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.
An aging tractor shares land with a oil drilling rig at a farm above the Niobrara oil shale formation in Weld County, Northeastern Colorado on May 30, 2012.
The latest University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll finds that a plurality of Americans oppose exporting natural gas; a majority say climate change is occurring; and in general are more concerned about the prices of gasoline and electricity than they are about carbon emissions.
The semi-annual poll, conducted online, asks a representative group of 2,000 Americans (based on Census data) how they think and feel about the energy issues of our time. This is the fourth wave of the poll, which began in 2011. Sheril Kirshenbaum, the poll’s director, says that political leanings seem to influence how Americans see energy. “There seem to be very strong differences between Democrats and Republicans,” Kirshenbaum says. “It’s coming to the point where if I know what your party affiliation is, I can usually guess where you fall on a lot of these topics.”
Democrats in the poll, for instance, tend to trust the scientific community when it comes to topics like hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” while Republicans are less likely to believe the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring.
Among the findings:
73 percent said global climate change is occurring, while only 16 percent said it isn’t. That number has held steady since the last poll, which came as a bit of a surprise to Kirshenbaum. “Normally, after the winter, whenever there’s snow around the country, we expect those numbers to go down a bit.” Continue Reading →
Carbon emissisions from power generation are down in the U.S., to their lowest levels in nearly twenty years, and Texas is partly to thank.
A new analysis from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that “energy-related” carbon emissions have been declining every year (with the exception of 2010) since 2007. That’s when the drilling processes known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and horizontal drilling started opening up large domestic sources of natural gas and oil. Texas was the incubator for that technology, and home to the first natural gas-from-fracking boom in the Barnett Shale.
As the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has rapidly spread across Texas, so has the demand for disposal wells, where wastewater from oil and gas drilling is sent deep underground. In this new interactive map from Ryan Murphy of the Texas Tribune, you can see where more than 7,000 disposal wells are in Texas.
The wastewater from drilling consists of both the fluid used in fracking, as well as water that has been waiting underground with the oil and gas. It’s cheapest for drillers to use disposal wells to get rid of it, but Texas regulators are trying to encourage more recycling of wastewater. The wells have resulted in more truck traffic and some incidents of spills and contamination, and the amount of wastewater being disposed has risen dramatically, to nearly 3.5 billion barrels in 2011 from 46 million barrels in 2005.
GONZALES, Tex. — In a dusty lot off the main highway in this South Texas town, Vern Sartin pointed to a collection of hose hookups and large storage tanks used for collecting wastewater from hydraulic fracturing jobs.
“We run about 30 to 40 trucks a day, 24-7,” Sartin said. “Depending on how the oil fracking is going out there, if they’re hustling and bustling, then we’re hustling and bustling.”
Sartin is a watchman at a disposal well operated by Gulf Coast Acquisitions, where each day oil and gas companies dispose of wastewater by pumping it deep underground.
Wastewater disposal wells like this one are becoming a common landmark in the drilling regions of Texas as the water-intensive practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, continues to spread. In the fracking process, several million gallons of water, combined with sand and chemicals, are sent down a well to break up rock and retrieve oil and gas. Some of the fluid comes back up, along with additional underground water.
Photo Illustration by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
A bill to provide major funding for new water projects in Texas was passed by the House today.
The Texas House approved legislation today that would use $2 billion to fund more water projects in the state. HB 4, by Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, would create a water bank that would offer loans for projects like new water reservoirs, pipelines and conservation projects.
“As Mother Nature has reminded us in the last couple of years, we can’t change the weather,” Ritter said at the outset of the hearing, “but with sound science and far-sighted planning, we can conserve and develop supply to meet our future demands.”
The floor hearing was a significant step for the passage of the bill, but despite widespread support at the Capitol, it wasn’t a sure bet. During more than four hours of debate on the bill, it faced sustained opposition from a few lawmakers, some of them affiliated with the Tea Party, whose amendments would’ve effectively gutted the funds. They were ultimately thwarted by other Republicans.
While the boom in South Texas has brought a time of economic plenty, it's putting a hurt on roads.
You don’t have to go far from Greg Sengelmann’s office in the center of Gonzales to see something’s different about South Texas these days. “That’s the city’s RV park that we put in, to house all the [oilfield] workers out there,” he says, pointing to dozens of motorhomes parked on a grass hill outside the J.B. Wells Arena (also home to youth rodeos and vintage airstream rallies). “You’ll see probably ten other ones throughout the county.”
Sengelmann is the General Manager for the Gonzales County Underground Water Conservation, tasked with managing and protecting the area’s groundwater. As drilling rapidly expands in the Eagle Ford Shale and other parts of Texas thanks to the spread of hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”) and horizontal drilling, it’s changing small towns and communities.
“I think it’s a net positive,” says Sengelmann. “I think people are mainly happy about it. Because it’s bringing in a lot of money and new activity.”
The questions are whether those changes are all for the better, and how long the money and activity will last.
A rancher in South Texas burns cactus to feed cattle.
New numbers out this week show an increasing percentage of Texas facing drought conditions, according to the US Drought Monitor Map. More than 96 percent of the state is classified as at least “abnormally dry.” That’s an 8 percent increase in the past week.
State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon warned on his blog earlier this week that Texas reservoir levels are back to where they where in August 2011, near the peak of the drought. “If the drought continues as I have depicted it, [by] the end of the summer it will be the second-worst drought on record, behind only the drought of the 1950s,” Nielsen-Gammon writes.
In a series of disturbing charts, Nielsen-Gammon shows that precipitation trends for the current water year (which began in October) are much closer to the extreme drought of 2011 than a normal year, and predicts reservoir levels in the state will drop below 50 percent in September. The Texas Water Development Board shows reservoir levels in Texas currently at just over 66 percent.
If the drought does continue, cattle ranchers are in for a summer similar to that of 2011, when they suffered over $3 billion in losses. Some South Texas farmers have already had to resort to an emergency method of feeding their cattle, and it’s not cheap.
Original Story, March 5, 2013: Texas is in a third year of drought, with 89 percent of the state in some level of drought conditions according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor Map. In Texas, landscaping can make up about 30 percent of residential water use, and that goes up during dry times like these. While many Texans are cutting back on their water use by switching to drought-friendly landscaping, some may find an obstacle in their way: Homeowners Associations (HOAs). A new bill in the state legislature would change that.
“It’s about personal property rights,” Watson testified this morning as he presented his bill to the State Senate Natural Resources Committee. “It’s about allowing Texans to protect themselves from drought and manage their water bills.” Continue Reading →
While American homes have grown larger and larger over the years on average, a small group has decided to buck that trend to live tiny. Really small. As in, under 200 square feet small. A new film, ‘TINY,’ which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin last week, takes a look inside this movement while chronicling the story of one man’s adventure building his own diminutive home.
With a lot of elbow grease and some instructional help from YouTube (along with some funding from Kickstarter), filmmaker Christopher Smith set out in the spring of 2011 to build his own tiny, 124 square foot house for a plot of isolated land in Colorado. While he originally budgeted three months for the build, it ended up taking him a year.
The advantages to such a tiny home? Adherents in the documentary say they can live nearly debt-free (the director estimates his own tiny house cost him $26,000), along with low power bills and taxes. They say they’re doing it more for peace of mind and money as opposed to environmental reasons.
For one of the leaders of the tiny house movement, it’s more of a philosophy than a strict code. Continue Reading →
Photo Illustration by Miguel Villagran/Getty Images
A new EPA report says that fuel efficiency is the highest its ever been, while vehicle emissions are down.
A new report says you’re likely to be feeling less pain at the pump than in years past – and not just because gas prices are down a bit this week. Cars and trucks are getting better mileage than ever, and the air is cleaner as a result.
The new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report says that greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks are at their lowest levels in decades. Fuel economy, meanwhile, is the highest it’s ever been. The report says that in just the last five years, fuel economy went up sixteen percent. The average fuel economy these days is now 23 miles per gallon, and that’s expected to double under new federal standards by 2025. The EPA says all the advances in fuel efficiency will save the equivalent of twelve billion barrels of oil in that time frame.
What’s behind the change? The report credits a transition to fuel injection from carburetors, and even more recent advances in fuel injection technology. That’s in addition to slightly larger market for hybrid and diesel vehicles, and better mileage options overall. “There are almost 3 times more SUVs with combined labels of 25 mpg or more and 6 times more cars with ratings of 30 mpg or more,” the report says.