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.

Man-Made Quakes Get a Hearing at Texas Legislature

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.

Doualy Xaykaothao / KERA News

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.

Continue Reading

Here Are 9 Studies Linking Quakes and Drilling Activity in Texas

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.

Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT

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.)

The agenda says the House Energy Resources Subcommittee on Seismic Activity, which was formed after a swarm of quakes in North Texas that began last November, will “review the possibility that increased [oil and gas] exploration and disposal well activity could impact seismic activity.”

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

It’s Aggie vs. Aggie on the Science of Climate Change

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.

EPA/LARRY W. SMITH /LANDOV

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.

A statement from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which is in charge of guarding the state’s air and water, said all this science on man-made climate change (which at this points totals thousands of studies and the consensus of 97 percent of the scientific literature) is … wait for it … “far from settled:” Continue Reading

There’s Been Hundreds of Small Quakes in North Texas Since December

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."

SMU

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

More Drought, Heat and Water Wars: What Climate Change Already Means for Texas

A tree trunk is exposed where water used to be in Bridgeport Lake, which is over thirty feet (9 meters) below normal levels, in Bridgeport, Texas, USA, 04 September 2013.

EPA/LARRY W. SMITH /LANDOV

A tree trunk is exposed where water used to be in Bridgeport Lake, which was over thirty feet (9 meters) below normal levels, in Bridgeport, Texas, in September 2013.

A new federal report out today from offers a stark warning about our changing climate. As carbon dioxide reaches levels never before seen during human history, we’re already feeling the effects of climate change, and it’s likely to get worse.

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

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

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