Travis Bubenik is the local anchor for Morning Edition on Marfa Public Radio and West Texas Public Radio.
A graduate of UT Austin, he previously worked as News Director for KVNF - Mountain Grown Community Radio in rural Western Colorado, covering a variety of issues from organic agriculture to rural economics.
He reports from West Texas on local, regional and statewide issues affecting the Big Bend and the Permian Basin.
Two planned pipelines would export natural gas from the Permian Basin across the border to Mexico. (Energy Transfer Partners)
A Dallas-based company looking to build two sizable natural gas pipelines from Far West Texas to Mexico says it plans to have both pipelines built and operating by early 2017.
Energy Transfer won a contract from Mexico’s electricity commission to build the manage the pipeline’s construction. It’s estimated the two 42″ lines could carry a combined 2.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.
In an earnings call this week, the company’s CEO Kelcy Warren – also the owner of the Lajitas Golf Resort near Big Bend National Park – said the company’s making progress on meeting that timeline.
“We’re very excited about our business south to Mexico,” Warren said. “The next two projects that we were winners on, we’re looking at both of them to come on in the first quarter of 2017, and we are finalizing negotiations and everything is on track to that timeline.”
Waste Control Specialists' Andrews County storage site, where low-level waste is already housed.
A Dallas-based company is looking to expand its nuclear waste site in rural West Texas into a longer-term storage site for high-level radioactive waste.
Waste Control Specialists (WCS) is asking the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to approve a new license to expand its above-ground storage facility in Andrews County to allow more radioactive types of waste.
The company already stores “low level” waste – contaminated rags, tools and other equipment that have come mostly from the national nuclear research lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
The site also served as a home for waste that was supposed to wind up at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico, until that site was shuttered after a leak contaminated workers there about a year ago.
Jeff Greason, CEO of XCOR, says the company’s not marketing flights to “tourists.”
By early next year, alongside the sound of jets landing at the Midland International Airport, you might also hear sonic booms from space flights re-entering the earth’s atmosphere.
This month, the private space company XCOR broke ground at the airport, where it plans to launch commercial space flights next year. Some hope this new industry will stabilize the region’s traditionally oil and gas-based boom and bust economy.
The airport is still waiting to get the go-ahead from the FAA to launch those flights, but XCOR says despite some delays, it’s likely that will happen before a September 15th deadline.
XCOR President Andrew Nelson says the groundbreaking ceremony the company held recently for its new research and development hangar is proof of just how confident XCOR is that the spaceport license will be approved. Continue Reading →
Big Bend National Park has placed an “interim” ban on unmanned aircraft on any lands or waters within the park’s boundaries, as part of a nationwide directive from the National Park Service (NPS.)
The ordinance went into effect August 20th – it specifically prohibits the “launching, landing or operation” of unmanned aircraft in the park, and also anywhere on stretches of the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River, which is also managed by NPS.
A press release from the park says there have been rising concerns among national park visitors across the country about “noise and nuisance” from drones, and that the aircraft have in some cases disrupted wildlife behaviors.
Allen Etheridge, Chief Ranger at Big Bend National Park, says those concerns haven’t yet been an issue in the Big Bend, but he has heard about specific threats posed to wildlife and visitor experiences from other national parks.
“Some visitors had brought quad copters to Yellowstone National Park, and they had crashed them – not on purposefully of course – into the hot springs,” he says. Continue Reading →
Presidio Economic Development Director Brad Newton says the city could partner economically with Mexico by selling supplies for oil and gas exploration taking place across the border.
For most of its life, the small border city of Presidio, Texas has been on the edge of the electric grid.
This rugged part of West Texas has seen a major upgrade of its transmission lines over the past five years, but Presidio’s Economic Development Director Brad Newton says before that, it was pretty much the Wild West of the grid.
“We were working off the old wooden poles that were put about the same time they were filming Giant,” he says, “and electrical outages were very common in Presidio.”
As part of our look at solar power in Texas this week, we went to see how after those new lines were put in, the city turned to the sun to make what used to be regular blackouts and power surges a thing of the past. Continue Reading →
Residents in the Big Bend region are concerned about drilling coming to the neighborhood.
Some West Texas residents are starting to put pressure on local officials to keep hydraulic fracturing out of the Big Bend region.
Fracking is of course widespread in the Midland-Odessa region, but there are active gas leases in counties further south toward the border, and some are worried the industry might be edging ever-closer to Big Bend National Park.
Fracking opponents gathered alongside the Sierra Club at a recent city council meeting in Alpine, where they presented information on the extraction method’s effect on health, water and safety, and called on city officials to lead the way in keeping fracking out of the region. Continue Reading →
After a special session called by Mayor Jerry Morales yesterday, the Midland City Council has delayed a planned vote over its part of the Energy Towers project in downtown Midland.
The council was set to vote on whether to move forward with a $60 million incentives package for the project’s developers and plans to demolish the former Midland County Courthouse, with the possibility that the city might back out of the project.
Two council members (Jeff Sparks and Spencer Robnett) couldn’t be at Tuesday’s meeting, but the remaining members appeared encouraged by updates from the developers. The vote has now been pushed back to the council’s next meeting on July 8th. Continue Reading →
A California company has won a contract to build a 150-megawatt solar plant in West Texas. It would be the largest single plant built in the state so far, second only to the 400 mw system of plants planned for San Antonio.
San Francisco-based Recurrent Energy isn’t saying where exactly it will build the plant. CEO Arno Harris says they’re keeping that information private for now to keep the project competitive as other companies look to the West Texas skies for profits.
Harris tells KRTS that rising natural gas prices and dropping costs are making it easier for the solar industry to move to Texas – utility companies are buying more solar, seeing it as an increasingly competitive energy source.
Recurrent Energy has secured a 20-year contract with Austin Energy to bring power to an estimated 15,000 homes in the capital city. The utility estimates 1 mw of solar power can power about 100 Texas homes during peak hours on summer days. Continue Reading →
We recently spoke with the Sierra Club’s Conservation Director Cyrus Reed, who says the group’s worried about the precedent the ruling could set for other citizens or groups hoping to oppose similar licenses. Continue Reading →
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