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.
Oil boom barriers that were expected to stop the spread of oil lie washed up on the beach after heavy swells and winds hit the coast of Louisiana on April 30, 2010.
If $5 million falls into Texas’ lap in the wake of a massive oil spill, does it make a sound? That question was on the minds of lawmakers at the Capitol this week as they held a hearing to look into how the state will manage funds from the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst accidental oil spill in history.
Turns out that a few months after the spill, in September 2010, BP gave $5 million to Texas Governor Rick Perry’s office to cover damage from the spill. State lawmakers say they didn’t know about it until this week, and none of the money has been spent. In fact, the state’s made a cool $20,000 in interest while sitting on the funds.
Last year, Perry allocated $1 million of the money to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). ”It was a gift given to the state of Texas by BP to the Governor’s office after the spill,” TCEQ commissioner Toby Baker told lawmakers.
An old radio lies in the mud exposed after the water has gone at Lake Arrowhead State Park near Wichita Falls, Texas, in September 2013
Conditions ‘Remain Dire,’ Outlook Says
The drought that began in October 2010 has been the driest such period in over a century for much of West Texas, putting it on par with the drought of record in the 1950s. That’s according to a new outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and it could get worse before it gets better.
While the drought over the last four years has caused billions in agricultural losses and strained the water supplies of smaller communities (some of them even running out), it is only now that the situation is getting to a similar point for some larger towns and cities. The city of Wichita Falls, in North Texas, will enter ‘catastrophic’ Stage 5 water restrictions tomorrow, their highest level. That will ban all outdoor watering or irrigation of golf courses from city water; car washes will be restricted to operating five days a week and only at certain times to reduce evaporation. The combined level of the city’s reservoirs has fallen below 25 percent.
The city is weeks away from the deployment of a temporary direct wastewater recycling program, the first of its kind in the country, that could keep supplies more stable as summer approaches. It would provide 5 million gallons of water a day to Wichita Falls, or about one-third of the city’s daily demand. A longer-term indirect reuse program is in the works which will provide up to three times that amount, nearly all the water the city needs each day, but it will take years to permit and build.
Starting this week, if you buy or lease a plug-in vehicle in Texas, you’ll finally be able to apply for a rebate from the state of Texas. Thanks to a bill passed by the state legislature last session, most plug-in cars (like the Chevy Volt, BMW i3 or Nissan Leaf), as well as those that run on natural gas, can have $2,500 knocked off the price with the state incentive, which will be run by the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Additional federal incentives drop the price another $2,500 to $7,500, depending on the size of the battery. Choose the right plug-in, and you could knock ten grand off the price.
But there’s one big exception to the rebates. (Hint: it rhymes with “Cessna.”)
Tesla, the shining star in the electric car firmament, which also happens to be shopping around for a Sunbelt state to build a five-billion dollar battery factory, is legally not allowed to sell cars in Texas, which means they aren’t eligible for the state rebate. You can’t even test-drive a Tesla at a Texas dealership. In fact, there are no Tesla dealerships in Texas, only “showrooms,” which allow you to take a peek at the company’s Model S, but that’s about it. Staff there can’t even tell you the price of the car.
That’s all because of dealer franchise laws, and they’re not unique to Texas. These laws protect franchise dealers by forbidding auto manufacturers from selling cars directly to consumers. (This is why you can’t custom build and directly order your next 3 series from BMW online, for instance.) Tesla, which doesn’t franchise dealerships, can’t sell directly to customers in states like Texas. Want to order a Model S? You’ll have to get it from California. That hasn’t stopped Texans from buying Teslas, but it does make it an arduous process. Now Tesla is using the proposed battery factory to try and gets its way. Continue Reading →
Lynda Stokes is the mayor of Reno in Parker County, where dozens of medium-sized earthquakes have been recorded in an area that used to be quake-free.
For perhaps the first time in its history, the state legislature held a hearing Monday about earthquakes. But we’re not talking about natural tremors, we’re talking about man-made earthquakes. Texas has seen quakes measuring 3.0 and higher increase tenfold since an oil and gas drilling boom began several years ago, with the first quake swarm striking in the fall of 2008. Now, residents from these quake-stricken areas want answers.
Gale Wood of Eagle Mountain Lake in North Texas drove down to Austin to be here for the meeting. He says for him and his wife, the problems started last November, when the first quake struck.
Cracks have developed in the floor and wall of the municipal courtroom in Reno, Texas, as seen Feb. 21, 2014, and some people believe it is related to the rash of earthquakes in the area.
These can be shaky times for Texas. The number of recorded earthquakes (most larger than 3.0) has increased tenfold since a drilling boom began several years ago. The Lone Star State is now one of the shakiest in the country, coming in sixth in the continuous U.S. for having larger quakes last year, according to EnergyWire.
Today, lawmakers will hold a meeting at the Capitol to look into the onset of quakes and their possible connection to oil and gas drilling. (It starts at 1 p.m. Central, and you can watch it online.)
To see the evidence that there’s a link between that oil and gas activity and the rapid increase in earthquakes in Texas, you don’t have to look far. There’s plenty of peer-reviewed scientific studies already making a link between quakes and certain drilling activities, including wastewater disposal, oil and gas extraction, and enhanced oil recovery. While the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the oil and gas industry in the state, maintains that these links are hypothetical, the number of scientific studies showing that link continue to grow.
Here’s a list of nine recent studies demonstrating a link between quakes and oil and gas activity in Texas: Continue Reading →
A small pool of water is all that remains in a portion of Bridgeport Lake, which is over thirty feet (9 meters) below normal levels, in Bridgeport, Texas, USA, 04 September 2013.
A massive new report on climate change got a lot of attention this past week. It’s message? Climate change is already happening and having an impact, and it’s going to get worse. The section of the report on Texas found that droughts, heat waves and flooding are all set to become even more extreme as greenhouse gases pile up in the atmosphere and change the climate.
The report was the work of hundreds of scientists and experts, the most extensive look at climate change’s impacts on the country to date. But that wasn’t good enough for the state agency in charge of protecting Texas’ environment.
From the SMU progress report: “Preliminary earthquakes locations near Reno-Azle using the current seismic network. Events are scaled by magnitude and color coded by time of event. Two Salt Water Disposal Wells (SWD wells) that occur within a few kms of the earthquake sequence are shown.”
North Texas is no longer a place you can expect to live earthquake-free. That’s the big takeaway from a progress report out this week from Southern Methodist University on their study of tremors around the towns of Reno and Azle that began last fall.
“This sequence, with the first felt event [earthquake] occurring in November 2013, follows several other earthquakes sequences of earthquakes occurring in Tarrant and Johnson Counties since 2008,” the report says. A team of scientists from SMU, with help from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), installed monitors to better measure the quakes in region.
While the larger quakes have stopped, with the most recent occurring in late January, smaller earthquakes continue, the report says. There’s been hundreds of them large enough to be recorded by multiple monitoring stations since December, with “thousands of very small events during periods of swarm activity.”
And the scientists aren’t sure when they’re going to happen. “Swarms of 100s of events can occur in a day, but weeks with few to no earthquakes have also occurred,” the report says. Continue Reading →
The National Climate Assessment is the product of hundreds of experts and scientists, organized by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. They claim it’s “the most comprehensive, authoritative, transparent scientific report on U.S. climate change impacts ever generated.”
The report focuses on current and future climate change impacts to the U.S. For Texas and the Great Plains region, climate change caused by carbon emissions will exacerbate the issues the region has long faced: droughts, heat waves, storms and flooding. Agriculture will suffer, water wars will increase, and it’s going to get even hotter.
Climate scientists liken the impacts of climate change on weather to steroids: take a place like Texas already known for extreme weather, and then imagine if it started juicing. Our region is already known for ”floods, droughts, severe storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and winter storms,” the report says. It’s a dry region that needs more water than nature provides. “These variable conditions in the Great Plains already stress communities and cause billions of dollars in damage; climate change will add to both stress and costs,” the report says. Continue Reading →
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.
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 →
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.