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

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

Perry: More American Energy to Counter Russian Aggression

Texas Governor Rick Perry waiting to be introduced at Energy & Climate Policy Summit in 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

Flow Of Money From South Texas Oil Startles Economists

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.

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.

What’s making the difference? Continue Reading

Oil & Gas Trouble In Texas Ranchland: Whose Road Is It?

Joel Rodriguez is the County Commissioners Court Judge in LaSalle County

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

Army Nuclear Reactor Barge Headed For Dismantling In Galveston

Aboard the Sturgis: US Army Corp of Engineers project managers Brenda Barber (flag safety hat) and Hans Honerlah (yellow jacket)

Dave Fehling

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.

Continue Reading

Finding Land For Boom In Freight Trains

Maria Burns is a transportation expert at the University of Houston

Dave Fehling

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.

Continue Reading

Where Cotton Is King, Controversy Erupts Over Rail Yard

Railroad tracks into Mumford just northwest of Bryan-College Station. Photo by Dave Fehling

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.

Continue Reading

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