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.
In September, the most recent month for the data, drillers in Texas pulled about 2.7 million barrels of oil a day from the earth, most of it from the state’s two hottest shale plays, in the Eagle Ford region in South Texas and the Permian Basin in the west.
“The Permian’s already producing over a million barrels a day of oil, and the Eagle Ford’s up to about 650,000 barrels per day. And so it appears to be only a matter of time before we have two oil fields in Texas producing — by themselves — a million barrels per day,” Tom Tunstall, Director of the Center for Community and Business Research at University of Texas at San Antonio tells StateImpact Texas.
But the current 2.7 million barrel per day figure figure is “record-breaking” only in terms of government records. The fact is that Texas pumped far more oil in the early seventies, but the EIA simply did not keep track of daily oil production back then. According to historical annual data, provided to StateImpact Texas by the EIA, the Texas oil boom peaked in 1972, when drillers pumped around 3.4 million barrels a day on average from Texas oil fields.
Still, if trends continue, experts say the new boom could rival the previous one in a matter of years. Continue Reading →
Pedernales Falls State Park, a popular destination outside of Austin.
For state parks in Texas, the struggle has always been money. In the early 1900s, Texas landowners tried to donate large tracts of property to create state parks. But they were turned down by state lawmakers – they didn’t want to fund the maintenance cost. So when the land was accepted, it was without the promise of upkeep. Now, as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department winds down its 50th year in operation, it seems like very little has changed.
“I think, in a way, the parks exemplify the worst that we’ve got in budgeting, as far as the Senate and House are concerned,” state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, said at a panel on parks during the Texas Tribune Festival earlier this year.
And here’s why he thinks that: Texas Parks and Wildlife is the only state agency with a dedicated sales tax. Under state law, a portion of the sales tax on sporting goods is meant to go for parks. But lawmakers consistently divert some of that money to balance the state budget.
“If you’re raising $260 million, and you’re using 25 percent of that for its intended purpose, and then you’re back-loading to certify the budget the balance of it — Well, then you’re leaving your parks out.”
The situation was even worse for parks a few years back when the department’s budget was slashed along with those of most other state agencies. Continue Reading →
Richard Rivera stands in front of a red sticker that marks his house as "uninhabitable" due to recent flooding.
It’s been three weeks since a flood swept through Richard Rivera’s Austin, Texas home. There’s still a dead car, washed up by the waters, deposited on his front yard. A crack has formed on his concrete driveway. A result, he says, of the deluge. He doesn’t know where his air conditioning unit floated off to. His home bears the red sticker, left by city inspectors, that deems it uninhabitable.
But unlike many of his neighbors, Rivera can take solace in the fact that he was prepared. He paid about $2,000 annually for flood insurance.
“You pay it, and you pay it, and pay it, and hopefully you never need it, but when you need it, you’d like to have it,” he says with a rueful smile, standing in the wreckage.
In a decision he now looks back on with some degree of awe, Rivera had increased his insurance coverage just months before the flood, expanding it to cover an additional $60,000 in damages.
Around the same time, he says, his neighbors dropped their insurance altogether.
“He got laid off and his wife got laid off. “That was one of the deals where the payment was about as high as the mortgage so he let it go,” Rivera says.
“That guy is really having some problems right now” he adds. “They’ve got kids.”
There’s a growing concern that more people will find themselves in the situation of that neighbor if changes to the National Flood Insurance Program move ahead.
Volunteers at staging center organizing for cleanup.
After the floods on Halloween morning destroyed their home in Bluff Springs, a community just across the Austin city line in unincorporated Travis County, Debbie Lozano and her boyfriend slept in a tent in their yard.
“We got this creek right here, Boggy Creek, and then it runs in the back of the property into Onion Creek. So we got it double wammied!” she says, remembering a frantic escape in the night, the water rising to her chest.
They had no transportation, and didn’t want to leave their dogs behind. So when the flood receded they lit a campfire to stay warm, and began hauling their waterlogged possessions, what they could salvage, into the yard to dry.
Saturday, nine days after the flooding, volunteers arrived to rip out sheet rock and insulation from the house, clear debris and saw apart trees the waters had pushed against the property. Lozano said it was the first time anyone had come to help clean. She called the assistance a “miracle.”
MAP BY MICHAEL MARKS. A map of Texas Counties that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. Counties in gray have insurance, counties in yellow have never had insurance, and counties in red do not currently have insurance, but have at some point. NOTE: Cities and towns may participate in the program even if their county does not.
The floods that killed five people and damaged over 1,000 homes in Austin on Halloween morning threw the danger of floods into stark relief. But when it comes to guarding against risky development in flood-prone regions, there’s little consistency from one Texas community to the next, with some areas still lacking any regulation.
How Texas counties voted on Prop 6. Counties in Blue passed the measure; Counties in Red voted against it. Map by Matt Wilson/StateImpact.
There wasn’t much nail-biting on either side of the Proposition 6 debate as people watched the votes come in on Tuesday. The measure, which will move $2 billion dollars from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to start a fund for water projects, won approval from over 73 percent of the state.
But as poll watchers began digging into the turnout, competing versions of what those numbers mean for the future of water in Texas began to take shape.
Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, led the Water Texas PAC, which spent nearly two million dollars to promote the measure, pointed to the broad base of support to call the victory a triumph for bi-partisanship and coalition building.
“Small businesses, manufacturing, the energy industry, farmers and ranchers all came together very strongly,” said Straus at his PAC’s election night party.
Opponents of the measure say the way people voted points to a looming confrontation between water-rich rural areas and thirsty urban consumers. Continue Reading →
When voters go to the polls this year, many of them will have only as much information about the constitutional amendments they’re voting on as is provided on the ballot.
That is to say, not much at all, especially when it comes to the major item on the list, Proposition 6.
The ballot refers to the creation of funds for the State Water Plan, a list of projects to improve water supplies across the state, but makes no mention of the dollar figure that would be involved. It mentions financing for water projects, but not why that financing might be needed, or how the projects will be chosen.
You might have better luck learning about Proposition 6 by asking someone whose job hinges on its passage. Bech Bruun is one of Governor Perry’s newly-minted Water Development Board Members, and if the proposition goes forward, they will decide what water projects to lend money to.
“What Proposition 6 would do is, it would move $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund into a new account, that we will refer to as SWIFT, the State Water Implementation Fund of Texas. And it would allow the Water Development Board to use money from the SWIFT fund for projects in the State’s Water Plan,” he said.
A map showing areas where smoke was heaviest in 2011 according to the NRDC.
Texans know all too well the devastation that wildfires bring to land, property, and community. Now, research claims to show how smoke from those fires could pose hazards hundreds of miles away, though researchers say there is a need “to look more closely” at the data.
The study was conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that looked at NOAA satellite smoke plume maps from 2011 to gauge where heavy concentrations of smoke could affect people’s health. Its findings: many Americans lived in areas impacted by smoke even if they lived far from wildfires.
“Nearly 212 million Americans lived in counties affected by smoke conditions at some time in 2011,” Kim Knowlton, an NRDC environmental health staff scientist and Columbia University Professor said in a telephone press conference.
Bruce Bar is a certified floodplain manger and caretaker of his neighborhood dam in Bastrop County.
This is part four of a series looking at the infrastructure of dams in Texas, and what can be done to improve it. You can find part one here, and part two here, and part three here.
In a peaceful, wooded corner of Bastrop County, Texas sits one of the unluckiest dams in the state. In 2011 the Labor Day Wildfires burned soil and vegetation around Clear Springs Lake and its earthen dam. Then, half a year later, a massive rainstorm hit. Water poured over the structure and wrecked havoc on an already crumbling spillway.
“Our poor little dam has gone between being scorched to being flooded in a matter of six months,” Bruce Bar, a floodplain engineer and the manager of the community’s dam told StateImpact Texas. “So it’s handled about as much as nature can throw at it.”
In his role as manager of the dam, Bar has been looking to raise money for repairs.
“We had a homeowners association meeting and some people got rankled because they didn’t even know that we had a dam, and they had been here for ten or twelve years or so,” he said. “If all of a sudden if they start getting a bill saying they’re due so many thousands of dollars. I think that’s… that could be a problem.”
Aging and lack of maintenance are effecting both private and public dams in the state, but so is an absence of money says Warren Samuelson, the Manager of the Dam Safety Program for the TCEQ.
“If I were to build a home somewhere, I’d make sure that if it was downstream from a lake that their dam is property maintained,” he told StateImpact Texas, “and the reason I say that is, I lived in Albany in 1978.”
The Federal Government echoes that advice. In the FEMA booklet “Living with Dams,” the agency urges people to “ask questions” about the condition and hazard rating of dams near their homes.
But here in Texas, no one needs to answer those questions.