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.

Regional Haze, The ‘War on Coal,’ and How Environmental Policy Is Made

Everyone’s heard of the War on Drugs. There’s also, of course, the War on Terror. And as presidential election season heats up – we can expect to hear more about another war.  For years some politicians have accused President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency of waging a “war on coal.”

For StateImpact Texas, KUT’s Mose Buchele reports on the legal push and pull over environmental regulation.

 

This Dam Holds in Lady Bird Lake, So When Will It Get ‘Essential’ Repairs?

Officials have long been aware of the need for repairs at Longhorn Dam.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

Officials have long been aware of the need for repairs at Longhorn Dam.

The poor condition of the dam that holds in the waters of Austin’s beloved Lady Bird Lake continues to vex city officials.  Emails obtained in a public information request reveal challenges the city faced in performing maintenance on Longhorn Dam, which crosses the Colorado River beneath Pleasant Valley Road. Documents tell of water lost through the dam’s gates that could potentially stay in upstream reservoirs, and show city departments struggling to assign responsibility for the structure and plan a long-term solution.

Austin Energy, the city-owned electric utility, and the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) have long known about the need for work on the dam. Austin Energy is the city department that operates the structure. The LCRA operates dams upstream from Austin and coordinates with Austin Energy when they release water downstream.

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EPA Team Looking At Relationship Between Irving Quakes and Disposal Well

Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section for Region 6 in Dallas.

Photo by Philip Issa

Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section for Region 6 in Dallas.

The earthquakes that have shaken Dallas and Irving, Texas the last several months have people looking into whether oil and gas activity in the area plays a role. Some of those people work at the Environmental Protection Agency. But EPA researchers say they’re not getting the data they’ve requested from Texas state oil and gas regulators to investigate the possible link.

Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section in Dallas. At a conference of the Groundwater Protection Council Tuesday, he showed early results from a study his team conducted on earthquakes around Irving.

The group looked at the use of wastewater disposal wells closest to Irving earthquakes. Dellinger does not necessarily believe the recent quakes are related to disposal wells, where wastewater from oil and gas drilling is pumped underground. But these types of wells have caused other earthquakes, so his team wanted to see what wells were close to the Irving events.

His choice for where to look was simple. There are only two wells near the recent quakes, and one had been plugged up.

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Where are the Water Projects that Are Asking For $5.5 Billion in State Loans?

Counties that contain at least one project applying for state funds are highlighted in blue.

Mose Buchele

Counties that contain at least one project applying for state funds are highlighted in blue.

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) had planned to distribute about $800 million in low interest loans for Texas water projects this year. By the time the deadline for project applications closed, total requests reached $5.5 billion, many of them from urban and suburban parts of the state.

The new system of financing was set up by state lawmakers and approved by voters in 2013. Under that system, billions of dollars were moved from the Texas Rainy Day Fund and put into a separate fund for water. The Water Development Board plans to distribute about $800 million dollars in loans every year for the next ten year.

The 48 projects eligible for loans this year range from modest to mighty. The City of Marfa asked for $700,000 to build a single well, but the North Texas Municipal Water District requested $791 million for the under-construction, 16,500 acre Lower Bois d’Arc reservoir.

Applications from the greater Houston metropolitan area comprise one third of the total requests received by the Water Development Board.  The sixteen projects around Harris County alone add up to $3 billion in loan requests. Projects in the Dallas Fort Work area made up about ten percent of all requests.

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It Looks Like Financial Markets Are Betting On Keystone XL

Ehud Ronn directs the Center for Energy Finance Education and Research at UT Austin.

Mose Buchele

Ehud Ronn directs the Center for Energy Finance Education and Research at UT Austin.

The financial markets may be betting that the Keystone XL pipeline is a done deal.

The U.S. House and Senate have now both passed bills to force approval of the controversial pipeline.  The southern leg of the project already delivers oil from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast. But approval of the full build-out would link existing pipe to the Canadian border, allowing more crude from the tar sands of Canada to reach Texas refineries via Cushing.

President Obama has vowed to veto the bills, but one expert says the fate of the project may already be written in futures contracts for crude oil.

 

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Quiz: Beer, Coffee, or Crude Oil? Sometimes It’s Hard to Tell

coffee

Credit Amanda/flickr

Beer, Coffee, or Crude was created by Rice University student Aruni Ranaweera.

Anyone who spends time looking at how oil is drilled for and refined around the world comes to notice something strange. The names people give to different types of crude oil can sound surprisingly delicious.

In reporting on the role that benchmark oil prices play in moving the price of gasoline, I was introduced to one person who had made a game out of it. Rice University student Aruni Ranaweera created the quiz “Beer, Coffee, Crude” to test her classmates’ ability to distinguish between types of crude, types of beer, and blends of coffee. It’s harder than is sounds. Go ahead, crack open a can of Tia Juana Light and give it a shot.

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How Crude Oil Prices Drive the Cost of Gasoline

An exploratory oil well in California. Oil companies base their decisions to drill around the "benchmark price" of crude oil.

Lucy Nicholson/ Reuters/ Landov

An exploratory oil well in California. Oil companies base their decisions to drill around the "benchmark price" of crude oil.

If you’ve followed the drop in oil prices over the last few months you might have noticed the words “Brent” and “WTI” being thrown around without much explanation. The price of these benchmark crude oils influences everything from how big oil companies invest in drilling, to the amount you pay to fill up your car. So what exactly are they?

The first thing to remember is that the crude oil we refine into gasoline comes in a lot of different varieties from all over the world. They have different names and some of them, like Tia Juana Light sound more like a refreshing beverage than an oil.

To make buying and selling all these different crudes simpler. People in the industry use benchmark oil prices. Brent crude, and West Texas Intermediate (or WTI) are the two big ones.

“So somebody will write a contract that says, I will sell you Crude X from the gulf of Mexico at WTI plus a dollar,” says Tim Hess, lead analyst for the US Energy Information Administration’s short term energy outlook.


He says WTI is the price marker for American crudes, “particularly on the Gulf Coast where the petroleum industry is centered.”

For most of the rest of the world, it’s Brent.

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US Geological Survey to Increase Earthquake Risk Levels in Texas

A current earthquake hazard map on the USGS website.

Courtesy of the USGS.

A current earthquake hazard map on the USGS website.

A seismic hazard map is essentially what it sounds like – a map that shows the potential for earthquakes in certain areas.  The maps give people a sense of the likelihood of earthquakes occurring, where they might occur, and how strong they might be.  The maps can influence everything from public policy to building codes to insurance rates.

“They govern hundreds of billions of dollars in constructions and insurance cost every year,” says Mark Peterson, project chief of the USGS’s National Seismic Hazard Mapping project.

So it’s worth noting that the USGS plans to update the maps for Texas (and other parts of the country) to account for an increase in man-made earthquakes.

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From Pipeline to Pump, How Gasoline Gets to Your Car

Johnny Herrera is a dispatcher for Tex Con Oil. A company that distributes fuel around the Austin area.

Photo by Mose Buchele

Johnny Herrera is a dispatcher for Tex Con Oil. A company that distributes fuel around the Austin area.

By now, the initial surprise over low gas prices has worn off. But people looking for the very best deals might have noticed a trend: small, unbranded gas stations are often the first to cut prices. Many of them continue to stay competitive even when larger brand-name stations cut their prices as well.

To understand why stations offer different prices for essentially the same product, it helps to take a trip from the pump back to the pipeline, to see exactly how gas is bought, sold and transported.

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What’s Behind the Earthquakes in Dallas?

A dozen smaller earthquakes have struck Dallas this week.

OLIVER BERG DPA/LANDOV

A dozen smaller earthquakes have struck Dallas this week.

Tremors on the Rise Across Texas

People in Dallas were surprised by a swarm of small earthquakes that started shaking the city a couple of days ago. There have been a dozen by the latest count.  And the quakes, though new to the Dallas area, are just the most recent in a major upsurge in earthquakes in Texas over the last few years.

Earthquakes were pretty much unheard of in the Dallas area until 2008. Since then there have been a lot of these swarms of quakes. In Irving, Texas, where this new cluster is located, there have been more than 50 in the last several years, according to the city manager. This current swarm started around September.

Possible Explanations

This all started happening in 2008, a year that also marked a boom in oil and gas exploration in Texas. A lot of people say there’s a link there. Not just in Texas, but across the country, studies have shown how injecting fluids into the ground can cause quakes. In the oil and gas business, people use injection wells for disposing of drilling wastewater. Continue Reading

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