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.
Cathy McMullen and Tom Giovanetti debate a proposal to ban fracking at a meeting of the County GOP Womens Club.
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.
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.
A map of projects to increase transmission capacity in the Rio Grande Valley.
It had been about three years since Texas experienced major rolling blackouts, but they happened this week in the Rio Grande Valley. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the group that manages nearly all of the Texas grid, says the blackouts are related to longstanding problems with the transmission system in the region.
Trouble started on Wednesday afternoon when two power plants suffered breakdowns. Fearing that high demand and low supply of electricity could damage the regional grid and cause an uncontrolled blackout, ERCOT called for “rotating outages” (industry speak for rolling blackouts) to keep some power on the lines.
Grid managers have known for some time the valley runs a higher risk of rolling blackouts. The reason is that the transmission system in the Valley is more isolated than other parts of Texas. It cannot easily bring in electricity from the rest of the ERCOT grid when needed. That can cause blackouts in the Valley even when the rest of the grid is stable, according to ERCOT.
“The valley area has some significant limitations as far as how much power it can import into that region,” says Robbie Searcy, an ERCOT spokesperson. “Right now when there is a hot early fall afternoon and we have these sort of generation outages there is a risk to the transmission system in that area.”
A recent drop in carbon emissions in the U.S. could only be temporary, a new report warns.
Texas will need to make big cuts in carbon emissions over the next 15 years under a mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency. You can expect to hear complaints about the EPA rule at a two-day meeting of the House Environmental Regulations Committee starting Monday.
The federal agency and state leaders have been at odds for years and many conservatives worry that limiting carbon emission to fight climate change will hurt the economy.
But there are some in Texas who see an upside. Click the player to learn more.
The oil and gas rich Eagle Ford Shale formation straddles both sides of the Texas Mexico border.
Today, members of the state House Energy Resources Committee met in the Rio Grande Valley town of Edinburg to discuss how a partial privatization of Mexico’s oil and gas sector could impact the Texas economy.
Until this year, drilling in Mexico was run by Pemex, a state-owned company. A change in Mexican law has now partially opened the county to foreign business. That could be a big opportunity for Texas companies familiar with the oil and gas rich Eagle Ford shale that straddles the border. Some estimates have already said a shale boom in Mexico could grow the Texas economy by tens of billions of dollars. Others say it’s too early to tell.
“I have seen some of those estimates, and at this point all they are are numbers on a spreadsheet,” say Tom Tunstall, director of the Center for Community and Business Research at UT San Antonio.
He says infrastructure and border security concerns could complicate investment. Then there’s uncertainty around the continued roll of Pemex.
Forecasters, however, are already seeing another sign of El Niño: fewer hurricanes than average in the Atlantic.
“I think we’ve only had five named storms so far [in the Atlantic], about 50 percent of normal,” says Victor Murphy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “Whereas the Eastern Pacific Basin, I think they’re on the “P” storm Polo. I think they’re at about 150 percent of activity in the Pacific.”
The “O” storm, “Odile,” from the Pacific, dropped a sizable amount of rain on parts of Texas just last week.
Divestment has become a popular topic on college campuses and some boardrooms.But it will likely have trouble taking hold in oil rich parts of the state.
“I think it is worth asking ourselves as a society how much longer we think we need to have an oil economy.” — Michael Webber, UT Energy Institute
This week in New York, the UN Climate Summit is underway, and the Rockefeller Foundation made news with the announcement that it will divest close to a billion dollars from fossil fuels. Here in Austin, University of Texas President Bill Powers gave his State of the University address. But in contrast to the news from New York, Powers thanked “heavens” for the oil wealth provided to UT by its land holdings, and celebrated the fracking revolution as “good news” for the University.
The disconnect between the two messages leads one to wonder about the role of the divestment campaign in oil-rich parts of the country. Could divestment in other parts of the country grow to the point where it disrupts Texas’ fossil fuel economy? By contrast, could divestment ever catch on here?
We called Michael Webber, Deputy Director of UT’s Energy Institute, to talk about all that and more.
It should be noted that the Institute receives funding from industry and from UT, which, as President Powers noted, is no stranger to the oil business. (StateImpact Texas has also been sponsored by the Energy Institute on special projects. These disclosures seem all the more important in a blog post about how deeply intertwined the fossil fuel industry is with many aspects of the life in the state.)
StateImpact Texas: Could divestment shake up the Texas economy?
Activists took to the trees to try to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline in East Texas.
Last year at a farm in outside of Beaumont, Dick O’Keefe sat at the kitchen table and talked about how a pipeline had come to his land. The company had claimed eminent domain powers. O’Keefe was not convinced.
“The pipeline companies should have to demonstrate that they have the right of eminent domain before they ever start beating the streets and handing out contracts,” O’Keefe said. “The threshold for them is extremely low.”
The Texas Supreme Court agrees with that assessment. In a 2011 decision, the court called the process giving eminent domain powers to pipeline companies nothing more than a “registration.” In the ruling the court said “No notice is given to affected parties. No hearing is held, no evidence is presented, no investigation is conducted.”
The conclusion: “Our Constitution demands far more.”
Today, the state’s oil and gas regulators are meeting to consider changing those rules. But getting there has been a long and windy road, as KUT’s Mose Buchele reports for State Impact Texas.
A car tire lays exposed in the dried lake bottom at Lake Abillene near Abilene, Texas.
Summer brought no relief from drought in many parts of Northwest Texas. But storms related to Hurricane Odile could bring some much needed rain. The region, like much of Texas, has been struggling with drought for years. Now some communities there are now faced with a difficult task: find new water, or go dry.
Take the small Texas town of Gordon. Kenneth Epperson works for the Water Department there. By the end of August, the town had about four months of water left for close to 800 users. So he’s looking at his options, one of which is possibly getting water from a local rancher who has a lake on his land and bring it to the town treatment plant via pipeline.
Gordon is just one of many towns facing the prospect of running dry, and because the crisis is regional, stretching across city and county lines, officials are needing to get creative when considering new supplies. ”You know, all over, this northwest Texas is kind of in a bind,” Epperson says.
Austin Energy earns 40 percent of its revenue in the summer months
Aside from the month of August, this summer has been relatively cool as far as Texas summers go. That’s a welcome change of pace for those who live here, but it’s brought an unanticipated gap in revenue for some electricity providers.
Take Austin Energy. At the start of the year, the city-owned utility was expecting to bring in around $654 million in base revenue from energy used by customers. Since then, it has reduced that estimate by about $16.5 million.
“That’s the impact the cooler weather has had. It’s to the tune of 16 and a half million,” says Carlos Cordova, a spokesperson for Austin Energy.
The utility makes 40 percent of its annual revenue in the four hottest months of the year that’s June, July August and September. This year all those months, except August, have seen lower than average AC use and peak electric demand.