Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Michael Marks


  • Email: michaelmarksintern@gmail.com

Take a Look at Climate Change In Your Backyard

NASA data contrasts average Spring temperatures for the 1950s and 2090s.

Image by NASA

NASA data contrasts average Spring temperatures for the 1950s and 2090s.

There’s no shortage of maps or data sets that show the long-term climatic effects of rising temperatures. But what about a map showing the temperature of your block in 2087?

You could find that in newly released temperature projections from NASA. Using information from historical measurements, local geography, and greenhouse gas statistics, the maps derived from the data display the most localized climate change picture to date.

Up to this point, the smallest scale for a climate change model has been 100 kilometers. But NASA’s new data zooms in to project changes at a much higher resolution. The result is a data set that localizes climate change to the scale of 800 meters, around the size of a neighborhood.

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Five Things You Should Know About Energy in Texas

StateImpact Texas' oil production by county map.

Map by Michael Marks

StateImpact Texas' oil production by county map.

Texas is the nation’s leader in oil, natural gas, and wind production. But what parts of the state are doing the heavy lifting when it comes to energy?

Last week, StateImpact Texas used data from the Railroad Commission of Texas and thewindpower.net to answer that question. We created maps that showed how much oil, natural gas, and wind energy each county produced between June 2012 and June 2013.

After digging even deeper into the data, we’ve come up with five key takeaways for what those maps mean, and why they’re important.

Pecos County is Texas’ All-Around Energy Leader

Out of Texas’ 254 counties, remote and arid Pecos County is the only one that ranks in the top 25 for oil, natural gas, and wind energy production. Few counties in the Trans-Pecos region are rich in fossil fuels, so Pecos County’s oil and natural gas operations (21st and 19th in the state, respectively) are unusual. Its wind production though is right in line with other West Texas counties — it clocks in as the state’s fifth-best.

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Mapped: Where the Oil is in Texas

Texas is oil country. It leads the nation in oil production, and would be one of the top oil-producing nations if it were its own country. This map illustrates those points by breaking down Texas’ oil production by county.

The data for the map comes from the Texas Railroad Commission’s data query feature. This particular data set shows how many barrels of oil each county produced between June 2012 and June 2013.

Not surprisingly, the most intense production came from the Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin regions. The most prolific county over the past year was Karnes County, which is about 60 miles southeast of San Antonio. Oil operations in Karnes County shipped out over 46 million barrels of oil last year. The only regions which did not produce much oil were the Hill Country and the extreme northeast part of the state.

Mapped: Where Natural Gas is in Texas

Texas holds about 23 percent of the country’s natural gas reserves. And thanks in large part to the advent of drilling techniques like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” Texas is producing more of it than any other state.

This map shows how much natural gas each county produced from wells between June 2012 and June 2013. Like our oil production map, the data comes from the Railroad Commission of Texas’ data query feature.

Significant natural gas operations are spread throughout the state, but the most intense production occurs in the Eagle Ford Shale, Barnett Shale, and Permian Basin.

Mapped: Wind Energy in Texas

Drive west from Austin or Dallas-Fort Worth towards cities like Midland, Amarillo, or El Paso, and you’re bound to see your share of wind turbines dotting the landscape.

That’s because Texas leads the nation in wind capacity, and more wind farms are on the way. That’s reflected in this map, which shows each county’s annual wind energy production in gigawatt hours. (One gigawatt hour is enough to power 200,000 Texas homes during peak summer energy demand, and many more than that during cooler times.)

Texas has more wind energy than any other state.

Photo by UPI/Pat Benic/LANDOV

Texas has more wind energy than any other state.

It’s important to note that the values for this map are not exact. The data comes from The Wind Power, a wind industry website, which maintains a database of every wind farm in the world. While the group records the county and annual production of each wind farm, some farms span multiple counties, which means that some production data had to be approximated. Still, this map is a reasonably accurate representation of where Texas’ wind production is coming from.

Even though Texas is the nation’s wind leader, only 46 of its 254 counties are wind producers. The vast majority of these are found in West Texas and the Panhandle, although coastal counties like Kenedy and Willacy are also represented. Wind farms along the Gulf Coast might become more prolific in the future as companies continue to develop onshore wind, and look to offshore wind capabilities as well.

Largest Federally-Owned Wind Farm to Open Near Amarillo

The new wind farm should open in 2014.

Photo by flickr user rutlo

The new wind farm should open in 2014.

Texas leads the nation in wind energy production and capacity. Now the federal government is getting in on the action in an effort to clean up its carbon-emitting act.

The Department of Energy announced this week that Texas will be the home of the country’s largest federally-owned wind farm. The farm will be built at the Pantex Plant, which is the nation’s primary site for nuclear weapon maintenance. The plant, located about 20 miles northeast of Amarillo, will have 60 percent of its energy needs met by the farm.

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Despite the Drought, Texans Are Still Tubing

A shallow stretch of the Frio River.

Photo by flickr user mlhradio

A shallow stretch of the Frio River.

To his surprise, Jerry Bates has had a busy summer.

Bates owns Frio River Outfitters & Happy Hollow Grocery in Concan, a small Hill Country community 90 minutes west of San Antonio. In addition to selling basic groceries and camping equipment, Happy Hollow’s main business is renting out tubes and kayaks to tourists on the Frio River.

Bates’ livelihood depends on the Frio, and even though the river has been down, business is up.

“It’s been probably one of the busiest summers we’ve ever had,” he said. “Which is amazing, because the river levels are pretty low right now.”

The low levels are a consequence of Texas’ drought, which continues to dry up bodies of water throughout the state. That includes rivers like the Guadalupe, Comal, San Marcos, and Brazos, all of which are popular tubing destinations. Continue Reading

Texas Wants to See What the Drought Looks Like to You

The Texas Water Development Board’s most recent drought report showed that 97 percent of the state is still experiencing some level of drought. So what does a state that parched look like?

The agency, along with Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Department of Agriculture, have come together to show you. Those three agencies have launched an initiative called “What Does Your Texas Drought Look Like?“, which encourages Texans to upload their drought-related photos to a public flickr page.

StateImpact Texas has collected ten pictures from the page in the slideshow below. You can see the rest of the photos (or upload your own) here.

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What Scientists Are Learning About Sharks in the Gulf

Scientists in the Gulf are conducting groundbreaking research on shark behavior

Photo by flickr user USFWS Headquarters

Scientists in the Gulf are conducting groundbreaking research on shark behavior.

It’s early August, and that means that this week millions of Americans are watching one of TV’s greatest aquatic traditions: Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.

Texans, whose state borders a body of water teeming with sharks of all sizes and species may want to take special notice. According to Dr. Greg Stunz, there are some sizable specimens in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Big ones,” he said in describing some of the Gulf’s sharks. “9-feet, 600-pound kind of [sharks]. ‘They-could-easily-eat-people’ kind of size.”

Dr. Stunz is a Professor of Marine Biology and an Endowed Chair for Fisheries and Ocean Health at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi’s Harte Research Institute. He’s currently researching shark behavior and population trends off the Padre Island National Seashore.

Stunz is one of the first scientists to gather data on shark growth and movement in the Gulf. He and his team have tagged over one thousand sharks in order to better understand which species are most common, where they occur, and how often they breed.

“We don’t have answers to those questions,” Stunz said.

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Is This Chip the Key to Desalination?

Graduate research assistant Kyle Knust holds a water chip.

Photo by Natalie Krebs

Graduate research assistant Kyle Knust holds a water chip.

It would be easy to mistake the small, translucent, object in Kyle Knust’s hand as just another cheap piece of plastic. With dozens more scattered around his section of a buzzing graduate assistant’s lab at the University of Texas, the thumbnail-sized chips don’t appear to be worth much.

And that’s because they’re not. At 50 cents apiece, the chips are pretty cheap to make. But the technology inside of them – a method of water desalination that’s potentially cheaper and more efficient than any other – could prove to be invaluable.

Along with other researchers and private companies, Knust is helping to develop a desalinating “water chip” that uses a charged electrode to separate salt from water. The new technique could revolutionize how people get water, as well as how much they pay for it.

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