Texas

Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

How The Oceans Have Dried Texas Out

A weed grows out of the dry cracked bed of O.C. Fisher Lake in July. The drought has taken a severe toll on Texas' lakes and rivers.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A weed grows out of the dry cracked bed of O.C. Fisher Lake in July. The drought has taken a severe toll on Texas' lakes and rivers.

Over the last several years, climate patterns from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans have exacerbated the historic Texas drought. A reverse in those patterns could bring Texas abundant rains over the next couple decades, according to State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.

But, Nielsen-Gammon says, long term trends give Texans no reason to break out the champagne.  Global climate change means the next major drought could be even worse than this one.

The Texas climate is sensitive to weather cycles in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and neither has favored precipitation in the state since 2005.  “The Pacific Ocean has been unfavorable for rainfall since about 2000 or 2005. The Atlantic Ocean has been unfavorable since 1995,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

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This Dam Holds in Lady Bird Lake, So When Will It Get ‘Essential’ Repairs?

Officials have long been aware of the need for repairs at Longhorn Dam.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

Officials have long been aware of the need for repairs at Longhorn Dam.

The poor condition of the dam that holds in the waters of Austin’s beloved Lady Bird Lake continues to vex city officials.  Emails obtained in a public information request reveal challenges the city faced in performing maintenance on Longhorn Dam, which crosses the Colorado River beneath Pleasant Valley Road. Documents tell of water lost through the dam’s gates that could potentially stay in upstream reservoirs, and show city departments struggling to assign responsibility for the structure and plan a long-term solution.

Austin Energy, the city-owned electric utility, and the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) have long known about the need for work on the dam. Austin Energy is the city department that operates the structure. The LCRA operates dams upstream from Austin and coordinates with Austin Energy when they release water downstream.

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Looking for a Silver Lining in Falling Oil Prices in Texas

Economists and state officials are reaching for their calculators as to predict how  the Texas economy will respond to lower oil prices. We’re already seeing falling oil and natural gas revenues pinch incomes and constrain spending, including layoffs at some energy companies. But is there also a silver lining? Could the downturn in the energy sector also mean savings at pump and a new eagerness to spend?

State Parks are seeing more visitors. Above: Palo Duro Canyon, in the Panhandle.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

State Parks are seeing more visitors. Above: Palo Duro Canyon, in the Panhandle.

Lower Gas Prices = More Road Trips 

The average price of gas in Texas dipped to $1.82 a gallon in late January, and though it’s climbed back to $2.17 today, it’s still a dollar cheaper than the state average a year ago, according to the Automobile Association of America (AAA). The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration predicts the average price of gas will remain under $3 per gallon for the coming year.

With those savings, drivers are starting to hit the road more. Continue Reading

West Texas to Mexico Pipelines On Track for 2017 Finish

Two planned pipelines would export natural gas from the Permian Basin across the border to Mexico. (Energy Transfer Partners)

(Energy Transfer Partners)

Two planned pipelines would export natural gas from the Permian Basin across the border to Mexico. (Energy Transfer Partners)

A Dallas-based company looking to build two sizable natural gas pipelines from Far West Texas to Mexico says it plans to have both pipelines built and operating by early 2017.

Energy Transfer won a contract from Mexico’s electricity commission to build the manage the pipeline’s construction. It’s estimated the two 42″ lines could carry a combined 2.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

In an earnings call this week, the company’s CEO Kelcy Warren – also the owner of the Lajitas Golf Resort near Big Bend National Park – said the company’s making progress on meeting that timeline.

“We’re very excited about our business south to Mexico,” Warren said. “The next two projects that we were winners on, we’re looking at both of them to come on in the first quarter of 2017, and we are finalizing negotiations and everything is on track to that timeline.”

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Company Wants to Expand Nuclear Waste Site in Texas

Waste Control Specialists' Andrews County storage site, where low-level waste is already housed.

WCS

Waste Control Specialists' Andrews County storage site, where low-level waste is already housed.

A Dallas-based company is looking to expand its nuclear waste site in rural West Texas into a longer-term storage site for high-level radioactive waste.

Waste Control Specialists (WCS) is asking the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to approve a new license to expand its above-ground storage facility in Andrews County to allow more radioactive types of waste.

The company already stores “low level” waste – contaminated rags, tools and other equipment that have come mostly from the national nuclear research lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

The site also served as a home for waste that was supposed to wind up at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico, until that site was shuttered after a leak contaminated workers there about a year ago.

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How Texas Challenges The Power Of Cities And Their Citizens

“Texas is being California-ized,” Abbott said at a keynote speech he delivered January 8th to the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Screengrab from the video.

“Texas is being California-ized,” Abbott said at a keynote speech he delivered January 8th to the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

In a speech last month, Governor Greg Abbott said his state was becoming more like California because cities are banning things like fracking or the cutting down of trees. The Texas Legislature may soon debate passing laws to stop those local initiatives. But is that so new?

When Governor Abbott expressed dismay at what city governments and their citizens were doing in his state, it might have struck some observers of Texas politics as nothing new. Because for years now, the state of Texas has been challenging the power of the cities of Texas and of individual Texans.

But who exactly would want to do that and why?

We looked for answers at the statehouse. It’s where last spring the issue came up in a public hearing held by the House Committee on Environmental Regulation.

“I’d like to tell you our story,” said Lesley Carey shortly after she took the podium in front of the committee.

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EPA Team Looking At Relationship Between Irving Quakes and Disposal Well

Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section for Region 6 in Dallas.

Photo by Philip Issa

Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section for Region 6 in Dallas.

The earthquakes that have shaken Dallas and Irving, Texas the last several months have people looking into whether oil and gas activity in the area plays a role. Some of those people work at the Environmental Protection Agency. But EPA researchers say they’re not getting the data they’ve requested from Texas state oil and gas regulators to investigate the possible link.

Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section in Dallas. At a conference of the Groundwater Protection Council Tuesday, he showed early results from a study his team conducted on earthquakes around Irving.

The group looked at the use of wastewater disposal wells closest to Irving earthquakes. Dellinger does not necessarily believe the recent quakes are related to disposal wells, where wastewater from oil and gas drilling is pumped underground. But these types of wells have caused other earthquakes, so his team wanted to see what wells were close to the Irving events.

His choice for where to look was simple. There are only two wells near the recent quakes, and one had been plugged up.

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Where are the Water Projects that Are Asking For $5.5 Billion in State Loans?

Counties that contain at least one project applying for state funds are highlighted in blue.

Mose Buchele

Counties that contain at least one project applying for state funds are highlighted in blue.

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) had planned to distribute about $800 million in low interest loans for Texas water projects this year. By the time the deadline for project applications closed, total requests reached $5.5 billion, many of them from urban and suburban parts of the state.

The new system of financing was set up by state lawmakers and approved by voters in 2013. Under that system, billions of dollars were moved from the Texas Rainy Day Fund and put into a separate fund for water. The Water Development Board plans to distribute about $800 million dollars in loans every year for the next ten year.

The 48 projects eligible for loans this year range from modest to mighty. The City of Marfa asked for $700,000 to build a single well, but the North Texas Municipal Water District requested $791 million for the under-construction, 16,500 acre Lower Bois d’Arc reservoir.

Applications from the greater Houston metropolitan area comprise one third of the total requests received by the Water Development Board.  The sixteen projects around Harris County alone add up to $3 billion in loan requests. Projects in the Dallas Fort Work area made up about ten percent of all requests.

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Better Batteries Might Hold Enough To Power Your Neighborhood

James Tour leads research at Rice University to develop smaller, more powerful batteries.

Davew Fehling

James Tour leads research at Rice University to develop smaller, more powerful batteries.

One of the nation’s leading researchers who’s trying to make batteries better is James Tour and his colleagues at Rice University.

“Everybody’s investing billions. If you say millions they scoff at you,” Tour told News 88.7.

Tour says there are three categories of things that need better batteries: portable electronic devices, electric vehicles, and a use we wanted to learn more about: batteries to store huge amounts of electricity to power homes and businesses.

“We are not there yet to be able to store large amounts of electricity. So in other words you have huge banks where you can store electricity at night while people are sleeping.”

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NASA Satellite Will Improve Drought Forcasting With a Little Help From Texas

The SMAP satellite will monitor drought levels around the globe.

Courtesy of NASA

The SMAP satellite will monitor drought levels around the globe.

A satellite launched by NASA over the weekend could help people around the world tackle the challenges of drought. Researchers at the University of Texas will play a part in that mission that could also help forecast flooding and allow officials to better manage reservoir water supplies.

The SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive) satellite that launched on Saturday will carry two devices to track drought. One to measure heat from the earth’s surface and the other a radar sensor to help pinpoint the location of the land surveyed. Researchers say that by using the two different technologies, they will get a clearer understanding of where the soil is parched and where it is well-saturated around the globe.

That information will be complimented with data gathered by soil moisture monitors, some of them installed around the Texas Hill Country by UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology. These on-the-ground sensors will help validate and improve the satellite’s readings.

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