Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Elizabeth Trovall

  • Email: TX_intern@boo.com

For Texas Lawns, It’s Not Easy Staying Green (But It Is Possible)

Agrilife Research photo by Kay Ledbetter.

The pictured rotor head irrigation performed the worst in the drought-simulation study.

Drought doesn’t have to kill your lawn, say Texas A&M Agrilife researchers. Though it may appear brown, the grass can stay alive during water-restricted months. Researchers say it’s a matter of watering with the right sprinklers and the right techniques.

Texas A&M Agrilife researchers studied the best watering techniques during water restrictions by simulating drought-restrictions on grass. They used healthy plots of Bermuda and St. Augustine and limited their water intake to one-quarter inches and one-third inches of water twice a week. The researchers also tried out different sprinkler heads on the grass: spray, MP rotator, rotors and sub-surface drip.

According to the study, the drip irrigation sprinkler heads were the best at maximizing limited water supplies on grass. These sprinkler heads apply water slowly and directly to grass roots, although they are a little more labor intensive than other watering techniques. Continue Reading

Readers Respond: The Dove Dinner that Ruffled So Many Feathers

Folks are still talking about a Texas food blogger who illegally ate a dove that flew into the side of his house. (One commenter calls it ‘windowkill.’)

In homage to the close of dove season, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite comments and reactions to this quirky Texas wildlife story.

After the jump, a collection of tweets, comments, photos and links in a Storify of reader response: Continue Reading

How One Food Blogger Caused a Firestorm For Texas Parks and Wildlife

Photo courtesy of Ryan Adams

The dove that flew into Ryan Adams' house was both a blessing and a curse.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has been receiving hate mail from around the country thanks to the gastronomic adventures of an Austin-area food blogger. It all started when the man’s unlikely dinner literally went bump in the night.

Ryan Adams was watching Project Runway with his wife when it happened.

“All of a sudden there was this loud BAM!” Adams remembers, “And we realized it came from outside.”

He walked into his backyard and saw something lying in the grass by his house.

“It was very dark,” he says. At first he thought it might be a bat.

“It was actually laying right here next to the fig tree,” Adams says, pointing to the location of the animal’s demise. “I came over [and] picked it up. It was just a dove. It didn’t have any sores, any lesions, it was perfectly fine.”

That’s when the thought dawned on him. Eat the bird. Continue Reading

The State of Texas Irrigation: More Efficiency Amid Less Water

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Services

The A&M AgriLife Irrigation map shows large amounts of agricultural irrigation used in the Texas panhandle, while water demands in Central and East Texas are primarily from municipal users.

Texas irrigation is a big deal. The state is home to more than 10 percent of the irrigated acres in the country. Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension looked into Texas’ agricultural water use in a recent report. It examines Texas’ economic dependence on irrigation, improvements in state-wide irrigation efficiency, and problems the state faces as water reserves dwindle.

Urban vs. Rural: Despite Texas’ large cities, most of the water in the state is used for agriculture, 57 percent of it. However, according to the report, farmers use water more efficiently than residential users. Less than 18 inches per year per acre is used on agricultural irrigation in Texas, while residents on average use 22 inches of water annually for their lawns.

Economic Implications: According to the report, 4.7 billion dollars in Texas agriculture relies on irrigation. In the High Plains alone, irrigated agriculture accounts for nearly 9 percent of the Texas economy, including 7,300 jobs. Growing food in Texas also secures availability to produce for the state, the report says, diminishing dependence on more costly imported goods.

Efficiency Improvements: The report also says that since 1970, Texas irrigation has greatly improved in efficiency.  Continue Reading

After Drought, Some Texas Ranchers Wary of Rebuilding

Photo courtesy of AgriLife Extension Service/Robert Burns / Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Despite recent rains, Texas ranchers replenish herds with caution.

It’s been a tough couple of years for Texas ranchers, but as the rain falls, financial clouds are begining to clear.

Increased rainfall has improved conditions for livestock production after ranches were devastated in the 2011 drought. But despite the improvement, ranchers remain hesitant to start replenishing their herds, according to the latest crop and weather report from Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service.

Dr. Jason Cleere, an A&M AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist says in the report that national droughts hit the cattle industry hard, in Texas and the country as a whole. National cowherd numbers have dropped to the smallest in 60 years. “We hear the 3 percent nationally, but here in Texas it was a whole lot worse,” he says in the report. “In some of the counties, it was pretty devastating.” Continue Reading

How Abandoned Wells Can Cause Explosions and Contamination

Infographic by StateImpact

This infographic shows how new wells can cause water contamination when they're drilled in the same formation as old abandoned wells.

Abandoned wells in Pennsylvania are putting landowners at risk for drilling-induced explosions and water contamination, according to a new investigative series by our fellow StateImpact reporters in Pennsylvania. After a methane geyser erupted in the Pennsylvania countryside last year, StateImpact Pennsylvania is now looking into the dangers of abandoned, aka “orphaned,” wells in their Perilous Pathways series.

Laurie Barr lives in Pennsylvania and remembers reading those reports about the geyser earlier this year. “I thought, whoa, what the f—?” Barr recalls. “Can you imag­ine step­ping out to shovel snow, and your whole house goes poof?” Now she’s made it her mission to find where the orphaned wells are and what danger they pose.

Texas also is home to abandoned wells, as we reported earlier this year. Over 7,869 orphan wells scatter across the oil and gas fields of Texas, which cost millions of dollars to plug.

Continue Reading

UT Gasses Up for New Methane Study

Photo courtesy of the University of Texas

Dr. David Allen is leading a new study on methane emissions from drilling.

The University of Texas at Austin is wrapping up the final stages of a new study that looks at how much methane is released during the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Understanding how much methane is released is important to decreasing emissions overall, as methane is a known ‘greenhouse gas’ that contributes to climate change.

The research team and environmental research companies URS and Anodyne Research have been busy measuring methane emissions at natural gas production sites throughout the United States.

Dr. David Allen of UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering led the study. “We are using a variety of different techniques, direct source measurements, directly measuring emissions at the point of origin, but also downwind of production,” he says. The study will aslo use data from nine participating natural gas producers.

Though natural gas burns cleaner than fossil fuels once its been produced, not a lot of research has been done about how much methane is released into the air during drilling and transportation with data drawn from the actual sites. Continue Reading

Dukes of Hazard: EPA Declares Two New Superfund Sites in Texas

View Texas Superfund Sites in a larger map

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) named twelve new National Superfund sites in the country, with two of them in our very own Lone Star State. Superfund sites are polluted locations designated by the EPA as hazardous. The designation allows for the federal government to overhaul clean-up of the toxic sites and find parties financially liable for the contamination.

A Pasadena watershed and a well water site outside Forth Worth were both added to the “National Priorities” list, a distinction the EPA makes to say they intend to investigate the site even further. Just five percent of sites initially investigated by the EPA are added to the National Priorities List. Texas is home to 50 of the 1,315 National Priority sites. So where are these sites, and what happened there? Let’s take a look.

US Oil Recovery Site (Pasadena, Texas)

Pasadena’s watershed, Vince Bayou, has faced environmental threats from a waste management company called US Oil Recovery for almost ten years. Continue Reading

Texans Get Another Choice On Where Their Power Comes From

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Texans can now choose to get their power from only wind or natural gas.

Texans can now choose to get their power from 100 percent Texas-drilled natural gas.  Through a new option from Direct Energy, a retail electric provider, customers can pay a little more — about six dollars extra a month on the average homeowner’s bill* — to get their power just from Texas gas. In Texas, Direct Energy serves cities like Houston, Dallas, Midland, and Brazoria County. Their Texas branch started the “True Blue” plan for Texans only. The company says the idea for the energy plan came in the interest of attracting a certain demographic of consumers in the Lone Star State.

“The True Blue product was meant to tap into the tremendous amount of pride in Texas,” says Direct Energy general manager Rob Comstock. “We felt that this was a great way to offer a product to customers that want to support that part of the economy, the natural gas business, and have a tremendous amount of pride in the state and what we do here.”

But if being “true blue” isn’t your thing, the company has also announced another new plan called “New Leaf,” which takes a more renewable approach. Those opting into “New Leaf” will purchase their energy completely from wind.

The “New Leaf” option is just one of hundreds of other plans already available to Texans wishing to get their power from only renewable sources.  Continue Reading

How Texas Quail Is Making a Rebound, And Why It Might Not Be Enough

Photo courtesy of Texas A&M Agrilife

Quail are released as part of a Texas A&M Agrilife research program.

The Texas quail are back – sort of. Experts say the Texas quail population has notably increased this fall compared to last year’s dismal numbers. However, it seems this season’s increase won’t be enough to reverse the 5-year trend of diminishing quail numbers in Texas. According to Texas A&M Professor and Wildlife expert Dr. Dale Rollins, despite this year’s improved conditions, it is likely many hunters will opt out of hunting quail again this year.

“There will be many ranches in the state that say, ‘Hey, we want to give our populations a break from hunting this year, we want to allow them to recover a little bit, and hopefully have good weather this year, so we have better breeding populations next spring. And then we’ll see a nice increase in our core population in the fall of 2013,’” Rollins tells StateImpact Texas.

Rollins also says the 2011 drought is only one cause of the lowest quail numbers in Texas history. Continue Reading

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »