Terrence Henry is the Austin-based online reporter for StateImpact Texas. He has worked as an editor, writer and web producer for The Washington Post and The Atlantic. He has a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Brigham Young University.
Texas is facing an invasion of feral hogs. Can an app help?
The SXSW Interactive conference, also known as the week that launches a thousand apps, begins today. Start-ups will be pitching their app as The One to Out-Social Them All, whether it’s an app that helps you avoid humans, or, in case you’ve encountered too many humans, an app that can help you get tested for STDs.
But an app with a special impact for Texans outside the throng of techies is being promoted today, too. It’s to help farmers, ranchers and landowners better deal with the epidemic of invasive feral hogs.
“Epidemic” isn’t overstating it. According to research by Texas A&M Agrilife, there are at least an estimated 2,6 million feral hogs in the Lone Star State, doing $52 million of damage every year. The hogs cause car accidents, destroy crops and land, and threaten waterways. And, like the many people moving here, they love Texas: almost 80 percent of the state is a suitable habitat for the hogs, according to Agrilife.
How did get rid of them? That’s where the 99-cent Texas A&M Feral Hog Management app comes in. It will give you a recipe for feral hog bait, or show you how to build a snare. Or if you really want to make the most out of your hog-killing experience, there’s even a section on “pork-chopping,” the expensive (and arguably ineffective) practice of hunting feral hogs by helicopter. Continue Reading →
Update: TxDOT told the Houston Chronicle Thursday that they’re redesigned the road they’re building in Snook to avoid cutting down the Live Oaks that are hundreds of years old. The 103-year old Live Oak in Austin known as the “Taco Bell Tree” is still days away from a deadline to be moved, however. The Austin Heritage Tree Foundation is raising money to move the tree, but still needs thousands of dollars. “We have high expectations and hopes we’ll meet that goal,” Michael Fossum with the foundation says.
Original story: More than a thousand people a day are moving to Texas, and they have needs: Homes. Water. And roads. It’s that last bit where a unique part of Texas history and beauty is under threat from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
“Four of 10 trees on land owned by Regina McCurdy’s family for almost 150 years – oak trees estimated to be 200 to 300 years old and rare for this flat patch of Texas – are about to be cut down because transportation officials say they need to build a bypass around Snook, population 511 as of the 2010 census. The town is a few miles southwest of College Station.”
A similar battle is taking place in Austin, where a 130-year old Heritage Live Oak, known to locals as the “Taco Bell Tree,” is weeks away from potentially being cut down by TxDOT to expand an intersection. The Austin Heritage Tree Foundation has until March 17 to begin moving the tree, but needs to raise thousands more dollars first. Continue Reading →
On the Democratic side, poll watchers were surprised to see Jim Hogan, a cattle rancher from Cleburne who raised zero dollars for the race and spent few more, in the lead with 39 percent (with 84 percent of precincts reporting). That’s despite having little to no profile in the race. (Many of the state’s Democratic heavyweights endorsed Hugh Fitzsimmons, who is placing a distant third.)
Hogan will likely face Richard “Kinky” Friedman, who’s running on a platform of hemp and pot legalization, and who state Democrats had actively tried to stop from winning. Friedman wasn’t far behind Hogan, getting 38 percent of the vote (with 84 percent of precincts reporting). We talked to Friedman about his plans to turn Texas “green” in February:
Tomorrow is primary day in Texas, and in the race for the open seat on the Railroad Commission, the state’s oil and gas regulator, you might be curious to know where exactly the candidates stand on the issues. Those issues include swarms of earthquakes linked to oil and gas drilling activity; property rights battles with pipeline companies; and potential ethics reforms for the commissioners.
In a series of articles last week, we rounded up the candidates positions on these and other issues. Six of the candidates for Railroad Commissioner responded to our questionnaire, but three of the candidates, Republicans Malachi Boyuls, Wayne Christian and Ryan Sitton did not respond.
Each question below links to the candidates’ answers:
Disposal wells like this one are the point where a small operation could turn out to be causing big tremors that can be felt miles away.
Texas has seen the number of recorded earthquakes increase tenfold since 2007, the same time a drilling boom spurred by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” took off. Scientific studies of those quakes has linked many of them to oil and gas drilling activity. In North and East Texas, peer-reviewed studies have pointed the finger at oil and gas wastewater disposal wells, where fluids from drilling are injected underground. The state oil and gas regulator has been slow to respond to the phenomenon, maintaining that links between the quakes and oil and gas activity are “hypothetical.”
But that’s beginning to change after residents of the towns of Azle and Reno in North Texas got vocal about the earthquakes in their region. It’s seen over 30 earthquakes since the beginning of November, and in response, the Railroad Commission has announced it’s hiring a seismologist to study the issue. A committee of lawmakers will be doing so as well. Other states have been more active in their approach to the issue, however.
In our third installment of questions for the candidates for Railroad Commissioner, we asked each of them where they stand on the science and potential solutions to the tremors. We reached out to candidates from all parties, but three of the Republican candidates did not participate. (Again, Malachi Boyuls, Wayne Christian and Ryan Sitton — we’d still like to hear back from you.)
The six candidates that did respond had varying answers and views on the quakes and regulating disposal wells: Continue Reading →
Millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry go into the campaign coffers of those elected to regulate the industry.
Most Candidates for Texas’ Oil and Gas Regulator Want Changes
Take a peek a little ways down your ballot in the primaries this year and you’ll see the race for a spot on the Railroad Commission, the state’s powerful oil and gas regulator. We’ve been working to get the candidates to “eat their vegetables” when it comes to the policy issues at stake, asking each to answer a questionnaire on issues ranging from manmade earthquakes to eminent domain.
Each day this week we’ll be posting their answers — well, at least from six of them. Out of the four Republican candidates in the race, only one — Becky Berger — responded to the questionnaire. (To the campaigns of Malachi Boyuls, Wayne Christian and Ryan Sitton — we’re still hoping to hear back from you.)
Today’s questions deal with ethical and campaign finance reforms for the commission. The three Railroad commissioners get most of their campaign funds from the very industry they regulate. One of the candidates this race, Republican Ryan Sitton, has even said that he plans to keep working at his oil and gas consulting firm if elected to the commission.
Should lines be drawn? Should commissioners refuse campaign contributions from companies with cases before the commission? If elected, will they serve their full six-year term before running for another office? Those questions and more were put to all of the candidates. They’re based on reforms that the Texas legislature failed to pass during the last session under pressure from current Railroad Commissioners.
We here at StateImpact Texas were curious what the Republican candidates had to say about the real policy issues facing the commission, as well as the candidates from other parties. So we put together a questionnaire that did just that, and every candidate save one, Republican Ryan Sitton, agreed to participate. (Despite requests to Sitton’s campaign and to a consulting firm he hired, we have not received any direct response.) The powerful commission is the only state regulatory body run by elected leaders; all other major state regulators are run by gubernatorial appointees.
But if you’re hoping to hear what most of the Republican candidates have to say about manmade earthquakes linked to drilling activity, the use of eminent domain for routing private oil and gas pipelines, or ethics reforms, you may be disappointed. While all of the Democratic, Libertarian and Green candidates responded to the questionnaire as promised, only one Republican candidate, Becky Berger, did so. The campaigns of Republicans Wayne Christian and Malachi Boyuls both agreed to answer the questionnaire, but despite being giving an extra week to do so (and follow-up emails and phone calls), they have not yet turned in their responses.
The drought has affected Texans across the state. Haskell Simon, a rice farmer in Bay City, could go without water a third year in a row.
Update: State administrative law judges recommended today a higher trigger point for cutting off water from the Highland Lakes for rice farmers this year, saying “emergency conditions exist which present an imminent threat to the public health and safety.” If adopted, these recommendations would mean there is almost no chance of most rice farmers downstream on the Lower Colorado of getting water for irrigation. This would be the third year in a row of water cutoffs for the rice farmers. Under the proposed cutoff, unless the lakes are nearly 70 percent full, water will not be sent downstream for most farmers. The lakes are currently 38 percent full.
Original Story, Feb. 13: There’s less and less water in the Highland Lakes of Central Texas these days, and the fight over who gets what’s left has laid bare the ugly politics of drought. With each passing day, it seems the comity and compassion between groups competing for the water drops in step with the falling lake levels. Now those interests will need to wait longer before regulators make a decision on giving water to farmers this year.
The story comes from the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Gilbert, who learned that Tillerson has joined his neighbors in Bartonville (a Dallas suburb) in a suit against a water tower that would be used in part for fracking and drilling operations. Tillerson (along with former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey) is actually showing up in person at town hall meetings to protest the tower. “He and his neighbors had filed suit to block the tower, saying it is illegal and would create ‘a noise nuisance and traffic hazards,’ in part because it would provide water for use in hydraulic fracturing,” Gilbert reports.
“Texas’ air monitoring system is so flawed that the state knows almost nothing about the extent of the pollution in the Eagle Ford. Only five permanent air monitors are installed in the 20,000-square-mile region, and all are at the fringes of the shale play, far from the heavy drilling areas where emissions are highest.”
“Thousands of oil and gas facilities, including six of the nine production sites near the Buehrings’ house, are allowed to self-audit their emissions without reporting them to the state. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which regulates most air emissions, doesn’t even know some of these facilities exist. An internal agency document acknowledges that the rule allowing this practice “[c]annot be proven to be protective.” Continue Reading →
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