Haze is visible in the distance at Big Bend National Park.
The desert of Far West Texas.
The views are striking in Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park.
The landscape cane be barren, but beautiful.
Everyone’s heard of the War on Drugs. There’s also, of course, the War on Terror. And as presidential election season heats up – we can expect to hear more about another war. For years some politicians have accused President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency of waging a “war on coal.”
For StateImpact Texas, KUT’s Mose Buchele reports on the legal push and pull over environmental regulation.
An offshore wind farm is seen near the Danish island of Samso
Three turbines sit just offshore at the Avedore Holm wind energy test site near Copenhagen, Denmark. The turbines are operated by DONG Energy.
The Royal Danish Yacht sails past Denmark’s biggest offshore wind power farm near the island of Anholt
One of the turbines at the DONG Energy Avedore Holm test facility, with a coal power plant that is converting to biomass energy in the background.
Standing on the shore of the Baltic sea a few miles outside of Copenhagen, Denmark, the view’s about what you’d expect. Rocky shore, grey horizon, a boat here or there. But this shore is special. Look up, and you’ll see — and hear — three giant offshore wind turbines cutting through the air. Each stands 500 feet tall, with three blades (each close to 200 feet long), spinning non-stop.
“The blades look quite thin, but don’t be cheated,” says Rune Birk Nielsen, with DONG Energy, which runs the turbines. “They each weigh about twenty tons. They are massive.” Each turbine has a capacity of 3.6 megawatts, or enough to power 3,000 Danish homes.
Nielsen guides me through the small offshore wind park — well, technically it’s offshore. The turbines aren’t actually too far from land — each is connected to the shore by a short footbridge about ten yards long.
“For us, it’s kind of a demonstration park,” Nielsen says, “where we are able to test all sorts of things.” With turbines close to shore, they’re easier to fiddle with or repair. The company can safely train their workers without sending them far out to sea, where most of the country’s offshore turbines are.
Denmark is booming when it comes to wind energy. To understand how and why, you have to go back a few decades. Continue Reading →
A tower at Abengoa solar plant at “Solucar” solar park
Photovoltaic solar panels (foreground) with the PS10 concentrated solar tower in the background at the Abengoa Solucar complex outside of Sevilla, Spain.
Towers at Abengoa solar plant at “Solucar” solar park are seen in Sanlucar la Mayor, near the Andalusian capital of Seville
A view of the tower with the pressurized steam tank that allows for the production of solar energy after the sun goes down.
About an hour’s drive outside of Sevilla, Spain’s old city, past grazing black-footed pigs and olive orchards, sits the Abengoa Solucar complex, and it’s truly a sight: Imagine cresting a hill and then all of the sudden seeing several large towers, over 500 feet high, with hundreds of beams of light striking them — solar rays from an army of mirrors arrayed in a circle on the ground below. They’re called heliostats.
“These heliostats are reflecting solar radiation toward the receiver that we have at the top of the tower,” says Valerio Fernandez, manager of the complex. The rays from the heliostats strike the top of the towers, like hundreds of magnifying glasses focused on one point in mid-air. The top of the tower shines so bright, you can’t look at it without sunglasses.
Once the solar radiation gets to the top of the tower, it’s used to heat up water. And it’s at this step that innovation turns to a technology that’s been around for well over a century: turbine technology. The solar radiation creates heat, that heats up water, which creates steam, which moves the tubines, which generates energy.
In the summer, there’s enough sun for 12, sometimes 13 hours of energy that can power up to 100,000 homes. And the towers can keep providing solar energy for several hours after the sun goes down, by heating and pressurizing steam for later.
Construction on the community’s new well system and treatment facility began only about a month ago.
Most Spicewood Beach residents came here to retire with modest savings. Now they feel stuck in depreciated homes with a strained water supply.
In recent months, the community has received some winter rain. Come summertime though, resident Steve Duich says his front lawn will look “like a parking lot.”
An empty above-ground pool sits in Duich’s front yard. Under Stage 4 emergency water restrictions, LCRA bans outdoor watering and urges for only essential water use.
LCRA trucks water into this neighborhood five to six times a day. This began in early 2012 as a temporary solution.
Kim Clifton, a cashier, says her business has managed to keep busy as the only general store in Spicewood Beach. Other businesses can’t stay afloat in this small, tourist driven economy.
Boat docks that once drifted along the shores of Lake Travis now rest on a dry bed of grass and rocks..
Along Lake Travis’ rocky shoreline, plant life is sparse.
Duich points high above the stream of Lake Travis to show where the water have dropped from in recent years.
Tony Castillo, like many residents here, has resigned himself to a constantly unstable water supply.
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.
More than 150,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil spilled into the Houston Ship Channel on March 22, 2014 after a collision between an oil barge and a ship.
Workers use ATVs, tractors and large dump trucks on the island’s beaches to clean up the spill.
The island is a wildlife refuge for migratory birds and several endangered species. It’s also home to alligators like this one.
Tons of oil have been cleaned up from the island’s beaches.
The island is an important stop for migratory birds.
Nancy Brown with Fish & Wildlife observes a whooping crane in the distance
The attempts to clean up the spill are having an environmental impact of their own.
Within days of the spill, the spread of the bunker fuel was apparent. Oil was detected 12 miles offshore into the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, March 23, and globs of tar and oil were seen along Texas City shores and beaches in the area.
Cleanup efforts are being organized by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and officials say they are at least several weeks away from fully containing the fuel.
Mose Buchele took the photos above of the spill’s impact on Matagorda Island. Check back tomorrow for his story on how the cleanup effort istelf could disturb the delicate ecosystem and endangered wildlife of the Gulf Coast.
Crews of workers line the Galveston coast in an attempt to contain the 168,000 gallon oil spill from Saturday.
Many fear that because the recent oil spill occurred in open water, the incident will have a greater impact than the 2010 BP spill.
A worker places oil absorbent snares on the beach on the east end of Galveston Island
Oil-coated trash litters the disaster-stricken coast. The highly pollutant oil — bunker fuel — poses severe risks for coastal wildlife.
As of Tuesday morning, TPWD reports that eight birds have been captured for treatment and 10 birds have been found dead.
Organizations such as the Houston Audubon Society search for and treat birds affected by the spill.
Responders load hundreds of feet of boom onto vessels.
An oil-soaked containment boom lies on the beach. More than 35,000 feet of boom has been deployed in response to the spill.
An aerial view of cleanup operations in the Houston Channel.
Responders are scrambling to contain the slimy mess left by an oil spill in Galveston Bay.
After a barge carrying tar-like heavy fuel collided with a vessel in the Houston Ship Channel on Saturday, cargo exports and imports have been put on hold. That’s raised concerns about the impact on Texas’ oil-dependent economy. The Coast Guard says parts of the channel have been re-opened to limited traffic, but the spill is also expected to have an environmental toll.
Larry Burns is the Emergency Coordinator for the town of Timpson, in East Texas. “If the quakes get much over a 5.0 [on the Richter scale], then we suspect we’ll have some damage. It could be anything from broken lines, broken mains to a water tower on the ground.”
Cliff Frohlich of UT Austin has studied the quakes. “It’s like smoking and lung cancer,” Frohlich says. “Some people smoke and never get lung cancer. Some people get lung cancer and don’t smoke. And that’s sort of the situation with injection wells.”
The water tower in Timpson wasn’t build to withstand earthquakes. “After 4.0 [on the Richter scale], we get pretty nervous,” says Debra Smith, the mayor. “We have buildings in town that are over a hundred years old.”
One of the disposal wells outside of Timpson. Oil and gas drilling wastewater is sent into this well that goes nearly two miles underground.
Disposal wells like this one are the point where a small operation could turn out to be causing big tremors that can be felt miles away.
The Gator Services disposal well outside of Timpson in East Texas.
On a busy day, several tanker trucks will pull up and unload wastewater from fracking and drilling.
The North Texas towns of Reno and Azle have seen over thirty earthquakes since November, sometimes more than one a day. It’s been unsettling for residents like Barbara Brown.
“Damage to my home, sinkholes on my property. Nerves! And a lot of angst,” she said. “Because you just don’t know when they’re going to happen again.”
And it’s not the only town in the state that’s been hit with tremors. Texas has seen the number of recorded earthquakes increase tenfold since the drilling boom began several years ago. While studies have linked the quakes to oil and gas drilling activities, but state regulators and politicians say the science is far from settled.
So what does the science really say? Take a listen to the radio story:
Scientists study the make up of stalactites and stalagmites to learn about ancient climate trends.
Banner (right) and researcher Barbara Wortham.
This mirror like pool of water was dry during the great Texas drought of 2011.
Formations like these tell the story of the earths climate history.
Barbara Wortham recently presented new research on how to determine the age of speleothems..
Dr. Banner’s research team measures the length of time for a single drop of water to fall in this cave.
Dr. Jay Banner and Barbara Wortham in a part of the caverns closed to the public.
Barbara Wortham at the lowest part of the caves.
Researchers venture off the public passages to learn carry out their work.
Paleo ‘Rain Gauges’ in Texas Caves Help Show How Our Climate is Changing
It’s easy to imagine that attitudes towards climate change would be different if everyone owned a device like the one Dr. Jay Banner showed me this winter in Georgetown, Texas. It’s a small instrument, about the size and shape of a walkie talkie, that measures carbon dioxide wherever you go.
“You can see that outside here, the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 403 parts per million,” Banner says, holding it up for inspection on a frigid morning. “That’s a number we’re really worried about in our society today. Because, at the onset of the industrial revolution, we were at about 280 parts per million. We’re on our way towards doubling it.”
Scientists agree that carbon dioxide contributes to climate change. What researchers like Banner, a Professor of Geological Science at the University of Texas at Austin, want to understand is what climate change means for the world around us. That search has put him in some tight spots during his career, often deep underground, in the caves of Central Texas. Continue Reading →
Debbie Lonzano slept in a tent in her yard surrounded by possessions she hoped she could salvage.
Volunteers clear dead trees that were pushed onto property by flood waters.
The Home where Lozano lived with her boyfriend will most likely have to be destroyed said volunteers.
A volunteer in Bluff Springs.
Volunteers clear a pile of debris from yard.
The creek clogged with debris, including dead animals.
Volunteers mobilize at a nearby church.
Volunteers hope to clear the creek one load at a time.
Creek littered with debris.
Animals rot in the water.
Photo albums found in the debris.
Volunteers at staging center organizing for cleanup.
After the floods on Halloween morning destroyed their home in Bluff Springs, a community just across the Austin city line in unincorporated Travis County, Debbie Lozano and her boyfriend slept in a tent in their yard.
“We got this creek right here, Boggy Creek, and then it runs in the back of the property into Onion Creek. So we got it double wammied!” she says, remembering a frantic escape in the night, the water rising to her chest.
They had no transportation, and didn’t want to leave their dogs behind. So when the flood receded they lit a campfire to stay warm, and began hauling their waterlogged possessions, what they could salvage, into the yard to dry.
Saturday, nine days after the flooding, volunteers arrived to rip out sheet rock and insulation from the house, clear debris and saw apart trees the waters had pushed against the property. Lozano said it was the first time anyone had come to help clean. She called the assistance a “miracle.”