Dave Fehling/StateImpact Texas
Pump jack in Pierce Junction oilfield south of downtown Houston
A four-way primary race has narrowed to two. Former State Representative Wayne Christian will face off against Ryan Sitton to become the Republican nominee for an open seat on the Railroad Commission of Texas, the agency that regulates Texas oil and gas industry.
Christian and Sitton, an engineer who owns a consulting firm that works with oil and gas companies, have mostly campaigned on red-meat issues like criticizing the Obama administration and touting their conservative credentials, rather than rather than highlighting their positions on oil and gas regulation.
In the Democratic primary, Steve Brown, a former legislative aide, defeated Dale Henry, and will advance to the general election ballot for November. Brown is the only major party candidate so far to suggest that the Railroad Commission should do more to limit the recent surge in earthquakes in Texas linked to oil and gas disposal wells.
Photo by Filipa Rodrigues/StateImpact Texas
Controllers make daily forecasts of the next day’s electric demand and supply down to every five minutes.
Texans have lived for years with a looming energy crisis. Experts always saw it on the horizon and warned, periodically, of its arrival. The state was growing, they observed, and the electricity supply was not keeping up. When the reckoning came, it would come in the form of rolling blackouts. Such predictions often yielded reporting like this (by yours truly).
Then, this month, things stopped looking so bad.
The news came as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) released its annual forecast of how much electricity Texas will have in the coming years. ERCOT has traditionally warned that, in the future, there may not be enough energy on reserve during times of peak use, like hot summer days. This year, the message was different.
“Our view is that the growth in peak hour demand on hot summer afternoons will not be as strong as we had forecasted in the past,” Warren Lasher, ERCOT director of System Planning, told reporters on a Friday press call.
What changed is not the just amount of energy available (that’s growing, but slowly), it’s the fact that Texans’ electricity use has stopped rising with Texas’ economic growth. What’s behind it? Continue Reading
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
A Cabot Oil and Gas natural gas drill is viewed at a hydraulic fracturing site on January 17, 2012 in Springville, Pennsylvania.
If you know what the water in your wells was like before drilling started on your land, you have a better understanding of whether drilling has changed the water. That’s the basic idea behind “baseline testing” of groundwater before drilling starts.
That’s also one reason why some states, like Wyoming, have enacted rules based on recommendations by the American Petroleum Institute to require baseline testing of water quality and nearby water wells before drilling operations begin at well sites.
Texas has no such requirements.
As part of our candidates questionnaire we asked all of the people running for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission – the agency that regulates the Texas oil and gas industry – whether they think Texas should enact such requirements. Six of the nine candidates responses are below, all of the candidates that responded are in favor of baseline testing. Republican candidates Malachi Boyuls, Wayne Christian and Ryan Sitton did not respond.
Photo by Dave Fehling/StateImpact Texas
Jefferson County Court at Law Judge Tom Rugg listens to arguments in the property rights case.
Eminent domain. It’s been a political hot potato at the Railroad Commission of Texas for years. As regulators of the state’s oil and gas industry, commissioners give pipeline companies the right to take private property for their projects. That pits one of Texas most important industries — oil and gas — against one of Texas’ most cherished political ideals — private property rights.
Under the current system, pipelines get the power to take property from an unwilling Texas landowner simply by checking a box and submitting a form to the commission. That form amounts to a promise that the pipeline will be a “common carrier,” that it will make itself available for hire to whoever wants to use it. But the commission does nothing to verify that the pipeline will act accordingly. Once it grants “common carrier” status to the pipeline, the company can go ahead and use eminent domain to take land for its project (after paying a price determined by the courts), whether the landowner likes it or not.
In a 2012 ruling, the Supreme Court of Texas said that system was not enough.
Photo by Mose Buchele
Charles Matthews served on the Railroad Commission of Texas from 1995 to 2005, including time as Chairman.
In an often-quoted scene from the 2007 movie There Will Be Blood, sociopathic oilman Daniel Plainview meets his rival for the last time. If oil fields are like milkshakes, he says, it pays to have a straw that reaches all the way across the room “and starts to drink your milkshake.”
“I. Drink. Your. Milkshake,” Plainview screams maniacally, “I DRINK IT UP!!!!”
This year, Texans will have the chance to vote for a seat on the Railroad Commission of Texas. But the commission has a lot more to do with milkshakes than railroads. It regulates oil and gas in Texas.
“The commission acts like a court,” Charles Matthews explains. Matthews served on the three-member commission from 1995 to 2005, before stepping down to become Chancellor of Texas State University.
That three-person “court” often decides on disputes between oil and gas drillers, to make sure nobody drinks anyone else’s milkshake.
Photo: OLIVER BERG DPA/LANDOV
Most candidates for Railroad Commission of Texas don't recognize the link between quakes and injection wells.
Scientists have known that man can create earthquakes by injecting fluids into the ground for decades. But if you listen to the people campaigning to regulate the Texas oil and gas industry, you may think the idea was in serious dispute.
Every Republican party candidate this primary season for the Railroad Commission denies that there is a link between injection wells used to pump oil and gas waste water underground and the surge in earthquakes that have struck Texas since the current oil and gas boom got underway. (The Railroad Commission of Texas has nothing to do with railroads; it’s the state’s oil and gas regulator.)
It’s a denial that has people living in quake-prone parts of the state deeply upset.
“Are they blind?!” Lynda Stokes, the mayor of the North Texas town of Reno, says. “Except for maybe one or two, every study says that they [quakes and injection wells] are linked. How can they say that there is no correlation?
Reno is at the epicenter of the most recent swarm of quakes. She calls herself a political independent.
Flaring at a well in Brazos County, Texas.
The fracking boom that has brought jobs and money to rural parts of South Texas has also brought potentially life-threatening air pollution. That’s according to a joint investigation out today from the Center for Public Integrity, the Weather Channel and Inside Climate News.
The report found that toxic chemicals like benzene and hydrogen sulfide are being emitted in increasing amounts in the Eagle Ford Shale area of South Texas.
“It’s as if you’d took a big oil refinery that you’d find in Houston and plopped it down in the middle of rural Karnes County, Texas,” Jim Morris, a reporter for the non-profit Center for Public Integrity, tells StateImpact Texas. The findings came from a review of state air pollution permits.
The investigation comes on the heels of an analysis, published recently in Science Magazine, that found that natural gas “production and processing” is emitting more methane than estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency. That has implications for global climate change, though the report found that methane leaks could potentially be fixed.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
ERCOT is asking Texans to conserve power until noon Friday.
Update: At some point Friday morning, the conservation alert was canceled. ERCOT says there have been localized outages, but they weren’t related to “overall grid conditions.”
Original story: The group that operates much of the Texas electric grid is calling on people to conserve energy. Electric use is getting close to setting a new winter record because of the cold weather, but that’s not the only reason grid operators are worried.
While summer is usually the time when supplies can be stretched thin in the state, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has already declared two energy emergency alerts already this winter. In those cases the cause wasn’t just electric demand, it was because power plants went offline when the grid needed them most. Cold weather can cause mechanical failures that shut plants down, and that’s one thing grid operators worry might happen again. Continue Reading
This mirror like pool of water was dry during the great Texas drought of 2011.
Formations like these tell the story of the earths climate history.