Texas Railroad Commission Refutes Study Linking Quakes to Oil and Gas Industry

A dozen smaller earthquakes have struck Dallas this week.

OLIVER BERG DPA/LANDOV

A dozen smaller earthquakes have struck Dallas this week.

An inquiry by the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry in Texas has found that oil and gas activity did not likely cause a swarm of earthquakes around the north Texas towns of Azle and Reno starting in 2013. The finding, however, flies in the face of a peer-reviewed scientific study of the quakes.

The Texas Railroad Commission is the strangely named agency that regulates the state’s oil and gas activity. The agency held a hearing in June looking at whether ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy contributed to the earthquakes by pumping millions of gallons of drilling and fracking wastewater into the ground.

peer-reviewed study out of Southern Methodist University had already found that that was “most likely” the cause, adding that industry data would be vital in widening the scope of future studies. But at the hearing, agency examiners weighed that study against the evidence put on the record. XTO was the only party that offered direct evidence, and examiners found in favor of an XTO well located near Azle and Reno.

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In the Land of the Oil Bust, the Repo Business Booms

Ryan Peck has been repossessing many more trucks since the downturn in the oilfields.

Mose Buchele

Ryan Peck has been repossessing many more trucks since the downturn in the oilfields.

Oil closed at its lowest price in more than six years Wednesday. Some project the price to drop even further.

In some parts of Texas that’s bad news for almost everyone. The economic ripple effect of low prices leads to layoffs and slams the breaks on local economies.  But there’s one business that’s going through a boom in oil patch right now: the repo business.

Ryan Peck says when you’re a repo man some jobs are harder than others.

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In Some Texas Oil Towns, This ‘Downturn’ Feels More Like a ‘Bust’

A box at the Alice Food Pantry accepts prayer requests. Many people in Alice have lost jobs since the prices of oil dropped.

Mose Buchele

A box at the Alice Food Pantry accepts prayer requests. Many people in Alice have lost jobs since the price of oil dropped.

Even before oil prices plummeted last year, the town of Alice, Texas was feeling the paincaused by a restless oil industry. Some oilfield service companies had moved operations from Alice, located near Corpus Christi, to places deeper in the Eagle Ford Shale. That cost the town jobs and tax revenue. Then, starting around Thanksgiving, the value of Texas crude dropped by more than half. More layoffs came, the real trouble started.

“A lot of people are in depression right now. And in denial,” says Bonnie Whitley, volunteer coordinator at the Alice Food Pantry. ”They just can’t come to grips with what’s happened. So there’s depression and we really need some good counselors down here. Which we don’t have…”

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New Tool Predicts Bird Deaths from Wind Turbines

 Research looked at Golden Eagle deaths caused by wind turbines.

Wikimedia Commons

Research looked at Golden Eagle deaths caused by wind turbines.

Texas leads the nation in wind power, but some environmentalists worry about bird deaths cause by wind turbines – typically, birds fly into the blades of the turbines.

Now, a new approach pioneered by the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to decrease those fatalities by trying to calculate the probability of bird-turbine collisions, while recognizing the inherent uncertainty of the phenomenon.

The approach is basically a mathematical formula. You plug in what you know about the local bird population, and where the turbines will be built. You run the numbers and get a fatality estimate. Dr. Leslie New is an assistant professor of statistics in Washington State University. She helped create the model looking at Golden Eagles, an endangered species; though, she says the model could be used for other species like the Bald Eagle.

Obviously, killing an endangered eagle is illegal, but wind farms can apply for a permit to exempt them from prosecution under the Endangered Species Act. New says the permits provide more an on-the-ground assessment of deaths as a result of collisions, but they will also help the model in predicting patterns of eagle deaths.

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Will State Correct A Big Mistake In What Texans Paid For Electricity?

ERCOT is asking Texans to conserve power until noon Friday.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

ERCOT is asking Texans to conserve power until noon Friday.

We first reported in June about some so-called “fake profits” in the Texas energy industry that led to a multi-million dollar windfall for some companies. We have been following up to see what can be done to reimburse consumers for what some experts call a serious mistake in pricing electricity.

In June, News 88.7 reported how a data error may have caused a very big mistake. It was in the computer system that’s used to set the minute by minute price for electricity sold on the wholesale market in Texas.

One investor and energy trader, Adam Sinn, told us the mistake resulted in what he called “fake profits.”

“We calculated this mistake was somewhere in the ballpark of $50-plus million,” Sinn said.


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Power To Choose -Or To Pay More? State Of Texas Website Faulted By Consumers

Power to Choose Homepage

KUHF

Power to Choose Homepage

With temperatures near 100 degrees, this is the time of year when we spend the most money to run our air conditioners. But are you spending more than you have to because you used the state’s Power to Choose website to pick your electricity provider?

Frank St. Claire knows numbers and contracts. He graduated from MIT and became a lawyer and did big real estate deals. He’s now retired. Which is all good to know as you consider what now is challenging his analytical abilities. He’s been spending hours reviewing complicated contracts and pricing formulas.

“This is labor intensive. I had to do a spreadsheet in order to make any sense of it,” St. Claire told News 88.7.

What’s taking up so much of this retiree’s time? It’s his electricity bill.


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As Crude Oil Rides The Rails To Houston, Texas Firefighters Prepare For The Worst

crude by rail photo2

Courtesy of KUHF

crude by rail photo2

There was a rail disaster northwest of Houston last week but you probably didn’t hear about it. That’s because it was staged as part of a training exercise at a Texas firefighting school where a new risk is changing the curriculum.

It’s scene that’s a nightmare for first responders. A train has left the tracks. Tanker cars have piled on top of one another. Two tankers are full of a flammable liquid. One’s on fire, the other’s leaking. A dozen firefighters are spraying the cars with water and foam.

“It’s hot. It’s hot. It’s very hot,” says firefighter Adrian Munoz, a volunteer for the Alvin Fire Department. “It was awesome. It was a great experience.”


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Oil Prices Spell Bad News For Texas Budget Forecast

Texas-Oil-Drums_jpg_800x1000_q100

Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune

This week, oil prices dropped below $50 for the first time since February, a development that could upend the state’s predictions of oil revenue for this year.

Estimates from the Comptroller of Public Accounts put oil prices at an average of just over $64 per barrel in 2015 and 2016. And, as of now, those predictions are rosier than the reality of the market, meaning the state’s loss in oil and gas tax revenue could impact the Texas budget going forward.


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The Texas Drought’s Over, But The Texas Slow-Motion Water Crisis Is Not

Texas Drought Map.

US Drought Monitor

Texas Drought Map.

The latest drought report from the Texas Water Development Board has some good news. After more than five years, spring rains saturated the ground enough to finally end our long drought — our long soil moisture drought. But that doesn’t mean water shortages don’t still plague some parts of the state, and that water challenges wont stay with Texas into the foreseeable future.

“So we have hydrologic drought,” says Robert Mace with the Texas Water Development Board.

He says the ground is doing great, but parts of the state need much more rain to replenish their reservoirs.

“If you look at Lake Abilene, which is, believe it or not…3.4 percent full. And that was last full in 2011. Another example is Lake Meredith, up north of Amarillo, [which is] 15.6 percent full currently,” Mace says.

Mace is optimistic those and the rest of the state’s reservoirs can recover this winter, when El Niño conditions are expected to bring us more rain.

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Hard Times Come to the ‘Hotel Capital’

Small town Cotulla depends on the oil industry to bring people to fill its many hotel rooms. Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon Jose Rodriguez is recently laid off from his oil industry job.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

Small town Cotulla depends on the oil industry to bring people to fill its many hotel rooms.Jorge Sanhueza-LyonJose Rodriguez is recently laid off from his oil industry job.

This story originally ran as part of KUT 90.5′s series “Meanwhile in Small Town Texas.”

Cotulla, Texas, is a small town deep in the oil fields of the South Texas Eagle Ford Shale.

It’s a town that bet big on the oil boom.

Five years ago the census put the population at less than 4,000 people. There were three or four motels then. Now in Cotulla there are around 25 motels, hotels and inns. It’s earned the town a nickname: “The ‘Hotel Capital of the Eagle Shale,’” says City Administrator Larry Dovalina.

He says for years Cotulla was like a lot of places in rural Texas: “Dying on the vine. Kind of forgotten.”

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