Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Michael Marks


  • Email: michaelmarksintern@gmail.com

Here’s What Climate Change and Urban Sprawl Look Like in Texas

The climate is changing, and Texas is growing. For a bird’s eye view of these developments, NASA has put together a ‘State of Flux‘ image gallery that shows how climate change, urbanization, and natural disasters have changed certain geographic features in Texas, and across the world. The gallery puts two satellite images side-by-side to show the changes.

We culled the images about Texas below, where you can see seven side-by-side comparisons that show the effects of drought and urbanization on the state. While not every weather and wildfire event below was directly caused by climate change, scientists say climate change has made them worse. (You can click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Drought Drains Lake Merideth

Photo dates (L-R): June 18, 1990 and June 12, 2011

Photo by NASA

Photo dates (L-R): June 18, 1990 and June 12, 2011

Lake Meredith is located in the Texas Panhandle, about 35 miles north of Amarillo. The picture on the right shows Lake Meredith at a record low of 26.41 feet after the 2011 drought. The bright green portions indicate areas of healthy vegetation growth.

After the jump: wildfires, sprawl and storm surges …

Continue Reading

How a Photographer Captured Stevie Ray Underwater During the Halloween Floods

The floods that hit Austin in the early hours of Halloween morning killed at least five people and damaged more than 500 homes.

Some parts of the city received nearly 10 inches of rain in a 24 hour span, and Austin’s rivers, creeks, and streams rose to historic levels.

One of the lasting images from the floods was a photo of the statue of Austin legend Stevie Ray Vaughan waist-deep in water. The photographer who captured that photo, Reagan Hackleman, rushed down to Lady Bird Lake to get the photos. His images show water bursting up from manholes and the Lamar Street Bridge nearly covered by the rising river.

Hackleman spoke with StateImpact Texas’ Mose Buchele about the experience of taking the photographs, and what it was like to see the city transformed by the floods.

If Rains Refill Reservoirs, Can Texas’ Dams Hold Up?

Warren Samuelson is the Manager of the Dam Safety Program at the TCEQ.

Photo by Mose Buchele

Warren Samuelson is the Manager of the Dam Safety Program at the TCEQ.

Recent rain and snow haven’t been enough to replenish Texas’ water supply. Years of drought have taken their toll on the state’s reservoirs, some of which remain nearly empty.

Eventually, the reservoirs should fill back up. (Hopefully.) But it’s unclear if Texas’ infrastructure will be able to hold back the waters once that happens.

Experts say that Texas’ dams have incurred severe damage because of the drought and subsequent rains. Dry conditions can cause cracks to form in the dams, which undermines their structural integrity.

Continue Reading

Should Texas Ranchers Worry About Anthrax?

A map of reported Anthrax cases in Texas, by county. Map by Michael Marks

Texas is cattle country: there are nearly 13 million cows wandering through Texas, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. That’s over 14 percent of the country’s total cattle population.

And our bovine friends have some company: there are also approximately 1.3 million goats, nearly one million horses, and 3.6 million deer.

So if just one grazing animal died of a lethal and highly transmittable disease, there would be cause for concern that large numbers of animals could be at risk.

That’s exactly what happened last Monday when the Texas Animal Health Commission confirmed that a cow had died of anthrax southwest of San Angelo.

Continue Reading

Everything You Need to Know About Proposition 6, Texas’ Water Fund

Texans have an opprtunity to vote on a new water fund for the state this election.

Photo by Mike Brown/The Commercial Appea

Texans have an opprtunity to vote on a new water fund for the state this election.

Update: Prop 6 passed. Read the full story here.

Voters in Texas will have the opportunity Tuesday to weigh in on a proposal to fund water projects in the state. There’s a lot involved that’s not in the ballot language, so we’ve put together an explainer on the amendment.

What is Prop 6 Exactly?

Proposition 6 is a constitutional amendment that would take $2 billion out of the state’s Rainy Day to create two accounts to help fund water projects in the state: the State Water Implementation Fund of Texas (SWIFT) and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund of Texas (SWIRFT).

The initial $2 billion would be transferred from the Rainy Day fund to the SWIFT. Over time, revenue generated from SWIFT projects would be into the SWIRFT.

The SWIRFT money would then be used to fund even more projects. Together, backers argue, accounts could fund over $25 billion worth of projects over the next 50 years. Continue Reading

Another Earthquake Rumbles in the Barnett Shale

Location of the earthquake that occurred Wednesday morning.

Map from United States Geological Survey

Location of the earthquake that occurred Wednesday morning.

Another minor earthquake close to the Barnett Shale rumbled through north Texas this week.

The quake occurred at around 8:30 Wednesday morning about one mile west of Ovilla, Texas. Ovilla partially lies in both Dallas and Ellis counties, about 20 miles south of Dallas.

The Ovilla earthquake’s magnitude registered as a 2.4 on the Richter scale. Although the United States Geological Survey (USGS) says that an earthquake with a magnitude of less than 3.5 isn’t typically noticeable, at least three people reported feeling the quake to the USGS web site.

Ovilla Fire Department Captain Brandon Kennedy said that he didn’t feel the earthquake, nor did he receive any calls about it. According to Kennedy, it was the first earthquake he’d even heard of in his hometown.

“I’ve never known of [an earthquake] since I’ve lived in Ovilla,” Kennedy said.

Continue Reading

Government Shutdown Delays West Investigation

A vehicle is seen near the remains of a fertilizer plant burning after the explosion.


A vehicle is seen near the remains of a fertilizer plant burning after the explosion.

After the West Fertilizer Plant explosion on April 17, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said that “the federal government isn’t doing enough right now” to address regulating industrial disasters. Now, thanks to the federal government shutdown, it’s doing even less.

Senator Boxer, who is the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, held a press conference yesterday highlighting the impact of the shutdown on the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and other agencies. The CSB is the agency leading the investigation into the West explosion. Thirty seven of its 41 employees have been furloughed because of the shutdown.

Continue Reading

The Latest on the Keystone XL Pipeline

The Keystone XL Pipeline could eventually stretch from  Canada to Texas.

Photo by flickr user rickz

The Keystone XL Pipeline could eventually stretch from Canada to Texas.

In Texas, the Keystone XL pipeline, which will take heavy oil harvested from sand pits in Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas, has raised questions about eminent domain and potentially leaky pipes. Despite those controversies, Texas’ portion of the pipeline is nearly completed. That section will link up with the existing Keystone pipeline to trasport oil from Canada. If the XL portion is ultimately approved, even more Canadian tar sands oil will be coming to Texas.

But the fate of that last part of the project is still in question. Phase 4, which will stretch from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Neb. is still a flashpoint of controversy. Here’s a quick roundup of the most recent Keystone XL Pipeline news:

  • The Gulf Coast Pipeline Project, the stretch of pipe that runs from Cushing, Okla. to Nederland, Texas, is almost done. Reuters reported last week that the southern portion of the pipeline’s expansion is “95 percent complete,” according to a TransCanada spokesman. The pipeline could start moving oil by the end of the year. Continue Reading

Will Gravel Fix Broken Roads in the Eagle Ford Shale?

Gravel roads like this one are coming to the Eagle Ford Shale.

Photo by flickr user echosan

Gravel roads like this one are coming to the Eagle Ford Shale.

On a rare rainy day in DeWitt County, Texas, Curtis Afflerbach rumbles down a ragged strip of asphalt in his silver pickup. It’s hazy outside, but he can still make out the oil and gas wells on either side of him. Afflerbach counts them, reaching 12 as he drives the length of narrow road.

Afflerbach grew up in DeWitt County on a farm outside of Cuero. Now, as a County Commissioner, he’s partly responsible for maintaining roads. But that’s been difficult lately. Still driving, Afflerbach starts to point out the enormous pot holes that are scattered seemingly everywhere.

Those oil and gas wells that Afflerbach was counting? They’re the reason for the holes.

Continue Reading

No, You Can’t Keep a Pet Deer in Texas

Texas game wardens prevent deer like this one from being hunted illegally.

Photo by flickr user focus-ur-life

Texas game wardens prevent deer like this one from being hunted illegally.

And Other Observations from Game Warden Field Notes

With each new edition of Game Warden Field Notes, a semi-regular release from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, we get a small peek into the day-to-day experience of Texas’ game wardens.

Usually these include exactly what you might expect: hunters shooting game from their vehicles, anglers exceeding catch limits, and so on. But the field notes are also worth reading because of the occasional unexpected gems like these:

  •  In San Patricio County, a game warden received a call about someone keeping a family of deer as pets. When the warden arrived at the scene, the homeowner claimed that “he knew this day would come,” before leading the warden to the pen where he kept the deer. The deer were relocated to a more suitable habitat.
  • A Henderson County man accidentally shot a deer out of season in October of 2010. Even though he was only 50 yards away, he claimed to have mistaken the deer for a dog.
  • On Sept. 4, 2011 in Harris County, two game wardens were contacted by a distressed waterfront restaurant owner. Apparently, a 76-foot catamaran had run into his restaurant’s dock. The dock was dislodged from the establishment, causing some of his property to fall in the water. When the wardens caught up to the catamaran, the boat’s operator was unable to explain why he had hit the dock. To the surprise of no one, he was arrested for boating while intoxicated.

StateImpact Texas categorized every Game Warden Field Notes entry dating back to 2010 in order to illustrate the most common offenses that wardens encounter.

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 »