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Winners and Losers in Texas from Greenhouse Gas Ruling

New EPA regulations would place new restrictions on coal-burning power plants, a major source in Texas for greenhouse gases

Dave Fehling / StateImpact

New EPA regulations would place new restrictions on coal-burning power plants, a major source in Texas for greenhouse gases

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week on a lawsuit over how much latitude the federal government has to regulate facilities that emit greenhouse gases, victory was claimed both by environmentalists who want more regulation and by Texas state officials who wants less.

Texas and 16 other states brought the action.

The Texas Attorney General’s office proclaimed after the ruling that the Supreme Court had “overturn(ed) EPA’s Illegal greenhouse gas permitting scheme.” The Court had “delivered a stern rebuke to the President” said Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general and candidate for governor.

Clean air advocates wondered what Abbott was thinking.

“Oh my gosh, when you lose one suit after another you’re desperate to claim a victory anywhere, and I guess that’s what Attorney General Abbott did,” said James Marston, Vice President for U.S. Climate and Energy at the Environmental Defense Fund.

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Feds Target Oil and Gas Industry for Underpaying Workers

Exhibit from lawsuit: worker's time sheet showing 90 hours in eight days

Dave Fehling / StateImpact

Exhibit from lawsuit: worker's time sheet showing 90 hours in eight consecutive days

In states with the most oil and gas drilling, including Texas, Oklahoma and North Dakota, the U.S. Department of Labor has won back pay for over 4,000 energy industry workers in just the past year.

It totaled $6.7 million dollars, accounting for a third of all such settlements by all types of industries nationwide.

“We were hearing that workers were being misclassified as independent contractors, that they were being paid straight-time for their hours over 40 in a workweek. And we were hearing this consistently throughout the Southwest Region,” said Cynthia Watson, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Regional Administrator in Dallas.

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What Will Hundreds of Water Tests Reveal About Drilling in Texas?

“In Texas, I don’t think there’s anybody else doing quite what we’re doing,” says research scientist Kevin Schug.

Becky Burke's home in Denton County has a water well in her side yard and a gas well in the front yard

Dave Fehling / StateImpact

Becky Burke's home in Denton County has a water well in her side yard and a gas well in the front yard

What Schug is doing can be found in a two big kitchen refrigerators in a lab on the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington. The fridges are crammed with hundreds of plastic bottles containing samples from private water wells located mostly in North Texas, but some of them in West Texas, too.

The project hopes to determine if drilling for oil and gas and burying chemical waste generated by the work is contaminating groundwater. The project is not sponsored by Texas environmental regulators nor the oil and gas industry but rather by UT Arlington. UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology is also involved.

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Beef “Checkoff” Vote Sparks Debate on How Beef is Taxed, Promoted

The Texas Ag Commissioner's role is about much more than just farming.

Photo by DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images

The beef checkoff vote is about more than just a one dollar tax.

Forget the governor’s race. All across Texas people are voting over beef.

Friday is the final day for ranchers and others who deal in cattle to vote on implementing a Texas beef checkoff, a tax charged each time a cow is sold. There’s already a national beef checkoff that levies a one dollar assessment on the seller per cow.

The vote today is on a proposal to create a Texas checkoff, also for a dollar. If the proposal passes, most ranchers in the state will pay a two-dollar tax for each head of cattle they sell.

The government doesn’t collect this tax. The money goes to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board which then gives some of it to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. That industry group uses it to fund beef-related research and to promote beef. The same group also lobbies Washington on behalf of the beef industry. Supporters of the checkoff argue that the tax has raised the price of beef over the years by creating demand.

“Every time the price of beef goes up, it helps me,” says Texas Rancher Curtis Younts Jr., who supports the checkoff.

But the Texas vote has become about more than a one-dollar tax. Many are viewing it as a referendum on the way beef is taxed and promoted in Texas and the US.

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More Pipelines in Texas for a Smelly, Deadly Gas

Oil field workers wear these safety alert devices that detect hydrogen sulfide gas

Dave Fehling / StateImpact Texas

Oil field workers wear these safety alert devices that detect hydrogen sulfide gas

Hydrogen sulfide — a gas that smells like rotten eggs — can be insidious in its lethality. Its odor will be unmistakeable to its victim. But the gas can quickly numb the sense of smell, leading to the belief that the threat has passed. Unconsciousness and death can follow.

“Unfortunately, if you come in contact with hydrogen sulfide there are not a lot of second chances,” said Sheldon McKee, director of business development at AMGAS, a Canadian company that makes equipment to remove hydrogen sulfide in the oilfields, where it can be a deadly risk for workers.

AMGAS opened an office last year in San Antonio to serve what the company sees as a growing need. Drilling for oil has surged just south of San Antonio in a swath of rural counties that comprise the Eagle Ford Shale. It’s an area known for what’s called “sour gas:” natural gas and crude oil with high amounts of hydrogen sulfide. Sour gas can also be found in parts of West Texas and in East Texas.

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Months Behind Schedule, New Water Well Finally Arriving For Spicewood Beach

 

Behind the counter of a general store just off Highway 71, Kim Clifton, the cashier, shrugs her shoulders and shakes her head when asked about the lingering drought. “We just need more rain,” she says. She rolls her head back to let out an exasperated laugh, “Bring the rain! Bring it!”

It’s something you hear all the time these days across Texas, but chances are you’ll hear it the most in Spicewood Beach, Texas, a Lake Travis community about 40 miles from Austin. Just a little over two years ago, it made headlines as the first community in Texas to run out of water during the current drought.

In early 2012, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), which owns and manages the community’s water system, announced that groundwater levels were falling, leaving its well useless.


Those levels got so low LCRA began trucking in water five to six times a day as a temporary solution. Each load costs LCRA about 200 dollars.

Now, over two years later, LCRA plans to put the finishing touches on a new well system costing over a million dollars. The system was supposed to be completed last summer, but construction began just last month.

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Silencing Those Who Would Scrutinize Disposal of Drilling Wastewater

Disposal wells like this in South Texas are in high demand with the boom in oil & gas drilling

Dave Fehling / StateImpact Texas

Disposal wells like this in South Texas are in high demand with the boom in oil & gas drilling

Hugh Fitzimons is a rancher from Dimmit County who also serves on the Wintergarden Groundwater Conservation District. Last week, he stood before the three members of the Railroad Commission of Texas and gave a stark warning as to why he was concerned about the proliferation of disposal wells.

With oil and gas drilling booming, so are the number of wells used for wastewater, growing by about a thousand a year since 2009. There are now over 35,000 disposal and injection wells in Texas according to the Railroad Commission.

The wells are used to get rid of the millions of gallons of chemically-tainted wastewater and produced water from oil & gas drilling. The waste is pumped deep underground, far below the aquifers holding water used by cities and ranches.

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In Texas, Less a Duck Dynasty than a Duck Dilemma

Mottled ducks in pond at Brazoria National WIldlife Refuge in Brazoria County

Courtesy Bob Woods

Mottled ducks in pond at Brazoria National WIldlife Refuge in Brazoria County

It can be tough being a duck these days in Texas. Next door in Louisiana, they’ve got cable TV’s big reality hit, Duck Dynasty. But in Texas, there’s less a dynasty and more of a dilemma, at least for  one breed called the Mottled Duck.

“If you look at the composite of things they all suggest that in Texas, mottled ducks are declining,” said Bart Ballard. “Louisiana seems to be stable.”

Ballard is a scientist at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M-Kingsville. He said estimating duck populations can be tricky. But according to a 2009 report for the U.S. Geological Survey, an analysis off data from 2005-2009 suggested “a rapidly declining mottled duck population” in Texas.

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With Little Difference on Policy, GOP Railroad Commission Race Gets Personal

Ryan Sitton and Wayne Christian are facing off to become the GOP nominee for Railroad Commissioner.

Images from campaign videos of the candidates.

Ryan Sitton and Wayne Christian are facing off to become the GOP nominee for Railroad Commissioner.

Some political campaigns, like the race for governor or president, energize everyday people, grab the media spotlight, and spark heated public debate. Then there are races like the Republican primary runoff election for Texas Railroad Commissioner.

It’s a down-ballot race that many Texans know nothing about (the commission has nothing to do with railroads, rather it regulates Texas oil and gas industries). But that hasn’t stopped the race from getting increasingly negative as the primary runoff on May 27th approaches.

In fact, the lack of voter enthusiasm is likely part of what’s driving the negativity.

“You’ll see a big difference at the top of the ballot for people who vote in the Lieutenant Governor’s Race on the Republican side, who don’t vote when it gets down to this race,” says Ross Ramsey, co-founder and Executive Editor of the Texas Tribune.

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Trickle Down: Counties Say Oil Money for Roads Not Enough

Traffic accidents have surged along with drilling in Texas counties.

Texas Dept. of Transportation

Traffic accidents have surged along with drilling in Texas counties.

In what were some of the poorer counties in Texas, a surge in oil & gas drilling has set local economies on fire. But at the same time, officials have made dire pleas for help, saying the drilling boom is destroying roads and leading to deadly crashes.

The Associated Press found that while traffic deaths are down statewide in Texas, they’re up 18 percent in counties with lots of drilling.

“Unfortunately, one of the biggest growing pains and consequences of all this activity has been the increased number of fatalities that have taken place in these areas. We need to work on these roads, make them wider, make them safer,” said State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio), who represents some of the most oil-rich counties.

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