As the legislature enters its final weeks, what are the big energy issues still facing lawmakers? Sunday on KXAN StateImpact Texas’ Mose Buchele joined a panel to discuss how water, drilling and fracking are forcing legislators to make some tough decisions as things get down to the wire. You can watch their discussion in the video above.
Two years ago Texas’ booming Barnett Shale region was facing a slew of challenges that came along with increased oil and gas drilling. Heavy drilling trucks were destroying the roads, employees were getting poached from their everyday jobs to go work on the rigs, and residents of North Texas worried about what kind of impact all that drilling was having on the environment.
Those problems persist. But as the price of natural gas has declined, much of the drilling activity has moved south, to the Eagle Ford Shale region, where drillers can extract more valuable crude oil and liquids from the ground.
As Texas legislators continue to grapple with how to identify and fund water project priorities for the state, Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) makes the argument that Texans don’t value water enough. His comments came at StateImpact Texas’ panel: The Texas Water Crisis: Finding and Funding a Solution.
As a representative of a district that has struggled during the state’s dry years, Darby said, his region’s problem wasn’t as much not having enough reservoirs but that there’s not enough water in them. The large O.H. Ivie reservoir, which serves San Angelo, a city of nearly 100,000 people, is only 14 percent full. And the other reservoirs the city relies on, like Twin Buttes and O.C. Fisher, are sitting empty.
We’re ”reservoir-rich, but water-poor,” Darby said. His solution? For one, he says Texans — especially those living in the very dry parts of the state — will need to value water higher, and in turn pay more for it. You can watch his remarks in the video above, produced by Filipa Rodrigues of KUT News.
Texas may be rich in fossil fuels like oil and gas, but it’s also awash in clean, renewable energy.
Well, at least it could be. With the most renewable energy potential in the United States, Texas is a formidable candidate to up their renewable energy usage. Wind power now supplies 8 percent of energy to the grid in Texas and it’s cheaper than ever. However, the Energy Institute’s Raymond Orbach at the University of Texas at Austin says there’s still one major roadblock. “If someone could lick the storage problem,” Orbach says, “we would really have a remarkable resource.”
The ‘storage problem’ boils down to how energy works. “You can’t turn the sun off, and you can’t tell the wind to blow,” says Orbach. It’s simply unreliable. And you have to use the energy while it’s there. Right now turbine energy created from early afternoon winds has to be used immediately, in the early afternoon. But the demand for energy peaks later in the afternoon during the hot Texas summers, when the winds have died down. Solar could fill that gap, but efforts to incentivize it’s construction haven’t gone anywhere yet in Texas, and there’s always the question of what happens when a bunch of clouds pass over.
So creating something that can store and save renewable energy like wind and solar for later would change the game entirely. Continue Reading
All this week we’re bringing you stories on the 2011 Labor Day Wildfires that destroyed over a thousand homes in Central Texas. On Monday, we looked at some of the complications that led to the fire beyond the well-known heat and drought. Later today, we’ll bring you a story of a narrow escape from the Pedernales Bend Fire that weekend.
One takeaway from the series is that wildfires are becoming larger and more destructive. In the slideshow report above by NPR science correspondent Christopher Joyce, you can learn why the danger has grown.
What’s the current fire risk in your area? Well, there’s a map for that. Matt Stiles and the NPR digital team have put together an interactive map of wildfire dangers and active fires in the country, which you can see here. It’s updated daily. For the moment, Texas falls in the low and moderate risk categories.
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows no signs of improvement for much of Texas, and some portions of Central Texas have moved from moderate to severe drought.
Overall, the state is in much, much better shape than a year ago, when nearly 80 percent of Texas was in the worst stage of drought, “exceptional.” Less than one percent of the state is at that level now.
But despite a wet winter and some good rain events since, rainfall averages from June and July combined were a bit lower than normal for the state. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) new seasonal drought outlook says that in western parts of the state, dry conditions are are likely to “persist or intensify,” while in Central and East Texas, some improvement is possible over the next few months.
Farmers and ranchers are keeping a watchful eye on rain and weather conditions. Mostly, they’re seeing a lot of heat. On August 13, 15 high-temperature records were broken. “The heat has been hard on already stressed crops,” the Texas Agrilife Extension writes in its latest crop and weather outlook. “All dryland cotton has been abandoned in Hardeman County, as well as a quarter of the irrigated cotton.” An Agrilife extension agent in the county said they’ve had four straight 112-degree days and “near-record” heat over the past few weeks.
But as the La Nina weather pattern leaves and her El Nino counterpart enters, Texas could be in for a wetter fall. Continue Reading
In South Texas, state environmental regulators are using helicopters equipped with infrared cameras to sweep across gas and oil well sites. They’re looking for toxic vapor leaks that otherwise would be invisible. The leaks are from open hatches or bad valves on tanks and pipes. But what the state is finding—and not finding—is part of the debate over whether fracking threatens to dirty the air in Texas towns where drilling is surging.
“We are being proactive in trying to look at and address these issues,” says David Brymer, director of air quality with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Continue Reading
Last year’s drought forced Texans to take a hard look at their water resources. But in many ways the crisis just underlined a scarcity already looming in the state. Most people in Texas live in urban areas, yet most of the water still goes to rural agriculture.
Where will the state find the water to sustain its booming urban population? Many believe some of it will have to come from agriculture, where farmers and ranchers will have to cut back. Others stress conservation. And some think that Texans should be investing in major infrastructure projects to develop new water supplies, like desalination.
Today we take a look at where the city of Austin fits into all of this. During roughly the same time frame that Texans endured the worst single-year drought in the state’s history, Austin was the second fastest-growing city in the U.S.
Water is becoming scarcer in Texas, and the solutions being passed around as of late are varied. Desalination, conservation and new reservoirs are all on the table. Another less, ummmm, palatable solution that is already being used in Texas? Treating “effluent” (i.e. waste water) to be used again for drinking, cooking and cleaning.
A new video op-ed in the New York Times by filmmaker Jessica Yu looks at the psychological barriers to adapting waste water for re-use, featuring cockroaches and a creative “Folgers switch“-style test marketing of bottled treated affluent called Porcelain Springs.
Every summer, residents of Houston enjoy what you could call “recycled” water sent down the Trinity River from their neighbors to the north in Dallas. It works for them, so why not do it everywhere we need water? “In Israel, more than 80 percent of household wastewater is recycled, providing nearly half the water for irrigation,” Yu writes. “A new pilot plant near San Diego and a national “NEWater” program in Singapore show it’s practical to turn wastewater into water that’s clean enough to drink. Yet, in most of the world, we are resistant to do so.”
You can watch the video above, which is culled from clips from a forthcoming documentary, Last Call at the Oasis.
Keith Miller set a simple, yet challenging goal for himself a year ago: catch a fish every single day for the entire year. He did it to raise money to help the Junior Hunters and Anglers of America (and, of course, promote fishing) for kids and families. And despite having to endure sickness, drought and extreme weather, Miller achieved that goal on a foggy morning this weekend on the banks of the Brazos River in Waco.
Miller, an associate director of athletics at Baylor University, began his angling odyssey on April, 1 2011. This was the second time Miller completed such a pledge, but it wasn’t easy. He fought through strep throat, a hurt shoulder and twisted ankle, inclement weather and the rigors of a full-time job in order to succeed. And he only used artificial lures to catch the fish. Continue Reading