Texas

Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Construction Begins on Largest Carbon Capture Project in the World

Carbon dioxide will be captured and piped to an oilfield

Dave Fehling/StateImpact Texas

Carbon dioxide will be captured and piped to an oilfield

Here’s a head-scratcher: Over a million of tons of carbon dioxide a year will be captured from a coal plant near Houston, Texas. Then that captured carbon will be used to get more fossil fuels out of the ground, specifically from an old oilfield that’s been in use since the 1930s. Construction has begun on the Petra Nova Project, which the U.S. Department of Energy is calling “the first commercial-scale post-combustion carbon capture retrofit project in the U.S.”

The carbon capture will take place at the NRG W.A. Parish coal plant in Fort Bend County, the largest coal plant in Texas. The carbon capture project has quadrupled since its conception, now aiming to capture 90 percent of the emissions from one of the generating units at the plant. That carbon dioxide will be compressed and sent via pipeline 80 miles away to the West Ranch Oil Field

Dave Fehling of StateImpact Texas took a look at the project in February 2012: Continue Reading

As Solar Grows in Texas, Border City Provides a Model

From Marfa Public Radio:

Presidio Economic Development Director Brad Newton says the city could partner economically with Mexico by selling supplies for oil and gas exploration taking place across the border.

Travis Bubenik/KRTS

Presidio Economic Development Director Brad Newton says the city could partner economically with Mexico by selling supplies for oil and gas exploration taking place across the border.

For most of its life, the small border city of Presidio, Texas has been on the edge of the electric grid.

This rugged part of West Texas has seen a major upgrade of its transmission lines over the past five years, but Presidio’s Economic Development Director Brad Newton says before that, it was pretty much the Wild West of the grid.

“We were working off the old wooden poles that were put about the same time they were filming Giant,” he says, “and electrical outages were very common in Presidio.”

As part of our look at solar power in Texas this week, we went to see how after those new lines were put in, the city turned to the sun to make what used to be regular blackouts and power surges a thing of the past. Continue Reading

Denton City Council To Vote On Fracking Ban Tuesday

From KERA News: 

A Chesapeake natural gas production facility in Fort Worth, Texas.

Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT

A Chesapeake natural gas production facility in Fort Worth, Texas.

The city of Denton could take another step Tuesday toward becoming the only Texas city to permanently ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The city of Denton sits above the Barnett Shale, one of the country’s largest natural gas fields. There are already nearly 300 active gas wells.

But concerned citizens filed a petition in May with nearly 2,000 signatures forcing a vote on the city council whether to ban fracking.

Resident Cathy McMullen, who helped organize the initiative, says in the past month, Denton has been inundated with people employed by outside opposition.

“It’s hard being the first,” McMullen says, “And what’s making it particularly hard for us is that the fracking is [already] there. We’re trying to get it out.” Continue Reading

How One Austin Home Produces More Energy Than It Uses

Steve Bijansky climbs down from the attic.

Mengwen Cao for KUT News

Steve Bijansky climbs down from the attic.

As the mercury rises in Texas, so does our energy use. Air conditioners will work overtime to keep your house cool. And when that happens, the Texas grid can become stretched thin. One solution is to build more power plants to meet growing demand. Another is to simply get Texans to use less energy.

“The cheapest and cleanest electricity is the electricity you don’t use,” says Kate Zerrenner, a Project Manager in the Texas office of the Environmental Defense Fund that focuses on energy efficiency and the energy-water nexus.

To see how far efficiency can go, I visited one of the newest – and smallest — power plants in Austin. Forget smokestacks and huge transmission lines: this “power plant” is actually a modest three-bedroom house in the Allandale neighborhood, right off Burnet Road. It’s classified as a “Net Zero” home, meaning it produces as much energy as it uses. Or in this case, it actually produces more energy than it needs. Continue Reading

Houston’s One Bin for All Recycling Proposal Divides Environmentalists

From Houston Public Media:

Houston's proposal to throw everything in one bin -- trash and recycling -- is meeting opposition from environmental groups.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers

Houston's proposal to throw everything in one bin -- trash and recycling -- is meeting opposition from environmental groups.

The City of Houston hopes to eventually do away with curbside recycling and allow residents to throw all of their trash and recycleables into one bin. The items would then be sorted and separated at a processing facility and city leaders claim they can divert 75 percent of the waste from landfills using this method.

But a group of environmentalists have formed a coalition against the plan. Texas Campaign for the Environment Program Director Melissa Scruggs says it will be a boondoggle for the city.

“There’s no way that they’re going to be able to divert 75 percent of waste from landfills with this type of technology. Our report shows that no facility that claims to separate recycling from trash has ever exceeded 30 percent recycling,” Scruggs said.

Proponents of the city’s plan says that information is outdated. Continue Reading

Marfa Residents Protest City Water Sales

Trucks wait to be filled with water purchased from the City of Marfa

(Sara Melancon/KRTS)

Trucks wait to be filled with water purchased from the City of Marfa

From Marfa Public Radio: 

With reports of drilling activity approaching the Big Bend region, some residents of Marfa are concerned about the city’s practice of selling its water supply in bulk, sometimes to drilling companies.

On Thursday, protesters parked and left their cars in front of city fire hydrants, hoping to block trucks from accessing the water supply.

Marfa resident Buck Johnston spearheaded the effort. She feels it’s a short-sighted move to sell city water in bulk, especially in a drought-stricken desert region.

“Ask any rancher, and they’ll tell you their wells are dropping and going dry,” she says. “I don’t really care what anyone’s feelings are about fracking or oil exploration, my concern is water.” Continue Reading

You May Want to Slow Your Coal Roll in Texas

The world is warming, and there’s heated debate over what to do about it, or if it’s even warming at all. (Hint: It is.) Amidst this debate, some opponents of government regulations and environmental policy have taken up protest by retrofitting their diesel trucks to spew billowing clouds of black, noxious smoke. When the soot gets blasted, it’s called “rolling coal.” Some save the move for those special moments when they’re in front of a Prius, then post the video online.

The practice is illegal under federal legislation, but apparently not so hard to get away with in Texas. The state’s transportation code prohibits excessive smoke from a vehicle, but that code includes a handful of exceptions for diesel engines, saysTom Vinger, spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“[Diesel engines] will smoke during acceleration, gear changes, some travel conditions, vehicle loading, and those exceptions are covered under the law,” Vinger said.

There are several ways to make your truck “roll coal,” ranging from removing factory-installed emissions regulators to reprograming the small computer that coordinates fuel injection.

But according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act, it is illegal “to manufacture, sell, or install a part for a motor vehicle that bypasses, defeats, or renders inoperative any emission control device.” Continue Reading

U.S. House Passes Bill Extending Anti-Terrorism Safeguards For Chemical Plants

Rep. Michael McCaul

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Rep. Michael McCaul

The House of Representatives has passed a bill to extend anti-terrorism protections for chemical plants through 2017. The bill’s lead sponsors included two Houston congressmen – Republican Rep. Michael McCaul and Democratic Rep. Gene Green.

The rules governing security for high-risk chemical facilities have been in place since 2007. But under current legislation, they must be renewed annually, along with appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security. That’s led to some problems.

“Last year, because of the budget problems, when we shut down the government for thirteen days, this law was not into effect,” says Rep. Green. “We want to give it its own freestanding law, so there can be some certainty.” Continue Reading

El Paso May Become the First Texas City to Go Coal Free

Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel and the most widely used for power generation.

Photo by Cabot/Getty Images

Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel and the most widely used for power generation.

El Paso’s public utility announced plans to run the city coal-free in two years. It’s a bold proposal since no major U.S. city can run without coal power yet, but it seems possible, and it puts El Paso ahead among Texas cities that have sought to end their dependence on coal.

The announcement mirrors an initiative in Austin. But El Paso, with less investment in coal plants, less dependence on coal power and substantial recent development of other energy sources may find it easier to get out of the coal game completely.

“Our overall portfolio for generation has a very small percentage of coal,” said Eddie Gutierrez, spokesman for El Paso Electric Company. “In our region we have the right kind of sun for the optimal type of solar energy, so moving forward solar energy and cost effective forms of technology is what were going to go with.”

El Paso Electric Company services about 400,000 customers and has doubled its solar power production capacity in the last year. The utility signed a 20-year contract to get power from Macho Springs, a New Mexico solar farm as big as 300 football fields, which started operation in May. They have also started construction on a new natural gas plant.

Continue Reading

Pollution From Ship Channel and Port Traffic Affects Galena Park

From KUHF News: 

 A tug boat navigates the Houston ship channel with a flare from an oil refinery and storage facility in the background south of downtown Houston

REUTERS /RICHARD CARSON /LANDOV

A tug boat navigates the Houston ship channel with a flare from an oil refinery and storage facility in the background south of downtown Houston

The city of Galena Park is on the north side of the Ship Channel, surrounded by highways, freight rail lines and heavy industry.

It has about 10,000 residents.

The city’s main road, Clinton Drive, is a major artery for the Port of Houston and Ship Channel industries, according to Bel Vasquez-St. John, community outreach director for the environmental group Air Alliance Houston.

Vasquez-St. John says thousands of tractor trailers pass through Galena Park every day.

“There’s just so many going and coming that it makes it very unsafe, for even the drivers coming in to Galena Park,” she said. Continue Reading

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