Texas Still Considering Solutions to Prevent Another West

Crews are still working to clear the site of the explosion in West, Texas.

Terrence Henry/StateImpact Texas

Crews are still working to clear the site of the explosion in West, Texas.

This week marks a year since a fertilizer plant exploded in the small Texas town of West, killing fifteen, injuring over a hundred, and destroying homes and local schools. Today, a meeting at the state legislature made it clear that lawmakers aren’t in any hurry to use regulation to guard against something like West from happening again.

The House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee met for the first time since August to look into the industrial disaster. The State Fire Marshal told the committee that his office is still not sure what sparked the fire. It could have been electrical, or a malfunctioning golf cart battery, or it could have been started on purpose. But without question, the cause of the destructive blast was ammonium nitrate. The fertilizer had been legally stored in a wooden building with no sprinkler system.

What new rules and regulations should be considered to prevent another West? Two clear solutions emerged at the hearing: stricter standards for storing ammonium nitrate, and more training and coordination for local officials and first responders.

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Experts Fear Impacts of Oil Cleanup on Texas Gulf Coast

Workers scraped oil-drenched sand from the beaches of Matagorda Island.

Mose Buchele

Workers scraping oil-drenched sand from the beaches of Matagorda Island.

MATAGORDA ISLAND, TX — Recovery efforts continue weeks after a barge accident in the Houston Ship Channel dumped tens of thousands of barrels of oil into Galveston Bay. That oil kills wildlife and damages the environment. But some are worried the cleanup itself could also disturb the ecosystem along the Texas Gulf Coast. Nowhere is that threat more apparent than in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

Every morning this week, hundreds of workers have gone out to Matagorda Island, a part of that refuge, to try to remove the oil. On a recent tour organized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the response team appeared to work with great care, gingerly scraping thin layers of oil-drenched sand away with shovels, then depositing it into nearby excavators for delivery into larger dump trucks. Over ten tons of sand has been removed so far.

Randal Ogrydziak, the U.S. Coast Guard captain who is one of the coordinators of the spill response, likens the painstaking process to shoveling a gravel driveway after a snow storm.

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This is What the Oil Spill Looks Like on Matagorda Island

Weeks after a large oil spill in Galveston Bay, it’s still having an impact on sensitive wildlife habitats along the Texas Gulf Coast. On Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took reporters to see the impacts on Matagorda Island, an important wildlife refuge for migratory birds and several endangered species. Workers are now busy cleaning up tons of oil from the Island’s beaches.

Mose Buchele took the photos above of the spill’s impact on Matagorda Island. Check back tomorrow for his story on how the cleanup effort istelf could disturb the delicate ecosystem and endangered wildlife of the Gulf Coast.

Four Years After BP Spill, Settlement Money Slowly Trickles In

NWF hopes BP settlement money is used to rehabilitate species like this pelican based on scientific research.

Bevil Knap/EPA/LANDOV

NWF hopes BP settlement money is used to rehabilitate species like this pelican based on scientific research.

In the aftermath of the 2010 BP oil spill, the worst in US history, the Gulf Coast is still adding up the costs of the disaster on coastal species and the ecosystem as a whole.

In the National Wildlife Federation’s updated annual report on the status of the Gulf Coast, the foundation lists several criminal and civil cases brought against BP and Transocean. Some have resulted in settlements of up to $2.5 billion and some are still pending.

Lacey McCormick, a representative for NWF, says the organization is concerned that money could be misspent as it slowly trickles in.

“Our concern with the RESTORE Act dollars in particular is that we need to make sure that this money is used to restore the Gulf of Mexico and is not spent on pet projects that will not help — and may even harm — the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico,” McCormick says.  Continue Reading

How the Coast Guard is Managing Oil Spill Volunteers

US Coast Guard Lt. Dave Wood with volunteers on Galveston Island

Dave Fehling / StateImpact

US Coast Guard Lt. Dave Wood with volunteers on Galveston Island

Volunteers Warned Phones with Photos of Oiled Beaches Could Be Confiscated

When a barge carrying fuel oil collided with a ship last month off Galveston Island, hundreds of people began signing up to help. For days now, volunteers have been walking the beaches looking for oil slicks, tarballs, and injured wildlife. Their reports are helping officials pinpoint where to send clean-up crews.

One of the volunteers is Kelli Stoveken from Seabrook, a community 20 miles up the shoreline of Galveston Bay from where the barge collision happened last month.

“I grew up in this area. I worked summers on a shrimp boat in Clear Lake. I don’t want to see anything happen to it,” Stoveken said.

She was among a dozen volunteers who gathered early last Friday morning at the old Galveston County Courthouse. Under the coordination of the Galveston Bay Foundation and the U.S. Coast Guard, they were checked in, given photo IDs, and lectured on the do’s and don’ts of being a volunteer “sentinel.” Continue Reading

What a Ban on Fracking in Denton Could Mean For the Rest of Texas

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. A successful petition in Denton could bring fracking bans to communities around the state.

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. A successful petition in Denton could bring fracking bans to communities around the state.

Come elections in November, the city of Denton could be split between two very different futures.

The Denton Drilling Awareness Group (DAG) recently got enough signatures on a petition to place an ordinance banning fracking within city limits on local ballots. Though other communities in Texas have passed restrictions on fracking, a moratorium on drilling activity within Denton could spur the rise of similar legislation across the state.

If the ban passes it will likely provoke a precedent-setting legal battle that would help clarify the authority of local governments over oil and gas operations in Texas. Continue Reading

Let’s Talk About ‘The Boom’

New Book Looks at How Fracking Changed Everything

Russell Gold, author of a new book on fracking, says that this drilling revolution is "transforming the United States."

Joel Salcido

Russell Gold, author of a new book on fracking, says that this drilling revolution is "transforming the United States."

THE-BOOM-684x1024If you ever talk about the surge in oil and gas drilling in Texas and the rest of the country by calling it a “boom,” you might upset someone in the oil and gas industry. That’s because if you call it a “boom,” that means at some point there’s going to be a “bust.”

So Wall Street Journal energy reporter Russell Gold may furrow a few brows in the industry with his new book, ‘The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World.’

“This revolution is transforming the United States,” Gold writes. “To a remarkable extent, this once-obscure oil-field technique defines the nation’s economic and environmental future.” A hundred new wells are drilled and fracked every day, he writes.

Gold sat down with David Brown of KUT’s Texas Standard to talk about why this boom is different, and some lessons for the oil and gas industry going forward. Take a listen:

‘The Boom’ hits bookshelves (both virtual and real) this week.

Giddy Up! Now You Can Buy Your Very Own Oil Well

A jointly-owned oil rig atop the Eagle Ford shale south of San Antonio.

Larissa Liska

A jointly-owned oil rig atop the Eagle Ford shale south of San Antonio.

But That Could Spell Trouble for Texas’ Drilling Boom

From the first geyser to burst from the salt domes of Spindletop to the Texas fracking pioneer George Mitchell, who helped unlock massive oil and gas deposits in shale, the Lone Star State has always been willing to gamble on drilling. And the bets are big. The latest boom has been mostly the work of companies and investors with access to plenty of capital — it’s estimated each oil well in the Eagle Ford shale of South Texas costs between $5 and $10 million to drill.

Now, with a minimum investment of $80,000, one Texas company is offering you your very own oil well. Oil Boom USA, a subsidiary of Texas oil and gas company Nakoma Petroleum, is inviting investors into the oil well game. Why? Because it’s an “unequaled tax shelter” and “exciting and fun,” according to the company’s website.

But opening up drilling to more than just oil and gas companies could signal trouble for the industry. As Michael Webber, Deputy Director at the University of Texas’s Energy Institute, explains to KUT’s Texas Standard host David Brown, oil well investing is “pretty good on the way up, but it could be pretty bad on the way down.” Continue Reading

Originally Meant for New Mexico, Diverted Nuclear Waste Arrives in West Texas

The first in a series of radioactive waste shipments arrives in Andrews County on Wednesday, April 2.

(Waste Control Specialists)

The first in a series of radioactive waste shipments arrives in Andrews County on Wednesday, April 2.

A truckload of radioactive waste that was originally meant to wind up at a storage site in Carlsbad, New Mexico arrived in West Texas today.

It was just the first of many that will be crossing the state line into Andrews Countyover the coming months.

The waste was initially headed for theWaste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, but that site’s been shuttered for over a month after what officials have described as a small leak contaminated 17 workers. Continue Reading

When It Comes To Water Restrictions, How Far Should Fort Worth Go?

Perth On Target For Worst Drought Ever Recorded

Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images

From KERA News: 

Update 10 p.m. Tuesday: The Fort Worth City Council has delayed for one week a vote to permanently restrict outdoor watering to twice a week.

Council member W. B. Zimmerman asked for the additional time to educate the public about proposed conservation plans.

Sal Espino, who represents District 2, was opposed to the delay. He said: “I would be in favor of moving forward with this ordinance, imperfect as it may seem to some, and then later changing it or tweaking, because we’ve already been doing twice per week watering.”

Original story: Since last June, Fort Worth has been restricting outdoor watering to twice a week because of drought conditions. Those measures may become permanent if the City Council adopts a proposed water ordinance Tuesday night.

But as water usage is down, water rates are going up. Continue Reading

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