Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Robb Jacobson

StateImpact Intern

Robb Jacobson is an intern with KUT News and StateImpact Texas.

  • Email: TX_roberto@fake.net

While Profits Are Up in the Eagle Ford Shale, So is Road Damage

Photo courtesy Texas Department of Transportation.

Truck traffic on FM 81 in the Eagle Ford Shale formation area.

The Eagle Ford shale’s development in Texas is growing stronger from increasing production, as crude oil growth overtakes natural gas production. And with more production comes more profitability, according to a new report by GlobalData, a business research company.

The shale’s liquid production has increased nearly sixfold, going from 10.8 million barrels of oil in 2010 to 57.5 million barrels in 2011. With almost 6,000 drilling permits distributed since the beginning of 2011, the total gross production from the Eagle Ford shale is expected to reach 207.3 million barrels in 2012, and stabilize at 1,386.3 million barrels in 2020, according to the report. But with that growth comes a price.

Drilling trucks are doing their damage on Texas roads, especially on highways, bridges, or other roads not designed for heavy loads. The Texas Department of Transportation said Monday that damage from those trucks is at two billion dollars.
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For Texas Bays and Beaches, Pick Your Poison: Rainfall or Drought

Photo by Caleb Miller/KUT News

Rainfall, while providing drought relief, can also cause more pollution runoff.

We find ourselves at a bit of a catch-22 under the state’s historic drought. On the one hand, the lack of rainfall is creating a struggle for wildlife.

When hot temperatures cause evaporation, salt remains, and that increases the salinity of the water in Texas bays. “You definitely saw the salinities were really high [during the drought],” says Leslie Hartman, the Matagorda Bay ecosystem leader of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “They were actually oceanic levels of salinity last year, and not all fish are comfortable when there’s that much salt in the water.” Bays like Matagorda, with a mix of fresh river water and salty ocean water, need a balanced mix of the two in order for fish and wildlife to thrive.

On the other hand, too much rainfall can cause pollution to run off into the rivers, and eventually threaten the state’s bays and beaches. Continue Reading

With Extreme Weather Coming, ERCOT Says They’re Ready

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues/StateImpact Texas

Controllers make daily forecasts of the next day’s electric demand and supply down to every five minutes.

Temperatures breaching the low 100s are expected to hit all around the state early next week, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

By Monday, the high in the Dallas-Fort Worth area should be about 100 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

“This is exactly the season that the generators have been preparing for for several months,” says ERCOT’ spokesperson Robbie Searcy. “All the power producers in Texas know that it’s most important to have all of their units available when we start seeing hot summer days in Texas.”

ERCOT said, however, that there should be sufficient power supplies available to avoid hitting emergency alerts that call for rolling outages. Continue Reading

As Edwards Aquifer Drops, San Antonio Faces Severe Water Restrictions

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

San Antonio may have to go into Stage 3 water restrictions soon.

Water levels are falling rapidly in the Edwards Aquifer in San Antonio, the primary source of water for municipal users in the region. In just two weeks, the levels have dropped 5 feet, and are projected to drop further. Victor Murphy, the Climate Program Manager for the National Weather Service Southern Region, says there’s even more cause for concern than last year.

“I would say by this weekend or by early next week, the level of the J-17 will be lower this year than last year,” Murphy says. “Not good.” The J-17 is a measurement of water pressure at a test well in San Antonio. If water levels continue to drop, the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) may need to implement stricter water restrictions.

“At 640 feet, that’s when SAWS kicks in their Stage 3 water restrictions,” Murphy said. “To my knowledge, they’ve never had to implement that.”

As of this morning, the well is reading 644.6 feet. “With little to no rain in the forecast over the next week and with triple digit temps looming on the horizon early next week, this level should continue to drop,” Murphy says. San Antonio has already seen more rainfall this year than all of last year combined, with above-average rainfall in May, but the levels continue to drop.

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A Look Inside the ERCOT Grid Control Center

Imagine this: you’ve just gotten home from work. You worked right through lunch, as you often do, and now you just want to throw your pasta on the stove and relax in your air-conditioned home while you catch up with the news and… CLICK. Now your power’s out.

That frustration you just felt is exactly what the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the Texas Grid, is trying to prevent. However, it’s more complicated than just generating enough power for everyone.

StateImpact Texas got to see the ERCOT grid control center in person this week in order to get a better understanding of how blackouts are managed and limited. (You can see a slideshow of photos taken inside ERCOT above.) At the end of the day, it all comes down to a balance between load (demand for electricity) and generation of power. Continue Reading

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