Mose Buchele is the Austin-based broadcast reporter for StateImpact. He has been on staff at KUT 90.5 in Austin since 2009, covering local and state issues. Mose has also worked as a blogger on politics and an education reporter at his hometown paper in Western Massachusetts. He holds masters degrees in Latin American Studies and Journalism from UT Austin.
Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section for Region 6 in Dallas.
The earthquakes that have shaken Dallas and Irving, Texas the last several months have people looking into whether oil and gas activity in the area plays a role. Some of those people work at the Environmental Protection Agency. But EPA researchers say they’re not getting the data they’ve requested from Texas state oil and gas regulators to investigate the possible link.
Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section in Dallas. At a conference of the Groundwater Protection Council Tuesday, he showed early results from a study his team conducted on earthquakes around Irving.
The group looked at the use of wastewater disposal wells closest to Irving earthquakes. Dellinger does not necessarily believe the recent quakes are related to disposal wells, where wastewater from oil and gas drilling is pumped underground. But these types of wells have caused other earthquakes, so his team wanted to see what wells were close to the Irving events.
His choice for where to look was simple. There are only two wells near the recent quakes, and one had been plugged up.
Counties that contain at least one project applying for state funds are highlighted in blue.
The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) had planned to distribute about $800 million in low interest loans for Texas water projects this year. By the time the deadline for project applications closed, total requests reached $5.5 billion, many of them from urban and suburban parts of the state.
The new system of financing was set up by state lawmakers and approved by voters in 2013. Under that system, billions of dollars were moved from the Texas Rainy Day Fund and put into a separate fund for water. The Water Development Board plans to distribute about $800 million dollars in loans every year for the next ten year.
The 48 projects eligible for loans this year range from modest to mighty. The City of Marfa asked for $700,000 to build a single well, but the North Texas Municipal Water District requested $791 million for the under-construction, 16,500 acre Lower Bois d’Arc reservoir.
Applications from the greater Houston metropolitan area comprise one third of the total requests received by the Water Development Board. The sixteen projects around Harris County alone add up to $3 billion in loan requests. Projects in the Dallas Fort Work area made up about ten percent of all requests.
Ehud Ronn directs the Center for Energy Finance Education and Research at UT Austin.
The financial markets may be betting that the Keystone XL pipeline is a done deal.
The U.S. House and Senate have now both passed bills to force approval of the controversial pipeline. The southern leg of the project already delivers oil from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast. But approval of the full build-out would link existing pipe to the Canadian border, allowing more crude from the tar sands of Canada to reach Texas refineries via Cushing.
President Obama has vowed to veto the bills, but one expert says the fate of the project may already be written in futures contracts for crude oil.
Beer, Coffee, or Crude was created by Rice University student Aruni Ranaweera.
Anyone who spends time looking at how oil is drilled for and refined around the world comes to notice something strange. The names people give to different types of crude oil can sound surprisingly delicious.
In reporting on the role that benchmark oil prices play in moving the price of gasoline, I was introduced to one person who had made a game out of it. Rice University student Aruni Ranaweera created the quiz “Beer, Coffee, Crude” to test her classmates’ ability to distinguish between types of crude, types of beer, and blends of coffee. It’s harder than is sounds. Go ahead, crack open a can of Tia Juana Light and give it a shot.
An exploratory oil well in California. Oil companies base their decisions to drill around the "benchmark price" of crude oil.
If you’ve followed the drop in oil prices over the last few months you might have noticed the words “Brent” and “WTI” being thrown around without much explanation. The price of these benchmark crude oils influences everything from how big oil companies invest in drilling, to the amount you pay to fill up your car. So what exactly are they?
The first thing to remember is that the crude oil we refine into gasoline comes in a lot of different varieties from all over the world. They have different names and some of them, like Tia Juana Light sound more like a refreshing beverage than an oil.
To make buying and selling all these different crudes simpler. People in the industry use benchmark oil prices. Brent crude, and West Texas Intermediate (or WTI) are the two big ones.
“So somebody will write a contract that says, I will sell you Crude X from the gulf of Mexico at WTI plus a dollar,” says Tim Hess, lead analyst for the US Energy Information Administration’s short term energy outlook.
He says WTI is the price marker for American crudes, “particularly on the Gulf Coast where the petroleum industry is centered.”
A current earthquake hazard map on the USGS website.
A seismic hazard map is essentially what it sounds like – a map that shows the potential for earthquakes in certain areas. The maps give people a sense of the likelihood of earthquakes occurring, where they might occur, and how strong they might be. The maps can influence everything from public policy to building codes to insurance rates.
“They govern hundreds of billions of dollars in constructions and insurance cost every year,” says Mark Peterson, project chief of the USGS’s National Seismic Hazard Mapping project.
So it’s worth noting that the USGS plans to update the maps for Texas (and other parts of the country) to account for an increase in man-made earthquakes.
A dozen smaller earthquakes have struck Dallas this week.
Tremors on the Rise Across Texas
People in Dallas were surprised by a swarm of small earthquakes that started shaking the city a couple of days ago. There have been a dozen by the latest count. And the quakes, though new to the Dallas area, are just the most recent in a major upsurge in earthquakes in Texas over the last few years.
Earthquakes were pretty much unheard of in the Dallas area until 2008. Since then there have been a lot of these swarms of quakes. In Irving, Texas, where this new cluster is located, there have been more than 50 in the last several years, according to the city manager. This current swarm started around September.
This map from the USGS shows the approximate location of a recent quake near Irving, Texas.
Updated 1/6/14 with more comment from Railroad Commission and information on Tuesday January 6th earthquake.
A team of seismologists headed to the North Texas town of Irving Monday. Like some other Texas towns, Irving has experienced scores of small earthquakes lately, 20 since last September, including a magnitude 3.5 quake that struck on January 6th. And the city is hoping to figure out what’s behind the shaking.
The upsurge in quakes started in Texas around the time the oil and gas boom took hold several years ago. Residents in many parts of the state blame the them on wastewater disposal wells, where fluid byproducts of oil and gas drilling are pumped deep into the ground. Scientists have shown how injecting fluid into the ground can cause earthquakes.
After a spate of quakes in the North Texas town of Azle, the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state’s oil and gas regulator, hired a seismologist, Dr. David Craig Pearson, and passed new regulations for disposal wells. The Commission says it is not investigating the Irving quakes.
“The Railroad Commission is not investigating seismic activity around Irving,” Ramona Nye, a spokesperson for the Commission wrote in an email to StateImpact Texas. “Specifically, there are no disposal wells in Dallas County, and there is only one natural gas well in the vicinity, and it is an inactive well.”
An image of Sir Walter Raleigh from '"A Child's History of England."
Every year humans pump tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide, or CO2, into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. That CO2 traps heat into the atmosphere, causing climate change. Whenever governments talk about fighting climate change, limiting carbon emissions what they are talking about.
But how do we keep track of the CO2 we’re releasing? And just how do we weigh something that floats in the first place?
It turns out there is a venerable history to the science of weighing smoke. In 16th century England Queen Elizabeth made a bet over the weight of smoke with famed explorer Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh is known for popularizing tobacco at the royal court. One day, so the story goes, he told the queen he could weigh the smoke that came from his pipe.