Texas Lost Over 1 Million Acres Of Private Farm and Ranch Land In 15 Years

Juan Rico culls cotton plants growing between rows in an irrigated cotton field July 27, 2011 near Hermleigh, Texas. A new bill would require most farmers to report their water usage to the state.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Juan Rico culls cotton plants growing between rows in an irrigated cotton field July 27, 2011 near Hermleigh, Texas.

Talk of Texas often conjures images of wide open ranch land and farmers at work their fields. But that iconic territory is being lost, according to a new analysis.

Dr. Roel Lopez, director for Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources, says the state lost over 1 million acres of privately-owned farm land and forest land between 1997-2012. He presented the information this week at a conference of the Texas Agricultural Land Trust, a nonprofit conservation group.

The conference, called “No Land No Water,” focused on what Lopez believes are inefficient and unsustainable landowning trends in Texas’ flourishing economy.

“In the past 15 years, we’ve seen a little over a million acres of working lands converted to other uses,” he says.

Land conversion can mean more than a loss of grazing space and pretty views. Lopez worries it will further impede water recharge by replacing soft, absorptive ground cover with impenetrable material, like road cement.

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When Can A Big Storm Or Drought Be Blamed On Climate Change?

This photo taken 16 November, 2006 shows a warning sign for boats sitting on the bottom of the empty Green Hill Lake outside the small rural town of Ararat, some 170 kms west of Melbourne.

Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images

This photo taken 16 November, 2006 shows a warning sign for boats sitting on the bottom of the empty Green Hill Lake outside the small rural town of Ararat, some 170 kms west of Melbourne.

Nowadays, when there’s a killer heat wave or serious drought somewhere, people wonder: Is this climate change at work? It’s a question scientists have struggled with for years. And now there’s a new field of research that’s providing some answers. It’s called “attribution science” — a set of principles that allow scientists to determine when it’s a change in climate that’s altering weather events … and when it isn’t.

The principles start with the premise that, as almost all climate scientists expect, there will be more “extreme” weather events if the planet warms up much more: heat waves, droughts, huge storms.

But then, there have always been periodic bouts of extreme weather on Earth, long before climate change. How do you tell the difference between normal variation in weather — including these rare extremes — and what climate change is doing?

That sort of discernment is difficult, so scientists have had a rule, a kind of mantra: You can’t attribute any single weather event to climate change. It could just be weird weather.

Then they took a close at last year’s heat wave in Australia. Continue Reading

Will Texas Even Bother Trying to Comply With EPA’s Clean Power Plan?

New rules proposed by the Obama administration seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants

Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

New rules proposed by the Obama administration seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants

As greenhouse gases reach their highest concentrations in human history, the Obama administration has pledged to take action on climate change, unveiling a Clean Power Plan this summer to go after a prime target of those emissions: coal power plants. And true to form, that plan is running into opposition from lawmakers and regulators in Texas.

At a hearing of the Texas House Committee on Environmental Regulation Monday, both regulators and lawmakers expressed concern in the feasibility of complying with energy regulations proposed in EPA’s plan.

“One of our main concerns is that they don’t reflect the reality of electric markets, which operate at the literal speed of light” said Brian Lloyd, Executive Director of the Public Utility Commission of Texas. “[The plan] requires very long-life, hugely expensive capital expenses.”

Lloyd said the Public Utility Commission would need to collect an additional billion dollars from ratepayers in order to achieve energy efficiency standards proposed by the EPA. Energy efficiency is one of several initiatives, including renewable energy generation and switching from coal to natural gas power generation shifting, that the agency calls for in its plan.

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State Lawmakers Consider the Impacts of EPA Regulations

A recent drop in carbon emissions in the U.S. could only be temporary, a new report warns.

Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

A recent drop in carbon emissions in the U.S. could only be temporary, a new report warns.

Texas will need to make big cuts in carbon emissions over the next 15 years under a mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency.  You can expect to hear complaints about the EPA rule at a two-day meeting of the House Environmental Regulations Committee starting Monday.

The federal agency and state leaders have been at odds for years and many conservatives worry that limiting carbon emission to fight climate change will hurt the economy.

But there are some in Texas who see an upside. Click the player to learn more.

Will Mexican Drilling Bring Texas Profit?

An exploratory well drills for oil in the Monterey Shale, California, April 29, 2013. Voters in Denton, Texas could decide whether or not to outlaw fracking within their city's limits through a ballot initiative.

Lucy Nicholson/ Reuters/ Landov

The oil and gas rich Eagle Ford Shale formation straddles both sides of the Texas Mexico border.

Today, members of the state House Energy Resources Committee met in the Rio Grande Valley town of Edinburg to discuss how a partial privatization of Mexico’s oil and gas sector could impact the Texas economy.

Until this year, drilling in Mexico was run by Pemex, a state-owned company.  A change in Mexican law has now partially opened the county to foreign business.  That could be a big opportunity for Texas companies familiar with the oil and gas rich Eagle Ford shale that straddles the border. Some estimates have already said a shale boom in Mexico could grow the Texas economy by tens of billions of dollars. Others say it’s too early to tell.

“I have seen some of those estimates, and at this point all they are are numbers on a spreadsheet,” say Tom Tunstall, director of the Center for Community and Business Research at UT San Antonio.

He says infrastructure and border security concerns could complicate investment. Then there’s uncertainty around the continued roll of Pemex.

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Perry: More American Energy to Counter Russian Aggression

Texas Governor Rick Perry waiting to be introduced at Energy & Climate Policy Summit in Houston

Texas Governor Rick Perry waiting to be introduced at Energy & Climate Policy Summit in Houston

Governor Rick Perry says the United States can keep Russia in check by increasing the production of oil and gas here at home.Perry spoke last night in Houston at a conference on energy and climate policy, sponsored by the conservative think tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

“The reliance on oil has made us more dependent than we should have been on sources that are hostile to this country, ” Perry said.

But now, oil and gas production here has surged with the boom in the drilling technique called fracking. Perry said domestic production could be expanded even more, which he said, would give the U.S. added leverage in dealing with Russia. Russia has its own vast supplies of natural gas it sells to Europe.

“Energy is a weapon in the hands of aggressors. So I say if energy is going to be used as a weapon, America should have the largest arsenal,” said Perry. Continue Reading

Fewer Atlantic Hurricanes Bode Well For An El Niño Winter

In this handout GOES satellite image provided by NASA, Hurricane Sandy, pictured at 1410 UTC, churns off the east coast on October 28, 2012 in the Atlantic Ocean.

Photo by NASA via Getty Images

Hurricane Sandy, pictured, churns off the east coast on October 28, 2012 in the Atlantic Ocean.

There’s a good chance of an El Niño weather pattern forming by the end of the year. That could be good for easing or even ending the Texas drought. But it’s not a sure thing.

For meteorologists to know El Niño has definitely arrived, warmer surface water in the Pacific needs to engage with the atmosphere. So far, that hasn’t happened.

Forecasters, however, are already seeing another sign of El Niño: fewer hurricanes than average in the Atlantic.

“I think we’ve only had five named storms so far [in the Atlantic], about 50 percent of normal,” says Victor Murphy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “Whereas the Eastern Pacific Basin, I think they’re on the “P” storm Polo. I think they’re at about 150 percent of activity in the Pacific.”

The “O” storm, “Odile,” from the Pacific, dropped a sizable amount of rain on parts of Texas just last week.

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Flow Of Money From South Texas Oil Startles Economists

Oil & gas facilites in LaSalle County, part of the Eagle Ford Shale.

Photo by Dave Fehling.

Oil & gas facilites in LaSalle County, part of the Eagle Ford Shale.

Economists made a surprising discovery when they measured the economic impact of oil & gas drilling in Texas. For the past four years, Thomsas Tunstall and a team of economists at University of Texas-San Antonio have been measuring the economic impact of surging oil & gas drilling in the rock formation called the Eagle Ford in South Texas.

“Clearly the formation production has legs,” Tunstall told News 88.7.

And those legs are running faster than expected. Way faster.

The economists had predicted just last year that they expected the total economic impact to South Texas to be $89 billion in 2022. Instead, they now estimate that the impact has already reached almost that amount: $87 billion.

What’s making the difference? Continue Reading

What Does Fossil Fuel Divestment Mean For Texas?

Pushes to modernize the Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas drilling in Texas, are taking shape.

Photo by Mira Oberman/AFP/Getty Images

Divestment has become a popular topic on college campuses and some boardrooms.But it will likely have trouble taking hold in oil rich parts of the state.

“I think it is worth asking ourselves as a society how much longer we think we need to have an oil economy.” — Michael Webber, UT Energy Institute

This week in New York, the UN Climate Summit is underway, and the Rockefeller Foundation made news with the announcement that it will divest close to a billion dollars from fossil fuels. Here in Austin, University of Texas President Bill Powers gave his State of the University address. But in contrast to the news from New York, Powers thanked “heavens” for the oil wealth provided to UT by its land holdings, and celebrated the fracking revolution as “good news” for the University.

The disconnect between the two messages leads one to wonder about the role of the divestment campaign in oil-rich parts of the country. Could divestment in other parts of the country grow to the point where it disrupts Texas’ fossil fuel economy? By contrast, could divestment ever catch on here?

We called Michael Webber, Deputy Director of UT’s Energy Institute, to talk about all that and more.

It should be noted that the Institute receives funding from industry and from UT, which, as President Powers noted, is no stranger to the oil business. (StateImpact Texas has also been sponsored by the Energy Institute on special projects. These disclosures seem all the more important in a blog post about how deeply intertwined the fossil fuel industry is with many aspects of the life in the state.)

StateImpact Texas: Could divestment shake up the Texas economy?

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Oil & Gas Trouble In Texas Ranchland: Whose Road Is It?

Joel Rodriguez is the County Commissioners Court Judge in LaSalle County

Joel Rodriguez is the County Commissioners Court Judge in LaSalle County

The Railroad Commission of Texas will meet Monday morning to consider an issue of huge importance to landowners across Texas. It has to do with how the state oversees energy companies that need access to private land. At issue at the hearing will be pipelines for oil & gas.

But there are other land use issues emerging in the hot plays including the Eagle Ford shale of South Texas. One local dispute involves one particular county road, Hindes Road. It’s in LaSalle County, which lies halfway between San Antonio and the Mexican border.

“When it rains, it has standing water and mud holes where you need four-wheel-drive,” said Steven Mafrige, who lives on a nearby ranch.

Ranchers have always shared the land with energy companies: They make money together. But this oil & gas boom is like nothing ever seen here before. And maybe that’s why this little road has become a source of conflict. Continue Reading

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