Mose Buchele

Reporter

Mose Buchele is the Austin-based broadcast reporter for StateImpact. He has been on staff at KUT 90.5 in Austin since 2009, covering local and state issues. Mose has also worked as a blogger on politics and an education reporter at his hometown paper in Western Massachusetts. He holds masters degrees in Latin American Studies and Journalism from UT Austin.

How Underground Sensors In Texas Will Help NASA Predict Drought and Floods

Todd Caldwell works on a soil moisture monitoring station in Central Texas.

Credit Photo courtesy of Richard Casteel

Todd Caldwell works on a soil moisture monitoring station in Central Texas.

Stanley Rabke’s family has lived and worked on their Hill Country ranch since 1889. Generations of Rabkes have struggled with the extremes of Texas weather, but one storm sticks out in Stanley’s memory: it came after the drought of the 1950s.

“It rained and rained and rained,” he says. “Back then we raised turkeys, we lost thousands of turkeys that washed away in the creek.”

The disaster underscores an irony of life in Texas. “You hope and pray that you’re going to get a good rain, [but] on the other side of it, you hope you don’t get a flood,” says Rabke.

A quick walk from where the turkeys met their fate, some new technology that will help manage that risk is being installed — soil monitoring sensors in the ground.

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Keystone XL or Not, Canadian Crude Already Shipping Out From U.S.

The Keystone XL pipeline under construction in East Texas in the Spring of 2013.

Photo by Terrence Henry/StateImpact Texas

The Keystone XL pipeline under construction in East Texas in the Spring of 2013.

Congress’ attempts to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline have re-ignited debate over the project, which would allow more crude oil to flow from the tar sands of Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.  It’s also re-ignited debate over what could happen to that oil once it gets to Texas.

President Obama and opponents of the pipeline say it will be used as a funnel to export Canadian crude to international markets. TransCanada, the company building the pipeline, has been unequivocal when asked about that.

“It makes no sense to see anything getting shipped offshore,” CEO Russ Girling said about a year ago when the southern leg of the pipeline opened in Texas. “And those that continue to make those kind of comments, there’s no factual underpinning, no evidence, no basis for those kind of claims.”

Except there is. Continue Reading

Texas Grid Operator Says Clean Energy Plan Could Raise Bills and Lead to Blackouts

The agency in charge of running the state's energy grid says the EPA's plan to reduce carbon emissions could put strain on the grid and raise rates for consumers.

Mose Buchele/StateImpact Texas

The agency in charge of running the state's energy grid says the EPA's plan to reduce carbon emissions could put strain on the grid and raise rates for consumers.

The clean energy plan put forth by the Environmental Protection Agency aims to combat climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by power plants.  But it may come at a price, according to a report released Monday by theElectric Reliability Council of Texas, the group that manages much of Texas electric grid.

The report says electricity bills could rise as much as 20 percent because of the carbon reduction goals, adding that the goals could also endanger electric reliability. Part of that is due to the way the plan would change Texas’ energy mix.

“What we found is that the likely impact of the clean power plan is going to be the retirement of a significant portion of the coal-fired capacity in ERCOT,” says ERCOT Director of System Planning Warren Lasher.

The goal of the EPA’s clean energy plan is to reduce Texas carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Continue Reading

Climate Deal Puts Spotlight on Carbon Capture Technology

New rules proposed by the Obama administration seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants

Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

A new deal between the US and China would reduce carbon emissions from the two countries over the next several years.

The deal that the U.S. and China have struck to curb carbon emissions has been hailed as a breakthrough by many concerned with climate change, and panned by politicians opposed to President Obama. But it’s also captured the interest of a group of researchers — some in Texas — who specialize in carbon capture and sequestration technology.

The deal is short on specifics. But it commits the U.S. and China to continue investing in carbon capture, use and storage. That’s technology that filters CO2 from coal power plants and then pumps the carbon underground. Texas has been doing it for decades to get oil out of the ground in a process called enhanced oil recovery.

“It’s always poor form for Texas to do too much boasting, but the source of expertise for injecting CO2 for enhanced oil recovery lies mostly in Texas,” says Susan Hovorka, a senior researcher scientist at UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology, who works on carbon sequestration.

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Denton Voted To Ban Fracking. So Now What?

Cathy McMullen was an organizer with Frack Free Denton, the group that pushed for the ban.

Mose Buchele

Cathy McMullen was an organizer with Frack Free Denton, the group that pushed for the ban.

This week Denton, Texas became the first city in the state to ban fracking within its city limits. The ban passed with nearly 59 percent of the vote.

Many in Denton worry about how fracking and associated activities impact their health and quality of life.  But opponents say the ban is bad for the economy. The drilling industry, which pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign against the ban, is concerned with the precedent Denton could set for other Texas towns.

Just hours after the vote, the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TxOGA) filed a legal challenge to the ban, as did the Texas General Land office with a suit.

There may be more legal challenges on the way.

The TxOGA lawsuit asserts that ”the public policy of Texas is to encourage the full and effective exploitation of our mineral resources,” says Tom Phillips, a lawyer with Baker Botts who is working on the challenge.

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Voters Pass First Local Fracking Ban in Texas

Cathy McMullen and Tom Giovanetti debate a proposal to ban fracking at a meeting of the County GOP Womens Club.

Cathy McMullen and Tom Giovanetti debate a proposal to ban fracking at a meeting of the County GOP Womens Club.

Update, Nov. 5: Denton voters passed a local ban on “fracking,” an oil and gas production process. 59 percent of voters said “yes” to the ban, with 41 percent voting against. The Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA) wasted no time in filing a request to overturn the vote, saying it violates state law.

Original story, Oct. 21: For Cathy McMullen, the reasons to ban fracking in Denton are as obvious at the drilling rig that sits on the corner of Masch Branch and Hampton Road on the northwest side of town. It’s big, it’s noisy, and she believes it vents toxic emissions into the community. The site is, however, not very close to any houses.

“I’ll show you where this exact same thing was sitting by someone’s home,” she says.

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Amid Oil Boom, Texas Votes On Who Holds the Reins of Regulation

Steve Brown, left, and Ryan Sitton, right, are the two major party candidate for the Railroad Commission of Texas.

Graphic courtesy of the Texas Tribune.

Steve Brown, left, and Ryan Sitton, right, are the two major party candidate for the Railroad Commission of Texas.

Update: Ryan Sitton has won the race for the empty east on the Railroad Commission of Texas.

An empty seat on a strangely-named state regulatory agency usually flies under the radar of voters. But the race to serve on the Railroad Commission of Texas has gained additional attention and importance this election. That’s because whoever wins will not oversee railroads, as the name suggests, but will regulate the Texas oil and gas industry. It’s an industry in the midst of a boom that’s transforming global energy markets and pumping billions into the Texas economy.

The two major party candidates competing for the seat offer starkly different visions for what the job entails.

Democrat Steve Brown spent much of campaign highlighting issues of public health and landowner rights. He visited with workers in the Permian Basin of West Texas to talk about safety in the oilfields, and spent time with residents of a North Texas region dealing with an upsurge in earthquakes tied to oil and gas production.

If elected, Brown says he will ask the state for more funding for an agency whose growth has not kept pace with the industry it regulates. Continue Reading

Deepwater Horizon Oil May Sit On Ocean Floor, But How Did It Get There?

Eleven People Missing After Explosion At Offshore Drilling Rig

Photo by U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images

Ever since an explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore rig in 2010 released about five million of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, researchers have been trying to figure out where much of the oil ended up. A new study is offering some answers.

By tracing chemicals in undersea sediment, scientists have found what appears to be a layer of oil on the ocean floor concentrated within 25 miles of the busted well. They believe up to sixteen percent of all the crude released during the spill may be found in that footprint.

“We found a really high amount of this tracer called hopane in the top one centimeter, which is where you would expect it to be, in the sediment. There’s a very sharp footprint right near the Deepwater Horizon well that certainly points towards that as the source,” says Burch Fisher. He was one of the scientists who worked on the project at UC Santa Barbara and is now a researcher at UT’s Jackson School of Geosciences.

He says it’s a striking discovery because oil often floats on the ocean surface after a spill.

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Why Is the U.S. Still Importing So Much Oil?

Dr. Tad Patzek is the Chair of UT's Department of Petroleum & Geosystems Engineering .

Dr. Tad Patzek is the Chair of UT's Department of Petroleum & Geosystems Engineering .

Texas is leading the way in a massive boom in U.S. oil production: oil exports are higher than they’ve been since the 1950s, when the Suez Canal crisis caused a brief jump in shipments. Imports have dropped significantly, but even with that decline, Americans still import about a fourth of the oil they use. We called Tad Patzek, Chair of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department at at the University of Texas in Austin, to ask why.

Q: So why do we still import so much oil?

A: We have built a very large refining capacity especially on the Gulf Coast, and refineries cannot run at half time. They have to run full-time, at 100% capacity. So, we are importing oil, we are exporting oil, and we certainly are exporting finished products. You know, gasoline, lubricants and so on, so that the refineries are running all the time.


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Will Low Oil Prices Rattle The Texas Economy?

The lead oil and gas regulator in Texas passed new rules for fracking and drilling wells today. (Photo of a Cabot natural gas drill at a fracking site in Pennsylvania.)

Photo by MIRA OBERMAN/AFP/Getty Images

The benchmark price of oil is lower than it has been in four years.

The benchmark price of U.S. crude hovers around $85 a barrel. That’s lower than it’s been in four years and $15 below where it was a year ago. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Economic growth has stalled internationally – This has slowing the demand for oil, but oil supplies are increasing thanks to the shale boom in the U.S. and the fact that OPEC – the cartel that sets prices internationally – has not cut production.
  •  The dollar is strong – The higher valuation of U.S. currency means that oil prices are down but –because the dollar’s also at a four-year high – the oil is still pricey, driving down demand.
  • Speculators are betting on prices to drop – Weekly production of oil is expected to reach a 45-year high next year, the market’s going bearish, driving the prices down.

IFrame<--break->Dropping prices have already things shaken up in the business world. Mergers and acquisitions of oil companies are slowing because of the uncertainty.  Companies in the oil-rich city of Houston are expecting to take a financial hit, and Mexico’s massive oil-hedging program has been thrown into disarray.

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