Mose Buchele


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.

Deepwater Horizon Oil May Sit On Ocean Floor, But How Did It Get There?

Eleven People Missing After Explosion At Offshore Drilling Rig

Photo by U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images

Ever since an explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore rig in 2010 released about five million of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, researchers have been trying to figure out where much of the oil ended up. A new study is offering some answers.

By tracing chemicals in undersea sediment, scientists have found what appears to be a layer of oil on the ocean floor concentrated within 25 miles of the busted well. They believe up to sixteen percent of all the crude released during the spill may be found in that footprint.

“We found a really high amount of this tracer called hopane in the top one centimeter, which is where you would expect it to be, in the sediment. There’s a very sharp footprint right near the Deepwater Horizon well that certainly points towards that as the source,” says Burch Fisher. He was one of the scientists who worked on the project at UC Santa Barbara and is now a researcher at UT’s Jackson School of Geosciences.

He says it’s a striking discovery because oil often floats on the ocean surface after a spill.

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Why Is the U.S. Still Importing So Much Oil?

Dr. Tad Patzek is the Chair of UT's Department of Petroleum & Geosystems Engineering .

Dr. Tad Patzek is the Chair of UT's Department of Petroleum & Geosystems Engineering .

Texas is leading the way in a massive boom in U.S. oil production: oil exports are higher than they’ve been since the 1950s, when the Suez Canal crisis caused a brief jump in shipments. Imports have dropped significantly, but even with that decline, Americans still import about a fourth of the oil they use. We called Tad Patzek, Chair of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department at at the University of Texas in Austin, to ask why.

Q: So why do we still import so much oil?

A: We have built a very large refining capacity especially on the Gulf Coast, and refineries cannot run at half time. They have to run full-time, at 100% capacity. So, we are importing oil, we are exporting oil, and we certainly are exporting finished products. You know, gasoline, lubricants and so on, so that the refineries are running all the time.

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Voters Cast Ballots in First-Ever Push to Ban Fracking in Texas

Cathy McMullen and Tom Giovanetti debate a proposal to ban fracking at a meeting of the County GOP Womens Club.

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.

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Will Low Oil Prices Rattle The Texas Economy?

The lead oil and gas regulator in Texas passed new rules for fracking and drilling wells today. (Photo of a Cabot natural gas drill at a fracking site in Pennsylvania.)

Photo by MIRA OBERMAN/AFP/Getty Images

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.

IFrame<--break->Dropping prices have already things shaken up in the business world. Mergers and acquisitions of oil companies are slowing because of the uncertainty.  Companies in the oil-rich city of Houston are expecting to take a financial hit, and Mexico’s massive oil-hedging program has been thrown into disarray.

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Rolling Blackouts Highlight Troubles With Electric Grid In Rio Grande Valley

A map of projects to increase transmission capacity in the Rio Grande Valley.

Courtesy of ERCOT

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.”

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State Lawmakers Consider the Impacts of EPA Regulations

A recent drop in carbon emissions in the U.S. could only be temporary, a new report warns.

Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

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.

Will Mexican Drilling Bring Texas Profit?

An exploratory well drills for oil in the Monterey Shale, California, April 29, 2013. Voters in Denton, Texas could decide whether or not to outlaw fracking within their city's limits through a ballot initiative.

Lucy Nicholson/ Reuters/ Landov

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.

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Fewer Atlantic Hurricanes Bode Well For An El Niño Winter

In this handout GOES satellite image provided by NASA, Hurricane Sandy, pictured at 1410 UTC, churns off the east coast on October 28, 2012 in the Atlantic Ocean.

Photo by NASA via Getty Images

Hurricane Sandy, pictured, churns off the east coast on October 28, 2012 in the Atlantic Ocean.

There’s a good chance of an El Niño weather pattern forming by the end of the year. That could be good for easing or even ending the Texas drought. But it’s not a sure thing.

For meteorologists to know El Niño has definitely arrived, warmer surface water in the Pacific needs to engage with the atmosphere. So far, that hasn’t happened.

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.

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What Does Fossil Fuel Divestment Mean For Texas?

Pushes to modernize the Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas drilling in Texas, are taking shape.

Photo by Mira Oberman/AFP/Getty Images

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?

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Eminent Domain Debate Goes To The Railroad Commission

Activists took to the trees to try to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline in East Texas.

Photo courtesy of Immigrant Workers Films

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.

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