ExxonMobil's refinery in Baytown is one of the nation's biggest
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has begun the process to begin issuing air pollution permits for industrial plants that emit greenhouse gases linked to climate change. The permits will be based on new rules put in effect in 2011 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in response to research on global warming.
It’s probably not a result Texas Governor Rick Perry had in mind back in 2010 when he and the Texas attorney general held a news conference. They said the new rules would be so costly to industry that they would be disastrous for the Texas economy.
“My office has worked closely with Attorney General Abbott to consider all options to challenge this seriously flawed EPA finding…to head off an economic calamity…We are challenging the EPA’s findings for CO2 and other greenhouse gases,” Perry said in February 2010. Continue Reading →
An oil rig south of Pyote, Texas, December 11, 2013.
The energy boom in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico is driving one of the nation’s fastest growing regional economies.
But growth is tied to the price of oil and some prominent energy analysts suggest the price of crude will fall in 2014.
Oil wells operating round the clock represent the sound of a region transformed.
Modern technologies like fracking and horizontal drilling are cutting the cost of extracting oil and gas from what was once the floor of an ancient sea laced with hydrocarbons.Bob Randolph is an oil field supervisor working as a consultant with Arabella Petroleum. He runs crews drilling through the Permian’s porous shale. 140-foot tall rigs back up against each other on to the dusty horizon.
“Things are real good,” he said while scurrying around the base of one of the rigs.
“The drilling industry is doin’ good. Price of oil’s hanging in. Need the price of natural gas to come up a little bit but the oil field’s doin’ real good right now.”In Texas they say everything’s bigger. Never more true than in the Permian Basin today. Private jets compete for parking space. Rents are on a par with San Francisco. Streets are full of luxury cars, all symbols of wealth all pegged to oil and gas prices.
These days in Texas, you can’t go far without running into a billion-dollar industrial plant or drilling operation backed by some very non-Texan investors.
Dave Fehling / StateImpact
OCI's Omar Darwazah
“We’re very big fans of Texas,” said Omar Darwazah, a corporate development executive with OCI.
OCI is a fertilizer chemical company now based in the Netherlands but with roots in Egypt. A couple years ago it bought and rejuvenated an ammonia-methanol plant in Beaumont. A few weeks ago it announced it was building a new methanol plant next door that will cost at least $1 billion.
“And that’s the largest in the United States and arguably the largest in the world,” Darwazah told StateImpact.
Crews work to dislodge a barge from Longhorn Dam, the dam that creates Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin.
A lot of people who walk or drive past Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin probably assume it’s a natural feature. They appreciate the trails and parks that line the lake’s 416 acres, unaware of the series of floodgates on the Longhorn Dam that hold its waters in. But recent flooding along the waterway has called attention to longstanding mechanical problems at the dam, problems that the City of Austin is aware of, but hasn’t found the money to address.
While its been called the “jewel in the crown” of Austin, Lady Bird Lake was created to serve a utilitarian purpose: to provide water for a now-decommissioned gas power plant in the Holly neighborhood of East Austin. Because of its connection to the power plant, the dam is operated under the supervision of Austin Energy, the city’s publicly-owned electric utility. Built in 1960, the floodgates on Longhorn Dam have stored and released water from the lake for over 50 years. Now that age is showing.
“There’s been a lack of maintenance on the dam for the last 15 years,” Dennis Hipp, a recently-retired Austin Energy employee tells StateImpact Texas. “It’s steadily gotten worse and it’s to the point now where it’s going to start doing some damage. [Both] upstream and down.”
Richard Rivera stands in front of a red sticker that marks his house as "uninhabitable" due to recent flooding.
It’s been three weeks since a flood swept through Richard Rivera’s Austin, Texas home. There’s still a dead car, washed up by the waters, deposited on his front yard. A crack has formed on his concrete driveway. A result, he says, of the deluge. He doesn’t know where his air conditioning unit floated off to. His home bears the red sticker, left by city inspectors, that deems it uninhabitable.
But unlike many of his neighbors, Rivera can take solace in the fact that he was prepared. He paid about $2,000 annually for flood insurance.
“You pay it, and you pay it, and pay it, and hopefully you never need it, but when you need it, you’d like to have it,” he says with a rueful smile, standing in the wreckage.
In a decision he now looks back on with some degree of awe, Rivera had increased his insurance coverage just months before the flood, expanding it to cover an additional $60,000 in damages.
Around the same time, he says, his neighbors dropped their insurance altogether.
“He got laid off and his wife got laid off. “That was one of the deals where the payment was about as high as the mortgage so he let it go,” Rivera says.
“That guy is really having some problems right now” he adds. “They’ve got kids.”
There’s a growing concern that more people will find themselves in the situation of that neighbor if changes to the National Flood Insurance Program move ahead.
MAP BY MICHAEL MARKS. A map of Texas Counties that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. Counties in gray have insurance, counties in yellow have never had insurance, and counties in red do not currently have insurance, but have at some point. NOTE: Cities and towns may participate in the program even if their county does not.
The floods that killed five people and damaged over 1,000 homes in Austin on Halloween morning threw the danger of floods into stark relief. But when it comes to guarding against risky development in flood-prone regions, there’s little consistency from one Texas community to the next, with some areas still lacking any regulation.
Speaker Joe Straus speaking on the passage of Prop 6 in Austin Tuesday evening.
Texans overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment Tuesday to jump-start financing for water projects in the state: Proposition 6. The plan will take $2 billion in surplus state money (from the Rainy Day Fund) to start a low-interest loan program for water projects in Texas. The measure had widespread support from both sides of the aisle as well as business and environmental groups. It passed with over 73 percent of the vote.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the members of the legislature who worked in a collaborative way on a very positive agenda for planning for our future water needs,” Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said at a rally celebrating the amendment’s passage Tuesday evening. “But the people of Texas today validated our good work with an overwhelming vote of support.” Some Libertarian and smaller environmental groups were vocally against the measure.
The creation of the water fund, overseen by the Texas Water Development Board, represents the first time in decades that the state has put significant money towards water infrastructure. The $2 billion approved this week will act like a down-payment on a mortgage that will allow the state to borrow billions more for hundreds of water projects outlined in its official Water Plan. Those projects aim to provide enough water to meet the state’s needs over the next fifty years. Continue Reading →
When voters go to the polls this year, many of them will have only as much information about the constitutional amendments they’re voting on as is provided on the ballot.
That is to say, not much at all, especially when it comes to the major item on the list, Proposition 6.
The ballot refers to the creation of funds for the State Water Plan, a list of projects to improve water supplies across the state, but makes no mention of the dollar figure that would be involved. It mentions financing for water projects, but not why that financing might be needed, or how the projects will be chosen.
You might have better luck learning about Proposition 6 by asking someone whose job hinges on its passage. Bech Bruun is one of Governor Perry’s newly-minted Water Development Board Members, and if the proposition goes forward, they will decide what water projects to lend money to.
“What Proposition 6 would do is, it would move $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund into a new account, that we will refer to as SWIFT, the State Water Implementation Fund of Texas. And it would allow the Water Development Board to use money from the SWIFT fund for projects in the State’s Water Plan,” he said.
Domes at fertilizer facility near Bryan where fire in 2009 destroyed a wooden structure
In response to the deadly explosion six months ago in West, Federal agencies will soon be making recommendations to Congress on how to reduce the risk at fertilizer storage facilities. Should igloos be among the ideas?
“There’s no doubt whatsoever in my mind that if the West (fertilizer) had been in a dome it would have lost the top, you would have heard a lot of noise, but it would not have damaged the buildings around it,” said David South, president of Monolithic, a company in Italy, Texas that designs concrete dome structures.