Environmental Group Says Illegal Diesel Fracking Used in Texas

A hydraulic fracking operation in the Barnett Shale.

StateImpact Texas

A hydraulic fracking operation in the Barnett Shale.

An environmental group says it’s found over a hundred oil or gas wells being drilled in Texas using techniques that the group says are illegal. At issue is “fracking” which injects huge quantities of water and chemicals deep underground.

Fracking is what’s revolutionized drilling in Texas. The technique uses all sorts of chemicals including acids that are injected by the thousands of gallons down into wells to break up rock so gas and oil can escape.

There’ve always been concerns that the chemicals could risk contaminating groundwater, but state and federal regulators have allowed drillers to use dozens of different substances.

Except one: diesel fuel. Continue Reading

Railroad Commission Starting to Get Serious About Manmade Quakes

Azle and Reno are the epicenter for the North Texas earthquake swarm that mobilized residents earlier this year to call on the state to respond.

Doualy Xaykaothao / KERA News

Azle and Reno are the epicenter for the North Texas earthquake swarm that mobilized residents earlier this year to call on the state to respond.

The agency that regulates the Texas oil and gas industry announced new rules this week aimed at curbing manmade earthquakes tied to oil and gas drilling operations.

Texas has had hundreds of small and medium quakes over the last few years as drilling has boomed thanks to fracking and horizontal drilling. But for years the Railroad Commission maintained that the quakes weren’t really a problem. They said the science wasn’t settled, despite numerous studies. Now, after public outcry over a swarm of quakes in North Texas earlier this year, the commission is starting to do something.

“It’s kinda like when you’re in a 12-step program,” says Cyrus Reed with the Sierra Club in Austin. “You know, the first thing you need to do admit that you have a problem. And I think the Railroad Commission has done that by proposing these rules.” Continue Reading

Are Companies at Risk when the CEO is in the Cockpit?

Houston had the third highest number of CEOs with pilot licenses according to a study assessing risk-taking among executives

Dave Fehling / StateImpact Texas

Houston has the third highest number of CEOs with pilot licenses according to a study assessing risk-taking among executives

It’s a sign of success: having your own plane and being your own pilot. In fact, Houston ranks third in the nation for the number of corporate chief executives who have pilot licenses. Dallas ranks sixth. But as highlighted by a tragedy earlier this spring in West Texas, there may be an added risk. But is that bad for the company’s bottom line?

On a Wednesday afternoon this past June, a turboprop plane took off from Aspen Colorado.

Destination: Brenham Texas, northwest of Houston.

As the plane headed southeast, crossing over the Texas panhandle, it encountered a big line of thunderstorms. The on-line tracking service FlightAware shows the plane turned sharply to the south. It was sometime later that afternoon that a rancher would find the crumpled wreckage in an open field just west of Lubbock.

  Continue Reading

During Drought, Once-Mighty Texas Rice Belt Fades Away

In the floodplain, several inches of fine silty mud sit atop thick, heavy clay. The clay is the finest dust eroded by the river, carried until this point then deposited as the river spreads out across the prairie. The silt is a thick rich mixture of sediment from upstream. The land in the floodplain naturally holds water very well.

Dylan Baddour / StateImpact Texas

In the floodplain, several inches of fine silty mud sit atop thick, heavy clay. The clay is the finest dust eroded by the river, carried until this point then deposited as the river spreads out across the prairie. The silt is a thick rich mixture of sediment from upstream. The land in the floodplain naturally holds water very well.

In 2012, some farming districts on the Lower Colorado River were cut off from water for irrigation for the first time. Reservoirs were too low to flood tens of thousands of rice fields. Some asked, “Why would anyone be farming rice in Texas in the first place?”

The answer is long, and it begins with the fact that parts of Texas haven’t always been dry. For farmers like Ronald Gertson, who remembers driving a tractor through rice fields as a child, recent years have been hard to bear.

“It’s just unbelievable that it’s been so bad that we have had three unprecedented years in a row, and I recognize some experts say we could have a couple of decades like this. I hope and pray that’s not the case,” says Gertson, a rice farmer, chair of numerous water-related committees and, in recent years, unofficial spokesman for the Texas Rice Belt. “If that is the case then yeah, this whole prairie is going to change.”

But it has already changed.

Continue Reading

For Legacy Oil Family Facing Drought, It’s Conservation or Bust

From Marfa Public Radio:

A rig contracted by Apache Corp drills a horizontal well in a search for oil and natural gas in the Wolfcamp shale located in the Permian Basin in West Texas.

Terry Wade / Reuters /STRINGER /LANDOV

A rig contracted by Apache Corp drills a horizontal well in a search for oil and natural gas in the Wolfcamp shale located in the Permian Basin in West Texas.

The latest drought monitor from the USDA shows about 60% of Texas still suffering from a lack of rain and strained water resources.

Lately there’s been some concern brewing in West Texas about towns, cities or landowners selling their water to oil and gas companies, and the possibility of oil and gas development in the Big Bend.

Some landowners argue they’re conscious of how they treat the land, even if they do sell water for drilling, since after all, it’s their land. Continue Reading

Forecasters Decrease Number Of Hurricanes Expected During 2014

Outlook2014Updatefinalwithdate

From Houston Public Media: 

NOAA, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, has revised the number of named storms to between 7 and 12, and that maybe 2 of those named storms could be major, with winds greater than 110 mph.

An average season can see up to 12 named storms.

Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami, says overall atmospheric conditions just don’t favor a lot of storm development this year. It led NOAA to update its forecast.

“There’s some below average temperatures across the tropical Atlantic, which are exceptionally cool, relative to the remainder of the global tropics,” says Feltgen. “And we still believe there’s an El Nino forming, and that’s likely to really show itself as we get deeper into August, and continue on into October.” Continue Reading

Price of Wind Energy Goes Down in Texas

Wind turbines provide a sustainable source of energy in that they don't emit carbon dioxide or require water. Photo by KUT News

Photo by Lizze Chen for KUT News.

Wind turbines provide a sustainable source of energy in that they don't emit carbon dioxide or require water. Photo by KUT News

You thought you might never hear it, but wind power is becoming a formidable price competitor with fossil fuels in Texas, and Austin’s public utility is revamping its programs to suit.

In the year 2000, Austin Energy unrolled a program giving consumers the option to fund wind energy development and the city became a recognized leader in energy innovation.

The GreenChoice program let homes and businesses pay slightly more for their power and buy directly from wind farms, hoping to finance and encourage development.

It worked so well that, by 2009, it was in trouble, and the program was scaled back. Texans in Austin and beyond were demanding more wind energy than power lines could carry, and clogged transmission infrastructure sent prices skyrocketing. Continue Reading

Residents Tell EPA: We’re Not Secondary To Refinery Profits

Luke Metzger, Environment Texas, who testified at EPA hearing, passing by a photo of a refinery explosion in California.

Luke Metzger, Environment Texas, who testified at EPA hearing, passing by a photo of a refinery explosion in California.

People who live near refineries along the Gulf Coast are calling for tougher, federal rules to curb air pollution. The pleas were made at a Federal Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), public hearing held Tuesday in Galena Park. The community is on Houston’s east side is in the heart of the oil-refining complex along the Ship Channel.

The industry says the new EPA rules would be a waste of money. But residents like Yudith Nieto say they are desperately needed.

“I’m from a community in Houston called Manchester which is surrounded on all fours by industry,” Nieto testified. She and other residents told a panel of federal EPA officials how childhood leukemia, asthma and bronchitis are unusually common here, citing health studies to back up their claims.

“This is something that is a disparity, an obvious disparity because other parts of the city, other parts of the area don’t bear that same burden,” said John Sullivan with the Sealy Center for Environmental Health in Galveston. He was talking about the burden of breathing what may be coming from refineries. Continue Reading

EPA Showdown: Who in Texas Wants Tighter Refinery Regulation?

Do Hydrogen Cyanide Leaks Show Weakness of Current Regs?

Houston's Ship Channel: home to refineries and petrochemical complex and site of EPA hearing

Dave Fehling

Houston's Ship Channel is home to one of the nation's biggest oil refining and petrochemical complexes and is the site of the EPA hearing

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will set up its microphones for an all day hearing Tuesday in Galena Park, a community on Houston’s east side in the heart of the enormous Houston Ship Channel refinery complex. It’s the second of two such hearings with the first held last month in a similar community in Los Angeles.

At issue: new EPA rules that would make oil refineries invest in better equipment to reduce pollution emissions from storage tanks and to improve the efficiency of flares that burn emissions during plant “upsets”. Refineries would also have to increase fence-line monitoring to track exactly what pollution is blowing into adjacent communities.


Continue Reading

As Renewable Energy Grows, Wind and Solar Pull Ahead of Hydropower

Wind and solar energy now routinely surpasses hydroelectric generation as an energy source in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Hydroelectricity generated by Austin's Tom Miller Dam, in operation since 1940, is a renewable resource. Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News.

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News.

Hydroelectricity generated by Austin's Tom Miller Dam is a renewable resource. Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News.

Hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy in the U.S. (but, not surprisingly, not in Texas). The state’s online Window on State Government calls it “a tiny portion of the state’s electricity supply with little economic impact and limited prospects for expansion.”

However, Texas is actually a leader in clean energy development. Programs like state renewable portfolio standards and federal tax credits for renewable energies have encouraged the growth of wind and solar power generation, according to the EIA. The effect has been particularly pronounced in Texas, the nation’s biggest wind energy producer. Continue Reading

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