Terrence Henry

Reporter

Terrence Henry reports on energy and the environment for StateImpact Texas. His radio, print and television work has appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, NPR, The Texas Tribune, The History Channel and other outlets. He has previously worked at The Washington Post and The Atlantic. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations from Brigham Young University.

El Niño a Drought-Buster for Texas? Not So Fast, Forecaster Says

Don't expect much rain this summer in Texas.

ERCOT

Don't expect a lot of rain this summer in much of Texas. And beyond that, if an El Nino comes in the fall, it might not be the savior we expect.

Everyone’s waiting on El Niño, the “little boy” or “Christ Child” (since it usually shows up in the winter). This weather pattern that forms in the Pacific could end up redeeming Texas and other parts of the southwest in the form of above-average rain.

All signs point to one reappearing this fall, and typically El Niño means more rain for Texas. (Its sibling, La Niña, usually means drier-than-normal weather, a big factor in the last few years of extreme drought in the state.)

But one forecaster is saying El Niño may not be the blessing we anticipate it to be for Texas. Chris Coleman, meteorologist at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (aka ERCOT, which manages the power grid that supplies much of the state), has put together a temperature and rainfall forecast for this summer and beyond. In it, Coleman notes that El Niños have mixed results in Texas.

“In fact, of the past six [El Niños], only one brought above-normal rainfall to the majority of the state,” Coleman writes in the forecast. “Some El Niño events have been dry.” That’s been the case in two of the past six El Niño events in Texas, where conditions were “predominantly dry,” including the monster El Niño of 1997-1998, Coleman said during a recent press call.

What’s worse, if we do get an El Niño this fall, it could bring something else along with it: hotter-than-normal temperatures. Continue Reading

OTC Offshore Conference Ain’t Just About Oil and Gas

Next week's OTC conference will have a full session on offshore wind and wave energy. Pictured here: the Fukushima Offshore Wind Farm off the coast of Japan.

Kyodo /Landov

Next week's OTC conference will have a full session on offshore wind and wave energy. Pictured here: the Fukushima Offshore Wind Farm off the coast of Japan.

Tens of thousands of folks from the offshore drilling industry will gather in Houston starting Monday for the massive, week-long Offshore Technology Conference, aka OTC. Since 1969, the conference has been a hotspot for offshore oil and gas technology. Think of it as SXSW for offshore drilling.

But it’s not all fossil fuels grabbing attention. A full technical program at the conference Thursday will look at ‘Offshore Wind and Wave Energy,’ with a keynote by Greg Matzat, Senior Advisor for Offshore Wind Technologies at U.S. Department of Energy.

“It’s a component of energy resources that are going to be developed offshore, so it’s a natural fit for our program,” says Stephen Graham, executive director of the conference.

It’s not the first time offshore wind and wave energy have been explored at the conference, Graham notes. But there’s new support in Texas for researching offshore wind’s potential, including millions of dollars for research from the state and federal governments.

Another topic on tap next week will feature experts from Japan talking about their work producing natural gas from methane hydrates, which are trapped in ice deep below the ocean floor. There are potentially massive deposits of natural gas that could be produced if harvesting methane hydrates proves viable, including in the Gulf of Mexico.

You can read more about the conference at OTC.

Meet the Evangelical Scientist Who Believes in Climate Change

Texas Tech climatologist Katherine Hayhoe was recently selected as one of Time Magazine's '100 Most Influential People.'

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech climatologist Katharine Hayhoe was recently selected as one of Time Magazine's '100 Most Influential People.'

Yes, you can believe in both God and climate change. Just ask Katharine Hayhoe, Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech, who is well known for her work on the impacts of climate change. She’s also an evangelical Christian, and has become a vocal proponent for doing more to bridge the divide between faith and science.

Hayhoe was recently selected as one of Time Magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People.’

After receiving the honor, she spoke with KUT’s David Brown, host of the forthcoming daily news show, Texas Standard. Hayhoe learned of her selection via email. “I actually thought the email was spam at first,” Hayhoe tells Brown.

Take a listen to Hayhoe explain how she thinks accepting and acting on the science of climate change is a responsibility for Christians:

Citing ‘Mismanagement,’ Lawmaker Threatens Massive Overhaul of LCRA

Receding waters have ravaged communities in the Highland Lakes.

Photo by Jeff Heimsath for StateImpact Texas

Receding waters have ravaged communities in the Highland Lakes.

It’s almost strange to refer to the Highland Lakes of Central Texas as “lakes.” They’re sitting at just over a third full, and Lake Travis looks more like a river with plenty of bare, scraggly shoreline. The lake system is the crucial water supply for the million-plus people in and around Austin, and they could reach their lowest levels ever this summer.

While the drought is one of the reasons the Highland Lakes are in dire straits, they would be about double their size today if massive amounts of water hadn’t been sent downstream to rice farmers in 2011. It was enough water from the lakes to supply the City of Austin’s share for three years. And the decision to release that water – by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) – is coming under renewed criticism from Republican state Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horsehoe Bay), chairman of the powerful Senate Natural Resources Committee. He’s threatening to try and have the LCRA’s permit revoked.

Fraser says that decision three years ago to release water to rice farmers is just one of several mistakes made by the LCRA during the drought, but it might be the costliest. “Because they mismanaged the lakes, they’ve now caused [for] themselves a financial crisis,” Fraser says. Continue Reading

Investigation: Disaster at West Fertilizer Plant Was ‘Preventable’

A chemical trailer sits among the remains of the burning fertilizer plant in April 2013.

Photo by REUTERS /MIKE STONE /LANDOV

A chemical trailer sits among the remains of the burning fertilizer plant in April 2013.

Federal Agency Says ‘It Should Never Have Occurred’  

A year after a deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas, a federal agency is releasing a report saying the disaster was preventable.

The Chemical Safety Board, which investigates chemical accidents and issues recommendations to ensure public safety, is presenting its preliminary findings tonight in the town of West, Texas, where the fire and subsequent explosion last year took 15 lives, injured hundreds, and destroyed homes and schools.

“It should never have occurred,” Dr. Rafael Moure-Eraso, the head of the agency, says in a statement. “It resulted from the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it.” Continue Reading

What’s Been Done to Prevent Another West?

Memorials near the site of the explosion in the town of West, Texas.

Terrence Henry/StateImpact Texas

Memorials near the site of the explosion in the town of West, Texas.

State Lawmaker Leading Review Says Nothing’s Changed

WEST, TX – Trucks and bulldozers are still working here, the site of an explosion a year ago today. A deadly blast tore through this small community, killing fifteen and injuring hundreds. Homes and schools were destroyed, with the damage estimated to be over a hundred million dollars. There’s a lone charred tree that still stands at the location of the blast, but other than that, the site is mostly empty. Crosses and memorials that read “West Strong” and “West is the Best” line the road.

The explosion at the West fertilizer plant was one of the worst industrial disasters in Texas history. So what’s Texas doing to prevent it from happening again?

“Well, technically, nothing has been done,” says state Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso), chair of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. Pickett says since West happened near the end of the legislative session, he didn’t want to rush in any “knee-jerk” rules or regulations.

The state is making an effort to get more timely and accurate information from fertilizer facilities in Texas about how much ammonium nitrate they have. That chemical was the culprit in the blast (investigators are still trying to determine what caused the small fire that ignited the ammonium nitrate). Ammonium nitrate was also behind the Texas City disaster of 1947 that killed hundreds, and the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 that killed 168.

“We’re slow learners, I guess,” says Tommy Muska, mayor of West. “History shows us ammonium nitrate is a dangerous product.”  Continue Reading

Texas Still Considering Solutions to Prevent Another West

Crews are still working to clear the site of the explosion in West, Texas.

Terrence Henry/StateImpact Texas

Crews are still working to clear the site of the explosion in West, Texas.

This week marks a year since a fertilizer plant exploded in the small Texas town of West, killing fifteen, injuring over a hundred, and destroying homes and local schools. Today, a meeting at the state legislature made it clear that lawmakers aren’t in any hurry to use regulation to guard against something like West from happening again.

The House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee met for the first time since August to look into the industrial disaster. The State Fire Marshal told the committee that his office is still not sure what sparked the fire. It could have been electrical, or a malfunctioning golf cart battery, or it could have been started on purpose. But without question, the cause of the destructive blast was ammonium nitrate. The fertilizer had been legally stored in a wooden building with no sprinkler system.

What new rules and regulations should be considered to prevent another West? Two clear solutions emerged at the hearing: stricter standards for storing ammonium nitrate, and more training and coordination for local officials and first responders.

Continue Reading

This is What the Oil Spill Looks Like on Matagorda Island

Weeks after a large oil spill in Galveston Bay, it’s still having an impact on sensitive wildlife habitats along the Texas Gulf Coast. On Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took reporters to see the impacts on Matagorda Island, an important wildlife refuge for migratory birds and several endangered species. Workers are now busy cleaning up tons of oil from the Island’s beaches.

Mose Buchele took the photos above of the spill’s impact on Matagorda Island. Check back tomorrow for his story on how the cleanup effort istelf could disturb the delicate ecosystem and endangered wildlife of the Gulf Coast.

Let’s Talk About ‘The Boom’

New Book Looks at How Fracking Changed Everything

Russell Gold, author of a new book on fracking, says that this drilling revolution is "transforming the United States."

Joel Salcido

Russell Gold, author of a new book on fracking, says that this drilling revolution is "transforming the United States."

THE-BOOM-684x1024If you ever talk about the surge in oil and gas drilling in Texas and the rest of the country by calling it a “boom,” you might upset someone in the oil and gas industry. That’s because if you call it a “boom,” that means at some point there’s going to be a “bust.”

So Wall Street Journal energy reporter Russell Gold may furrow a few brows in the industry with his new book, ‘The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World.’

“This revolution is transforming the United States,” Gold writes. “To a remarkable extent, this once-obscure oil-field technique defines the nation’s economic and environmental future.” A hundred new wells are drilled and fracked every day, he writes.

Gold sat down with David Brown of KUT’s Texas Standard to talk about why this boom is different, and some lessons for the oil and gas industry going forward. Take a listen:

‘The Boom’ hits bookshelves (both virtual and real) this week.

Giddy Up! Now You Can Buy Your Very Own Oil Well

A jointly-owned oil rig atop the Eagle Ford shale south of San Antonio.

Larissa Liska

A jointly-owned oil rig atop the Eagle Ford shale south of San Antonio.

But That Could Spell Trouble for Texas’ Drilling Boom

From the first geyser to burst from the salt domes of Spindletop to the Texas fracking pioneer George Mitchell, who helped unlock massive oil and gas deposits in shale, the Lone Star State has always been willing to gamble on drilling. And the bets are big. The latest boom has been mostly the work of companies and investors with access to plenty of capital — it’s estimated each oil well in the Eagle Ford shale of South Texas costs between $5 and $10 million to drill.

Now, with a minimum investment of $80,000, one Texas company is offering you your very own oil well. Oil Boom USA, a subsidiary of Texas oil and gas company Nakoma Petroleum, is inviting investors into the oil well game. Why? Because it’s an “unequaled tax shelter” and “exciting and fun,” according to the company’s website.

But opening up drilling to more than just oil and gas companies could signal trouble for the industry. As Michael Webber, Deputy Director at the University of Texas’s Energy Institute, explains to KUT’s Texas Standard host David Brown, oil well investing is “pretty good on the way up, but it could be pretty bad on the way down.” Continue Reading

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