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.
A dozen smaller earthquakes have struck Dallas this week.
There have been earthquakes in almost every corner of Texas since the start of the state’s most recent oil and gas boom. One “swarm” that really captured people’s attention started in the town of Azle in 2013. When oil and gas regulators at the Railroad Commission of Texas visited the town, local people suggested ways to handle the waste water disposal wells thought to be causing the quakes. One idea came up over and over again.
“Why is it we can’t shut the wells down around here for a period of time?” asked resident Gale Wood. “If nothing happens after a while, that would be one way to determine what’s going on.”
The Railroad Commission has a different approach. In the case of Azle, it waited over a year while a team of seismologists at Southern Methodist University undertook a study. The results came back this month, confirming that disposal wells likely caused the quakes. That has some residents in Texas’ quake country hoping the simple notion put forth at that public meeting -shut down disposal wells if there’s a chance they’re related to earthquakes- may get another hearing.
One week remains for the public to comment on an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to reduce smog in one of Texas most beloved national parks. The EPA’s plan to limit so-called ‘regional haze’ is one of a slew of new air quality rules that have critics accusing the EPA of waging a ‘war on coal.’ But the reality of environmental policy-making, and the years of lawsuits that it often entails, is more complicated than the rhetoric.
To see how, look no farther than the hazy skies over Far West Texas.
“Big Bend National Park and Big Bend State Park. They are beautiful,” says Mary Ann Melton of the region. She’s a photographer who’s been visiting there since the 1970s.
“You can see 100 miles on a clear day. You’re looking over the valley, you’re about 1800 feet high off the floor of the river, and you can see far into Mexico and mountain ranges far into Mexico.”
Does your car look like this? Many do during springtime in Texas.
Every spring clouds of green pollen descend on Austin, bringing misery to allergy-suffering public radio reporters like me and frustrating drivers like DeAunderia Bowens.
“You know I just got my car washed and literally got up the next morning and my car was covered with this green stuff!” she said on her way to work. “If I had a green car it would be alright, but clearly not working on a grey vehicle.”
This time of year the stuff is oak pollen, but why does its get everywhere? The answer might make you look at trees a little differently.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.