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.

Research Links Drilling Activities to Water Contamination in North Texas

The study explored different scenarios that may have accounted for elevated methane in the groundwater.

Used with permission from Thomas Darrah, OSU

The study explored different scenarios that may have accounted for elevated methane in the groundwater.

For years, some residents of Parker County in North Texas have believed that nearby gas drilling was responsible for high levels of methane in neighborhood water wells. Research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences appears to back that up.

The study looked at water contamination in Texas and Pennsylvania. It suggests that faulty cement jobs on drilling wells could be at fault in North Texas. Cement is poured between the rock wall and the steel tubing of oil and gas wells to block contaminants.

“We think either there isn’t enough cement in this location or more likely there are cracks or imperfections in that cement. That’s what allowed the strong gas to move up through the well and then out into peoples drinking water,” says Robert Jackson, a professor of environmental sciences at Stanford, who co-authored of the study.

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UPDATED: Four Earthquakes Rattled Texas Last Week, Another on Sunday

After 20 earthquakes in a month, will state regulators respond?

Photo: OLIVER BERG DPA/LANDOV

Regulators are trying to craft rules to respond to the dramatic uptick in quakes.

It was a shaky week in Texas last week with three small earthquakes rattling the Dallas-Fort Worth area and a slightly more powerful quake detected in South Texas.

The first quake measuring magnitude 2.4 struck near Arlington. It prompted some residents to call 9-11 after feeling their houses shake and hearing “explosions,” according to the  the Forth Worth Star Telegram.

Earthquakes are often accompanied by loud “booms,” something that has become a source of anxiety in newly quake-prone parts of the state.

The quake coincided with a water main break that morning that left about a dozen homes without water. The City of Arlington tells StateImpact Texas that the water main break was not caused by the earthquake.

On Thursday, a second quake hit North Texas this one measuring 2.9. It was centered near an elementary school in Irving.

The South Texas quake was the strongest of the three. It measured 3.2 and was centered about two miles southeast of Charlotte. It struck on Wednesday, but was not reported by the USGS until Thursday.

A fourth quake again rattled Arlington on Friday evening, it measured 2.5.

All of the quakes happened in parts of the state with extensive oil and gas drilling activity.

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What an On-Again, Off-Again El Niño Means For Texas

For El Nino to fully appear, the ocean temperature must change the atmosphere.

Photo by Mose Buchele

For El Nino to fully appear, the ocean temperature must enter a feedback loop with the atmosphere.

Earlier this year Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist Bob Rose, liked what he was seeing in the forecast.

“I’m optimistic that we will get into a pattern of above normal rainfall this fall continuing into next winter and possibly into next spring as well,” he said in April.

But since then things changed.

After much ado, the El Niño predicted by many meteorologists hasn’t quite showed itself in the form rainfall yet. While there’s still a chance it could strengthen before the summer’s end, it’s not likely it will meet its initial forecasted fury.

“El Niño, while it looked like it was really starting to ramp up, and would really start to develop in September. It actually took a pause in July,” he says.

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Audubon Society: Over One Hundred Texas Birds at Risk From Climate Change

The endangered golden cheeked warbler could be at even greater risk, depending on what climate change does to its habitat.

Photo Courtesy of TPWD

The endangered golden-cheeked warbler could be at even greater risk, depending on what climate change does to its habitat.

Over three hundred species of birds are at risk from climate change in North America, according to a report from the National Audubon Society. Many of them can be found in Texas.

Brian Trusty, Executive Director of Audubon Texas, says the study has identified over one hundred Texas species that run the risk of losing significant habitat due to climate change (see below for details on this list).

These are birds species that “will see a significant change and or reduction of the climate suitable habitat over the next 10, 40 or 60 years,”  Trusty tells StateImpact Texas.

The report used projected migration paths to determine the fate of bird species. It also pulled from bird “census” data, like the Christmas Bird Count, to determine traditional nesting ranges, and preferred weather conditions of bird species.

“We were utilizing over a hundred years collected from data to pinpoint the suitable climate areas of the home ranges of those species,” says Trusty.

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How Advances in Tech and Research Could Help Confront Future Drought

Climatologists could one day predict the viability of soil by measuring and forecasting moisture levels.

Photo courtesy of the LCRA

Climatologists could one day predict the viability of soil by measuring and forecasting moisture levels.

A couple years ago UT Professor Zong-Liang Yang was at a conference on extreme weather in the Netherlands. It was 2012, just one year after the worst single-year drought in Texas history.

When it came to discussing extreme weather, Texas seemed like a good place to be.  He suggested to colleagues that their next conference should take place in the Lone Star State.

Two years later, he and dozens of some of the world’s leading climate experts from 10 different countries have descended upon UT-Austin to talk about improving our ability to forecast and prepare for extreme weather. They seem confident that they’re making progress.

That might come as a surprise considering how often meteorologists appear to get it wrong, but Yang points out that forecasting is a science that’s made massive leaps in the past fifty years.

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As Drought Persists, Cities Look to Texas ‘Lakes’ to Answer Needs

Austin's Decker Lake is used for electricity production and recreations. But it could be re-purposed for municipal water use.

Photo by Mose Buchele

Austin's Decker Lake is used for electricity production and recreations. But it could be re-purposed for municipal water use.

The funny thing about Walter E. Long Lake: most people don’t know it exists.

The lake, tucked into a rural-feeling part of North East Austin is big, by Austin standards. It can hold more water than Austin’s two central city Lakes -Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake- combined. It was created to host a power plant, which it’s done for for nearly 50 years. That’s how it got its other name: Decker Lake.

But Last week, Austin’s city council voted on a plan to wean Austin off Decker Power Plant electricity, opting to shutter the plant to lower citywide emissions. If that happens, the lake could serve as Austin’s a new city reservoir.

“It’s a body of water most people don’t know about. Some people use it, you’ll see fishing boats out there on the lake,” says Sharlene Leurig, who works at Ceres, a non-profit specializing in sustainability. “But for the most part it’s the unappreciated stepchild of the lakes we have here in Austin.”

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Texas Lawmakers Hear Proposals for Confronting Man-Made Quakes

After 20 earthquakes in a month, will state regulators respond?

Photo: OLIVER BERG DPA/LANDOV

After a surge in earthquakes across Texas over the last several years, state regulators are considering their options.

After a surge in earthquakes across Texas over the last several years, state regulators are considering their options. On Monday, the House Subcommittee on Seismic Activity heard some of them.

Many of the quakes are likely caused by wastewater disposal wells, where the liquid waste from oil and gas drilling is pumped back into the ground. The Railroad Commission of Texas is the agency that regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, and it’s proposing new rules for those wells.

David Craig Pearson, the Railroad Commission’s staff seismologist, told lawmakers that under the new rules, companies applying for a disposal well permit would need to report whether there was a history of earthquakes in the area.

The company would also need to estimate how much pressure the wells would be putting on nearby fault lines after a 10-year time span.

The proposed rules also give Railroad Commission staff the power to limit how waste is injected into a well that could be causing earthquakes, or shut the well down completely. Pearson said that would be an option of last resort, however.

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Despite Delay in Vote, Little Change Expected in Proposed LCRA Water Plan

The LCRA operates the six dams on the Colorado River that form the scenic Highland Lakes of Central Texas. Photo by Reshma Kirpalani for KUT News and Reporting Texas

The LCRA operates the six dams on the Colorado River that form the scenic Highland Lakes of Central Texas. Photo by Reshma Kirpalani for KUT News and Reporting Texas

Water from the Highland Lakes is important to everyone in Central Texas — from urban Austinites to rural rice farmers downstream. Wednesday, the board of the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) was set to vote on a much-delayed plan to manage that water, but the authority’s board postponed that vote to gather more public input.

The proposed plan, which would ensure that more water stays in the lakes in times of drought, is widely supported by upstream stakeholders, namely the City of Austin.  But it’s unpopular downstream with agricultural interests that would likely see themselves cut off from water more often. The plan must ultimately be approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

The LCRA board postponed the vote on the plan for thirty days until Sept. 17 to get more public input. But the board made it clear it doesn’t want to change the “framework of the plan” — including a provision to maintain ”above 600,000 acre-feet of water” in the lakes. Under previous water plans, water could be sent to agricultural users even if storage dropped below that level.

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Is the Oil Boom Helping Prices at the Pump?

tom-clipped+cropped

Photo courtesy of Tom Kloza and Gasbuddy.com

Texas is getting more oil out of the ground than it has since the great boom of the 1970s. And it’s not alone: the oil fields of North Dakota are, for the first time ever, producing over one million barrels a day. Across the country, the boom has lead to predictions that the U.S. will overtake even Saudi Arabia in oil production by the end of the year. But is all that drilling helping American consumers at the pump?

A quick look at the numbers before the long weekend would indicate not. Prices were about 20 cents per gallon higher than this time last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

There’s a lot more to what you pay when you fill up your car than how much oil is out there. Market speculation can inflate prices. Then there’s how much it costs to move oil around. You can drill for all the crude you want, but it’s another thing to bring it to a refinery. Add to that the role played by OPEC in setting prices, and it’s clear that what you’re paying is not dictated by simple supply and demand.

Nonetheless, some analysts say consumers are benefiting from the boom. They just might not notice it.

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Ranchers Approve Added Charge for Cattle Sales in Texas

The Texas Ag Commissioner's role is about much more than just farming.

Photo by DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images

The Texas Ag Commissioner's role is about much more than just farming.

Every time a cow is sold in Texas, a dollar of that sale goes to industry groups that use it to promote and research beef. It’s part of a national program called the “beef checkoff,” and that charge will now rise to two dollars in Texas after a statewide vote by cattle owners.

The vote to raise the fee passed by nearly 67 percent. The results were announced Wednesday and hailed by agriculture and cattle industry groups, who say the money is needed to keep beef competitive.

“The beef checkoff program was initiated (at one dollar per sale) back in the 1980s; we’re down to about 40 cents on the dollar for that value today,” says Jay Evans, Chair of the Natural Resource and Environment Committee of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. The association has received support from the beef checkoff program and nominates members to the board that distributes money from the program.

The existing program splits the dollar charge between national and state groups. The new charge approved by the recent vote will stay in Texas and be controlled by the Texas Beef Council.

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