Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas


Here’s Where Salamanders Will Be Protected in Central Texas

The Austin Blind Salamander is one of the species now listed as endangered in Central Texas.

Photo courtesy of Dr. David Hillis

The Austin Blind Salamander is one of the species now listed as endangered in Central Texas.

You can welcome two Central Texas salamanders this week to the list of animals protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The Austin Blind Salamander, a creature that doesn’t have eyes in the traditional sense and lives in the dark depths of the Barton Springs Pool, has been listed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service as endangered. The Jollyville Plateau Salamander, which lives underwater in caves and springs fed by the Edwards Aquifer in Travis and Williamson Counties, has been listed as “threatened.” Both listings were expected, a result of the settlement in 2011 of a lawsuit by environmental groups against the Fish & Wildlife Service.

“These are some of the most endangered salamanders in the world,” says Chris Herrington with the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department. His group has been working with the Fish and Wildlife service to keep the pool open and the salamanders protected. Herrington notes that the Austin Blind Salamander is only found in and around Barton Springs Pool, an Austin landmark. In their counts of the creatures at the pool, his group has never found more than a thousand of the salamanders. Continue Reading

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.

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

Power Bills Down This Summer, But Not in Texas

Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 9.27.52 AMThe heat has returned to the Lone Star State, and once again the AC is revving up and the state’s power grid is stretching more and more to meet the demand.

A new report out this week from the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that while prices are going to be down for power across much of the county this summer, Texas is the one place where they’re expected to go up by a fairly significant amount.

If you live in the Northeast, your power bills are expected to be down nearly three percent this year, mostly due to cooler temperatures. Overall, the country’s electric bills on average are projected to be the cheapest in four years. But here in Texas, they’re projected to be up nearly two percent. Continue Reading

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

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.

Continue Reading

Tesla Plans Super-Charging Stations for Texas (But Still Can’t Sell Direct)

Map courtesy of Tesla Motors

Tesla plans to have six super-charging stations in Texas within the next six months, with more to come.

The luxury electric car company Tesla announced plans today to rapidly expand its network of “super-charging stations” across the country, including a number of spots in Texas. But the company still can’t sell to consumers in Texas directly, despite a strong effort to lobby state lawmakers to change the rules.

The charging stations are meant to allow drivers to go from city to city, and the company is planning to put them outside of Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston. In fact, the company plans to add so many charging stations that within six months, they say it will be possible to travel from Los Angeles to New York in a Tesla. The stations charge a car for 20 to 30 minutes, allowing a Tesla S to run for around three hours of driving, and are free for Tesla owners. (Other electric cars, however, cannot charge at the stations.) That’s significantly faster than existing public charging stations in Texas, but Tesla’s East Coast network of charging stations was negatively reviewed in the New York Times earlier this year. And that review was subsequently criticized by the paper’s public editor. Regardless, the controversy doesn’t appear to have slowed Tesla down: the company posted its first profitable quarter recently, earned a near-perfect score from Consumer Reports for the Model S, and paid off its federal loans nine years early.

Continue Reading

Natural Gas Exports to Mexico Skyrocket

Photo by Mose Buchele for StateImpact Texas

The Mexican border. More and more pipelines are being built to bring natural gas from Texas into Mexico.

When the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it would issue a permit to export liquified natural gas to new markets from a facility in Texas recently, the news was greeted as a game changer. Opening international markets could drive the price of natural gas up domestically, spur a new rush to drill for gas, and stimulate some parts of the economy while disrupting others.

Despite all that excitement, a second, quieter, natural gas export boom is already taking place right under our noses. Mexico is importing a record amount of natural gas to create electricity and feed its growing industrial base. Eighty percent of all the gas Mexico imports comes from the United States, and 60 percent comes directly from pipelines in Texas.

“That’s something that most people probably haven’t been aware of,” David Blackmon, an industry consultant and natural gas advocate told StateImpact Texas. “We’ve always exported natural gas into Mexico, so this whole debate over whether we can export it in liquid form rather than pipelines has always kind of befuddled me.”

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