Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Mose Buchele


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.

After HB 40, What’s Next for Local Drilling Rules in Texas?

A signed announced the resumption of fracking in Denton last May, after lawmakers passed HB40.

Mose Buchele

A signed announced the resumption of fracking in Denton last May, after lawmakers passed HB40.

This year state lawmakers severely restricted the ability of Texas towns to regulate local oil and gas drilling.

A law known as House Bill 40 was a reaction to a fracking ban passed by voters in the North Texas city of Denton.

Denton has come to represent local fracking bans and clashes between local governments and the oil and gas industry. But while Denton was the first city in Texas to ban fracking, it wasn’t the first city to ban drilling within city limits.

That practice goes back years, according to a survey by the Texas Municipal League.

The Texas Municipal League’s survey shows that about 30 Texas towns have more general bans on drilling.

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A Strange El Niño Is Bringing Rain To Texas

When you hear about El Niño, you might remember the classic skit where Chris Farley plays “El Niño,” a pro-wrestling tropical storm.

What other weather pattern gets its own Saturday Night Live send-up?

Well, after a year of waiting, El Niño is here, and it is raging like Farley. But it’s it’s not like anything we’ve seen before. To understand why, we’ve got to clear up some misconceptions.

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Could Evidence of Manmade Quakes Bring Tectonic Shift in Texas Regulation?

A dozen smaller earthquakes have struck Dallas this week.


A dozen smaller earthquakes have struck Dallas this week.

There have been earthquakes in almost every corner of Texas since the start of the state’s most recent oil and gas boom. One “swarm” that really captured people’s attention started in the town of Azle in 2013.  When oil and gas regulators at the Railroad Commission of Texas visited the town, local people suggested ways to handle the waste water disposal wells thought to be causing the quakes. One idea came up over and over again.

“Why is it we can’t shut the wells down around here for a period of time?” asked resident Gale Wood. “If nothing happens after a while, that would be one way to determine what’s going on.”

The Railroad Commission has a different approach. In the case of Azle, it waited over a year while a team of seismologists at Southern Methodist University undertook a study.  The results came back this month, confirming that disposal wells likely caused the quakes. That has some residents in Texas’ quake country hoping the simple notion put forth at that public meeting -shut down disposal wells if there’s a chance they’re related to earthquakes- may get another hearing.

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As Deadline Nears for Texas Haze Rule, A Look at How Lawsuits Shape Regulation

Haze is visible in the distance at Big Bend National Park.

Mary Ann Melton

Haze is visible in the distance at Big Bend National Park.

Note: This is a text version of a previously posted radio story.

One week remains for the public to comment on an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to reduce smog in one of Texas most beloved national parks. The EPA’s plan to limit so-called ‘regional haze’ is one of a slew of new air quality rules that have critics accusing the EPA of waging a ‘war on coal.’ But the reality of environmental policy-making, and the years of lawsuits that it often entails, is more complicated than the rhetoric.

To see how, look no farther than the hazy skies over Far West Texas.

“Big Bend National Park and Big Bend State Park. They are beautiful,” says Mary Ann Melton of the region. She’s a photographer who’s been visiting there since the 1970s.

“You can see 100 miles on a clear day. You’re looking over the valley, you’re about 1800 feet high off the floor of the river, and you can see far into Mexico and mountain ranges far into Mexico.”

Just not on a recent trip last year.

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Scientists Are Flying Over Texas Oil and Gas Fields To Measure Air Pollution

A team of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA – has been circling over Texas, gathering data.

The flights are part of a project to find out exactly how emissions from the state’s sprawling oil and gas fields pollute the air we breathe.

When he offered me a seat on the plane, Dr. Joost de Gouw, a scientist with NOAA’s earth systems research lab, gave me a warning: There are risks that come with this kind of mission.

“You know…some people can get airsick, and it’s hot and it’s noisy and it’s a seven- to eight-hour flight, so there are tough days,” de Gouw said.

Leading the study, de Gouw spends his time measuring air pollution from America’s biggest shale fields — the places where fracking created a boom in oil and gas extraction.

The project tracks things like the excessive production of ozone, which has adverse affects on human health, and methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than even carbon dioxide.

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Sex, Drugs and Plant Biology: Why Much of Texas is Covered in Green Gunk

Does your car look like this? Many do during springtime in Texas.

Mose BUchele

Does your car look like this? Many do during springtime in Texas.

Every spring clouds of green pollen descend on Austin, bringing misery to allergy-suffering public radio reporters like me and frustrating drivers like DeAunderia Bowens.

“You know I just got my car washed and literally got up the next morning and my car was covered with this green stuff!” she said on her way to work. “If I had a green car it would be alright, but clearly not working on a grey vehicle.”

This time of year the stuff is oak pollen, but why does its get everywhere? The answer might make you look at trees a little differently.

It turns out we are surrounded by tree sex.

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Regional Haze, The ‘War on Coal,’ and How Environmental Policy Is Made

Everyone’s heard of the War on Drugs. There’s also, of course, the War on Terror. And as presidential election season heats up – we can expect to hear more about another war.  For years some politicians have accused President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency of waging a “war on coal.”

For StateImpact Texas, KUT’s Mose Buchele reports on the legal push and pull over environmental regulation.


This Dam Holds in Lady Bird Lake, So When Will It Get ‘Essential’ Repairs?

Officials have long been aware of the need for repairs at Longhorn Dam.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

Officials have long been aware of the need for repairs at Longhorn Dam.

The poor condition of the dam that holds in the waters of Austin’s beloved Lady Bird Lake continues to vex city officials.  Emails obtained in a public information request reveal challenges the city faced in performing maintenance on Longhorn Dam, which crosses the Colorado River beneath Pleasant Valley Road. Documents tell of water lost through the dam’s gates that could potentially stay in upstream reservoirs, and show city departments struggling to assign responsibility for the structure and plan a long-term solution.

Austin Energy, the city-owned electric utility, and the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) have long known about the need for work on the dam. Austin Energy is the city department that operates the structure. The LCRA operates dams upstream from Austin and coordinates with Austin Energy when they release water downstream.

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EPA Team Looking At Relationship Between Irving Quakes and Disposal Well

Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section for Region 6 in Dallas.

Photo by Philip Issa

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.

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Where are the Water Projects that Are Asking For $5.5 Billion in State Loans?

Counties that contain at least one project applying for state funds are highlighted in blue.

Mose Buchele

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.

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