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.
An exploratory oil well in California. Oil companies base their decisions to drill around the "benchmark price" of crude oil.
If you’ve followed the drop in oil prices over the last few months you might have noticed the words “Brent” and “WTI” being thrown around without much explanation. The price of these benchmark crude oils influences everything from how big oil companies invest in drilling, to the amount you pay to fill up your car. So what exactly are they?
The first thing to remember is that the crude oil we refine into gasoline comes in a lot of different varieties from all over the world. They have different names and some of them, like Tia Juana Light sound more like a refreshing beverage than an oil.
To make buying and selling all these different crudes simpler. People in the industry use benchmark oil prices. Brent crude, and West Texas Intermediate (or WTI) are the two big ones.
“So somebody will write a contract that says, I will sell you Crude X from the gulf of Mexico at WTI plus a dollar,” says Tim Hess, lead analyst for the US Energy Information Administration’s short term energy outlook.
He says WTI is the price marker for American crudes, “particularly on the Gulf Coast where the petroleum industry is centered.”
A current earthquake hazard map on the USGS website.
A seismic hazard map is essentially what it sounds like – a map that shows the potential for earthquakes in certain areas. The maps give people a sense of the likelihood of earthquakes occurring, where they might occur, and how strong they might be. The maps can influence everything from public policy to building codes to insurance rates.
“They govern hundreds of billions of dollars in constructions and insurance cost every year,” says Mark Peterson, project chief of the USGS’s National Seismic Hazard Mapping project.
So it’s worth noting that the USGS plans to update the maps for Texas (and other parts of the country) to account for an increase in man-made earthquakes.
A dozen smaller earthquakes have struck Dallas this week.
Tremors on the Rise Across Texas
People in Dallas were surprised by a swarm of small earthquakes that started shaking the city a couple of days ago. There have been a dozen by the latest count. And the quakes, though new to the Dallas area, are just the most recent in a major upsurge in earthquakes in Texas over the last few years.
Earthquakes were pretty much unheard of in the Dallas area until 2008. Since then there have been a lot of these swarms of quakes. In Irving, Texas, where this new cluster is located, there have been more than 50 in the last several years, according to the city manager. This current swarm started around September.
This map from the USGS shows the approximate location of a recent quake near Irving, Texas.
Updated 1/6/14 with more comment from Railroad Commission and information on Tuesday January 6th earthquake.
A team of seismologists headed to the North Texas town of Irving Monday. Like some other Texas towns, Irving has experienced scores of small earthquakes lately, 20 since last September, including a magnitude 3.5 quake that struck on January 6th. And the city is hoping to figure out what’s behind the shaking.
The upsurge in quakes started in Texas around the time the oil and gas boom took hold several years ago. Residents in many parts of the state blame the them on wastewater disposal wells, where fluid byproducts of oil and gas drilling are pumped deep into the ground. Scientists have shown how injecting fluid into the ground can cause earthquakes.
After a spate of quakes in the North Texas town of Azle, the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state’s oil and gas regulator, hired a seismologist, Dr. David Craig Pearson, and passed new regulations for disposal wells. The Commission says it is not investigating the Irving quakes.
“The Railroad Commission is not investigating seismic activity around Irving,” Ramona Nye, a spokesperson for the Commission wrote in an email to StateImpact Texas. “Specifically, there are no disposal wells in Dallas County, and there is only one natural gas well in the vicinity, and it is an inactive well.”
An image of Sir Walter Raleigh from '"A Child's History of England."
Every year humans pump tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide, or CO2, into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. That CO2 traps heat into the atmosphere, causing climate change. Whenever governments talk about fighting climate change, limiting carbon emissions what they are talking about.
But how do we keep track of the CO2 we’re releasing? And just how do we weigh something that floats in the first place?
It turns out there is a venerable history to the science of weighing smoke. In 16th century England Queen Elizabeth made a bet over the weight of smoke with famed explorer Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh is known for popularizing tobacco at the royal court. One day, so the story goes, he told the queen he could weigh the smoke that came from his pipe.
El Nino heats up parts of the ocean, and begins a pattern that can bring rain to North America.
The Climate Prediction Center is out with an update on El Nino. The weather pattern is often associated with heavy rains, so watching for its arrival has become something of an obsession in drought-stricken parts of the country like Texas.
In October, the center was giving odds that the pattern would form before the end of the year. That hasn’t happened yet. The reason is that warmer than average temperatures in parts of the Pacific Ocean have not heated up atmospheric temperatures as they’re expected to do.
On Thursday, the weather service said El Nino was still likely to appear, but might come later than previously thought. Researchers now give a 65 percent chance of El Nino forming some time this winter, but not necessarily by the end of the year.
Forecasters are also predicting that the El Nino will not have a particularly strong impact on the weather.
Todd Caldwell works on a soil moisture monitoring station in Central Texas.
Stanley Rabke’s family has lived and worked on their Hill Country ranch since 1889. Generations of Rabkes have struggled with the extremes of Texas weather, but one storm sticks out in Stanley’s memory: it came after the drought of the 1950s.
“It rained and rained and rained,” he says. “Back then we raised turkeys, we lost thousands of turkeys that washed away in the creek.”
The disaster underscores an irony of life in Texas. “You hope and pray that you’re going to get a good rain, [but] on the other side of it, you hope you don’t get a flood,” says Rabke.
A quick walk from where the turkeys met their fate, some new technology that will help manage that risk is being installed — soil monitoring sensors in the ground.
The Keystone XL pipeline under construction in East Texas in the Spring of 2013.
Congress’ attempts to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline have re-ignited debate over the project, which would allow more crude oil to flow from the tar sands of Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast. It’s also re-ignited debate over what could happen to that oil once it gets to Texas.
President Obama and opponents of the pipeline say it will be used as a funnel to export Canadian crude to international markets. TransCanada, the company building the pipeline, has been unequivocal when asked about that.
“It makes no sense to see anything getting shipped offshore,” CEO Russ Girling said about a year ago when the southern leg of the pipeline opened in Texas. “And those that continue to make those kind of comments, there’s no factual underpinning, no evidence, no basis for those kind of claims.”
The report says electricity bills could rise as much as 20 percent because of the carbon reduction goals, adding that the goals could also endanger electric reliability. Part of that is due to the way the plan would change Texas’ energy mix.
“What we found is that the likely impact of the clean power plan is going to be the retirement of a significant portion of the coal-fired capacity in ERCOT,” says ERCOT Director of System Planning Warren Lasher.
The goal of the EPA’s clean energy plan is to reduce Texas carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Continue Reading →
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