that are hostile to this country, ” Perry said.
But now, oil and gas production here has surged with the boom in the drilling technique called fracking. Perry said domestic production could be expanded even more, which he said, would give the U.S. added leverage in dealing with Russia. Russia has its own vast supplies of natural gas it sells to Europe.
“Energy is a weapon in the hands of aggressors. So I say if energy is going to be used as a weapon, America should have the largest arsenal,” said Perry. Continue Reading →
Oil & gas facilites in LaSalle County, part of the Eagle Ford Shale.
Economists made a surprising discovery when they measured the economic impact of oil & gas drilling in Texas. For the past four years, Thomsas Tunstall and a team of economists at University of Texas-San Antonio have been measuring the economic impact of surging oil & gas drilling in the rock formation called the Eagle Ford in South Texas.
“Clearly the formation production has legs,” Tunstall told News 88.7.
And those legs are running faster than expected. Way faster.
The economists had predicted just last year that they expected the total economic impact to South Texas to be $89 billion in 2022. Instead, they now estimate that the impact has already reached almost that amount: $87 billion.
Joel Rodriguez is the County Commissioners Court Judge in LaSalle County
The Railroad Commission of Texas will meet Monday morning to consider an issue of huge importance to landowners across Texas. It has to do with how the state oversees energy companies that need access to private land. At issue at the hearing will be pipelines for oil & gas.
But there are other land use issues emerging in the hot plays including the Eagle Ford shale of South Texas. One local dispute involves one particular county road, Hindes Road. It’s in LaSalle County, which lies halfway between San Antonio and the Mexican border.
“When it rains, it has standing water and mud holes where you need four-wheel-drive,” said Steven Mafrige, who lives on a nearby ranch.
Ranchers have always shared the land with energy companies: They make money together. But this oil & gas boom is like nothing ever seen here before. And maybe that’s why this little road has become a source of conflict. Continue Reading →
Aboard the Sturgis: US Army Corp of Engineers project managers Brenda Barber (flag safety hat) and Hans Honerlah (yellow jacket)
Sometime this winter, an historic sea vessel will float into Galveston. But you won’t be able to take a tour of it. In fact, you probably won’t be allowed to get close to it. Because the big barge is radioactive.
A half century ago, the U.S. Army came up with what sounded like a great idea: put a small, nuclear power plant on board an old military cargo ship. The Army called it the Sturgis after a three-star general.
“The Sturgis was fairly highly classified,” said Will Davis who used to operate nuclear reactors in the Navy and now has a blog on atomic power. He said the Sturgis had one mission: it was sent to the Panama Canal to generate electricity to operate the locks. But after about 7 years, it was no longer needed and was mothballed.
“Sturgis has been de-fueled since 1977. The nuclear fuel was taken out,” said Davis.
Maria Burns is a transportation expert at the University of Houston
A growing Texas economy means thousands more rail cars are needed to keep up with the increasing flow of oil, petrochemicals and other goods. But the challenge is to find a suitable place to build huge rail yards that can cover hundreds of acres and handle thousands of rail cars a day.
Since 2009, one rail line reports a 35 percent increase in the number of rail cars “terminating” their trip in Texas.
“You’re talking a massive increase in movement that’s really poised to increase a lot in the next five years particularly with what’s happening in South Texas and West Texas,” said Ken Medlock, an energy economist at Rice University’s Baker Institute.
South and West Texas is where the oil is and tank cars by the thousands are moving it to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.
But it’s not just oil. There’s also a big expansion of chemical and other manufacturing along the coast, plus more goods are moving through ports in Beaumont, Houston, and Corpus Christi.
Maria Burns is a transportation expert at the University of Houston. She shows a reporter a map of Texas marked with a web of rail lines and highways that converge in clusters.
Railroad tracks into Mumford just northwest of Bryan-College Station. Photo by Dave Fehling
If it seems like you’re spending more time in Houston stuck waiting at railroad crossings, there’s a reason. Compared to just five years ago, there are hundreds of thousands more railcars crisscrossing Texas. Demand from the oil & gas industry is a big factor.
To keep up, railroad companies are building more tracks. But not everyone thinks that’s a good idea.
Just northwest of Bryan-College Station you can follow the railroad tracks to the tiny town of Mumford.
During a meeting of the Texas Public Utility Commission, its former chairman, Barry Smitherman, gave Texans one more reason to love their state and for others to envy it: low, low prices for electricity.
“If you use the best available price in the market place from a retail electric provider Houston and Dallas have the lowest prices of any big city in America. I think we have to be very mindful of the competitive advantage this gives us here in Texas,” Smitherman said at the PUC meeting.
Strictly speaking, Smitherman might be right: the price of electricity is relatively low. But if you think that means people in Houston and Dallas have the lowest electricity bills, you’d be wrong. The reality is exactly the opposite because Texans use so much electricity.
For several years now, national comparisons using data reported to the federal government and from other sources show people in Houston and Dallas — and in Texas overall — pay some of the highest electricity bills in the country. According to the U.S. Energy Department, “The average annual electricity cost per Texas household is $1,801, among the highest in the nation; the cost is similar to other warm weather states like Florida, according to EIA’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey.”
But drilling deeper into the data, what you pay depends on where you live in Texas. Continue Reading →
Jennifer Ronk with the Houston Advanced Research Center
Global demand for solar panels could soon create shortages according to Bloomberg News.
In Texas, costs for solar are dropping and the amount of power Texans now get from the sun is up over 30-percent in the past year. But while some housing developments are banning the roof-top solar panels, saying they’re unsightly, some homeowners in one Houston neighborhood can’t imagine life without solar power.
It’s the hottest part of the day in a subdivision on Houston’s northwest side. The neatly-kept streets and lawns border several rows of recently-built, two-story homes made of brick and stone. They all look similar but a few of them have one difference: solar panels.
“They don’t even notice them till we tell (visitors) we have solar panels, they’re like where,” said Velia Uballe, a stay-at-home mom.
They bought their new, solar-panel equipped house three years ago. But while Uballe said the panels hardly stand out, what they’re saving on electricity definitely does.
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.