Texas

Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Dave Fehling

Reporter

Dave Fehling is the Houston-based broadcast reporter for StateImpact. Before joining StateImpact Texas, Dave reported and anchored at KHOU-TV in Houston. He also worked as a staff correspondent for CBS News from 1994-1998. He now lectures on journalism at the University of Houston.

  • Email: dfehling@houstonpublicmedia.org
  • Twitter: @DaveFehling

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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Keeping Houses Out of Texas Floodwaters Could Cost Billions

First responders pull flood victims from a flooded South East Austin neighborhood.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

First responders pull flood victims from a flooded South East Austin neighborhood.

Back on May 26th, Houston woke up to flooded freeways and neighborhoods as bayous overflowed their banks. In the Texas Hill Country, homes and bridges washed away and levees broke.

But super-heavy rainfall is nothing new in Texas and in fact, it was years earlier that experts had warned that the state was doing dangerously little to minimize flood damage.

“We gave flood control the grade of D,” said Curtis Beitel, president of the Texas chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers.


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As EPA Pushes For Cleaner Air, Refineries Push Back

Petrochemical plant in Freeport.

KUHF

A petrochemical plant in Freeport.

If you lived in Houston in the 1980s, you might have noticed that something has changed about the air you breathe: back then, it was a lot dirtier. But whether it needs to be “cleaner” than it is today is at the heart of debate heating up as new federal regulations are being written.

In the past several decades, the air in Houston and other big cities has improved dramatically. One reason is that car engines emit far less pollution. And the same can be said for big industries.

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What Could Reduce The Risk Of Another Catastrophic Oil Well Blowout?

Charlie Williams is a veteran of the drilling business and now heads an industry safety group.

KUHF

Charlie Williams is a veteran of the drilling business and now heads an industry safety group.

A little before 10 o’clock on the night of April 20th, 2010 multiple explosions blew apart the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Eleven crew members died, 17 more were injured while nearly 100 others narrowly escaped. In the five years since, the drilling industry says it has dramatically changed how it does business to make it safer.

Charlie Williams, who spent 40 years at Shell where he was Chief Scientist of Well Engineering, is the man the industry has put in charge of what it calls the Center for Offshore Safety, created after the tragedy and based in Houston.

“I think we are better and we’re going to get continuously better. And the thing people have to realize is you never have zero risk. It can never be zero,” Williams told News 88.7.

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Proposed Law Would Allow Houston To Regulate Mountains Of Coal

Mountains of petroleum coke near the Beltway 8 bridge at the Houston Ship Channel.

Photo by Dave Fehling.

Mountains of petroleum coke near the Beltway 8 bridge at the Houston Ship Channel.

State lawmakers are proposing legislation to deal with something we reported on this past December: giant piles of petroleum coke or “pet coke.” It’s a form of coal piling up along the Houston Ship Channel, and it’s leading to complaints from some nearby residents.

We recently reported how black mountains of petroleum coke could be seen along the Ship Channel; one pile looked to be more than half as high as the Beltway 8 bridge. The pile is just a mile from a neighborhood where we’d talked to Esmerelda Moreno who said with so many refineries and chemical plants nearby, they get used to mystery odors.

“Sometimes there’s like a smell, a weird smell,” Moreno said.

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Five Years After BP Spill, What’s Killing Gulf Dolphins?

A dolphin spotted in Galveston.

carolyn/flickr

A dolphin spotted in Galveston.

It was five years ago next month that a BP oil drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers. Millions of gallons of crude spilled into the water. Damage was done to aquatic life.

But is the spilled oil now to blame for the deaths of hundreds of dolphins?

“The magnitude and the duration of the deaths is utterly unprecedented in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Ryan Fikes, a scientist with the National Wildlife Federation. In a conference call, Fikes talked with reporters along with the group’s David Muth. They released a report titled “Five Years & Counting” about the effects of the spill on wildlife.

“There is compelling evidence that this mortality event that has been going on since the spill is linked to the spill,” said Muth, head of the group’s Gulf Restoration Program.

But is BP’s oil to blame?

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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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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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Environmental Group Wants Loophole Closed On Oil And Gas Pollution

Flaring gas at well site in DeWitt County

Flaring gas at well site in DeWitt County

Lawsuit Filed in Washington Hits Home With Houston’s Biggest Industry

According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the biggest source of air pollution in Texas are oil and gas wells, emitting far more pollution than petrochemical plants or refineries. Yet, federal law exempts those drilling operations from having to report all their chemical releases to a publicly accessible national database called the Toxics Release Inventory.

“That would be very useful to an average citizen in Texas to know that they can go and find out the whole picture,” said Adam Kron, a lawyer with the Environmental Integrity Project. Continue Reading

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