Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Michael Marks


  • Email: michaelmarksintern@gmail.com

Boy Scouts Launch Sustainability Merit Badge

The Sustainability merit badge

Photo by Wikipedia user Lhudnall

The Sustainability merit badge

Boy Scouts can earn merit badges in everything from Atomic Energy to Shotgun Shooting. But there has never been a badge for sustaining the planet, until now.

On July 15, the Boy Scouts of America introduced the Sustainability merit badge, a new award designed to teach scouts about conservation and natural resource management. The badge is particularly important since scouts will be required to get it in order to earn the Eagle Scout rank, the organization’s highest award.

Boy Scouts can earn merit badges in over 100 different topics. To earn a badge, scouts must learn certain skills and competencies related to that particular subject.

For the Sustainability badge, scouts have to develop and implement plans to reduce their family’s water and electric usage. They also must learn about topics such as climate change, species decline, and population concerns.

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Five Ways Climate Change Threatens Energy in Texas

An array of rooftop solar panels

Photo by flickr user IntelFreePress

An array of rooftop solar panels

The Department of Energy released a report recently looking at how climate change and extreme weather could make our power supplies more vulnerable. Given that it’s the nation’s leader in energy production, Texas was prominently featured.

The report looks at both current and future threats to the energy sector from climate change. There are three major trends, it says:

  • Air and water temperatures are increasing
  • Water availability is decreasing in certain regions
  • Storms, instances of flooding, and sea levels are increasing in frequency and intensity

Though the report stressed how different regions of the country are connected by the energy sector, StateImpact Texas found five key takeaways that relate to Texas. Let’s take a look: Continue Reading

Lake Invaders: Zebra Mussels Continue to Spread in North Texas

Zebra mussels cluster on the outside of a pipe

Zebra mussels cluster on the outside of a pipe

Before last week, the only positive thing about zebra mussels in Texas was that they lived in just two of the state’s lakes.

But even that’s not the case anymore.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) released an emergency order yesterday which enacted special regulations for three new North Texas lakes to control zebra mussels.

Now, boaters that enter Lake Bridgeport, Eagle Mountain Lake, and Lake Worth must completely drain and dry their boats before entering another body of water. The mandate is designed to stop the spread of zebra mussel larvae, which are invisible to the naked eye and can cling to wet surfaces. Continue Reading

How Do You Save Hundreds of Species in Texas ?

The endangered Houston toad

Photo by flickr user USFWS Endangered Species

The endangered Houston toad

Last week, the African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) confirmed the extinction of the western black rhinoceros. Although the species had initially been declared extinct in 2011, a final search failed to find any remaining rhinos.

While Texas doesn’t have a thriving rhinoceros population, the news got StateImpact Texas thinking about which species from our state may face extinction.

To find out, we interviewed John Davis, the Wildlife Diversity Program Director at the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife. He talked about certain species’ most pressing problems, the drought’s effect on wildlife, and how the TPWD chooses what plants and animals to focus on.

Q: I was hoping we could start by listing what, in your view, are the most at-risk species [in Texas] to become extinct.

A: I’m sorry, but I can’t answer that. We actually have over 440 species that are considered to be globally rare, which means they are the most imperiled. I could go through that list and pull out a few, but I’m not really sure it is possible for me to answer. Now another reason why that answer is difficult is the fact that is there are many species that we believe are rare, but the truth is we don’t have enough resources to determine “is species A is rarer than species B or species C.” To really try to prioritize which are the rarest of the rare is not a real useful ranking at this point.

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A Tale of Two Counties: How Drilling Makes Some Flush With Cash

Fracking in Texas.

Photo by Flickr user www_ukberri_net

Fracking in Texas.

But for Those Outside the Boom, It’s Business as Usual

It’s been over four years since a drilling company first drilled for (and hit) oil and gas in the Eagle Ford Shale. Since then, the region has become an economic engine for Texas, and to some degree, the country.

While the region has seen several downsides to the current drilling boom, especially from traffic, accidents and water demands, a look at what the boom has done for coffers in the region shows just how rapidly things have changed.

Drillers have permitted over 10,000 wells, spending billions to get to the oil and gas. Over half a million barrels of oil are now being produced each day, supporting over a hundred thousand jobs.

A Closer Look at Economic Impact

StateImpact Texas recently analyzed data from the State Comptroller’s Office, which records the sales tax allocation history for most of Texas’ cities and counties. The more sales tax a municipality collects, the more goods and services it has sold. The results painted a vivid picture of just how much money is flowing through the Eagle Ford region. Continue Reading

When Texas Game Wardens Encounter the Unexpected

A Texas game warden protecting the citizenry from ducks.

Photo by Earl Nottingham / Texas Parks and Wildlife

A Texas game warden at work.

‘The Dog Ate My Fishing Limit,’ Tubing at Night and Massive Drug Busts

There is no typical shift for Texas’ 532 game wardens, part of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

One day you’re issuing citations for lapsed watercraft registrations, the next you’re seizing nearly two tons of marijuana from boats on Lake Falcon.

That’s what happened earlier this week according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). The pot bust, known as Operation Tilapia, was announced today along with the confiscation of over 10,000 feet of illegal gill net. This is their second major marijuana seizure of the year. In April, game wardens captured over $4 million worth of marijuana near the border.

But it’s not all drug busts for Texas’ wardens. Monitoring the 3 million people who hunt and fish in the state each year is more than a full-time job, and it can make for some unexpected situations, like the fisherman who blames his dog for violating catch limits.

We’ve selected a few of the most interesting game warden encounters below, culled from the June 18 edition of Game Warden Field Notes: Continue Reading

How Zebra Mussels Could Raise Your Water Bill

Zebra mussels clustered in a boat propeller.

Photo by flickr user TownePost Network

Zebra mussels clustered in a boat propeller.

Update 6/23: The TPWD has now announced that zebra mussels have been found in Lewisville Lake northeast of Dallas. The United States Geological Survey discovered juvenile mussels near the lake’s dam.  Lewisville Lake is the third Texas lake with an established zebra mussel population. Now, they may flow downstream on the Trinity River, which could threaten Lake Livingston and, through the Luce Bayou Project, Lake Houston.

Original story: Millions of tiny mollusks in two North Texas lakes will raise the cost of water in the region as soon as this summer, and experts say they could do the same in other parts of the state.

Texas is entering its peak season for the spread of zebra mussels, a small species of invasive bivalve, and populations in Lake Texoma and Lake Ray Roberts have already caused one water district to spend millions on a new pipeline.

Brian Van Zee, an Inland Fisheries Regional Director with Texas Parks and Wildlife, has fought zebra mussels since they first arrived in Texas in 2009. He says the trick is to stop them from colonizing a new body of water.

“Once you get them into a large reservoir like we’ve got here in Texas, there’s really no way of eradicating them,” Van Zee said.

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How to Put a Wind Turbine in the Texas Gulf

How to Put a Wind Turbine in the Gulf: Speaking With Heather Otten

Photo by flickr user jazonz

How to Put a Wind Turbine in the Gulf: Speaking With Heather Otten

A Conversation with Heather Otten

Texas leads the nation in wind energy, but all of that is on land. Now several groups are looking out to the Gulf of Mexico for more wind energy potential.

Heather Otten, the Chief Development Officer for Baryonyx Corporation, manages the day to day operations of one such company. As StateImpact Texas previously reported, Baryonyx is part of a group called the GoWind Project, whose plan is to bring offshore wind farms to the Texas coast by 2016.

The GoWind Project is competing with seven other offshore wind operations for money from the Department of Energy, which will choose three of the projects for full funding next Spring.

Otten recently spoke to StateImpact Texas about the progress of the GoWind Project, offshore wind’s main challenges, and dinosaurs.

Q: Why don’t we have wind turbines in the Gulf of Mexico yet?

A: I think the simple answer to that is economics. Offshore wind projects are more expensive than onshore. There’s no limit in Texas really for onshore wind, and then we have, as you know, the natural gas, the fracking and everything, so with natural gas prices so low, power prices are low. So it really is purely economics. Continue Reading

As First Offshore Wind Turbine Launches In Maine, Is Texas Next?

Photo by UPI/Pat Benic/LANDOV

The nation's first offshore floating wind turbine launched recently off the coast of Maine. Is Texas next?

In the race to establish the country’s first offshore wind farm, the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composite Center drifted across the finish line recently, when it launched a small, floating-platform research wind turbine off the coast of Castine, Maine. The Center hopes to connect a full-size turbine to their power grid by 2016.

In Texas, however, where steady winds and a gently sloped shoreline could make for ideal conditions to harvest wind, offshore wind is racing to catch up.

Offshore wind farms are typically more efficient than their onshore counterparts because there’s fewer physical obstructions and a more predictably consistent flow of wind. But critics of offshore wind cite potential problems, like impacts on wildlife and scenery. Then there’s the hefty price tag: offshore turbines can be twice as expensive to build as onshore ones.

The Texas Gulf Coast was at one point thought to be the best candidate for the country’s first offshore wind farm, but efforts by companies such as Coastal Point Energy and Baryonyx have yet to launch. But that might change in the next few years. Continue Reading

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