Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas


3 Ways the Oil Boom Has Increased Hunger in Texas

The Permian Basin oil boom has brought jobs and wealth to West Texas, but it’s also brought something less expected: hunger. During a recent trip to Odessa, StateImpact Texas’s Mose Buchele sat down with Libby Campbell, director of the West Texas Food Bank, to learn how, as she puts it, “not all tides raise all ships.”

1) Increased Property Values. With people moving to the Permian Basin from all over the country, property values have skyrocketed. You often hear stories of rents doubling when the time comes for a tenant to re-sign a lease. That’s put a strain on budgets and led to more hunger in the region.

“Maybe their rent was six or eight hundred dollars three or four years ago, it’s currently twelve or fifteen hundred dollars,” says Campbell. “You’ve kind of already busted your budget before you even get to the point that you’re purchasing food.”

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Texas Wants to See What the Drought Looks Like to You

The Texas Water Development Board’s most recent drought report showed that 97 percent of the state is still experiencing some level of drought. So what does a state that parched look like?

The agency, along with Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Department of Agriculture, have come together to show you. Those three agencies have launched an initiative called “What Does Your Texas Drought Look Like?“, which encourages Texans to upload their drought-related photos to a public flickr page.

StateImpact Texas has collected ten pictures from the page in the slideshow below. You can see the rest of the photos (or upload your own) here.

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Powered by the Sun, But Off to a Slow Start

It’s a sweltering Texas summer day in late June, and here at the Circuit of the Americas Formula 1 race track in Austin, the stands are empty. Just last fall, they were filled with fans witnessing the deafening roar of cars going upward of 200 miles an hour.

But if you were to listen closely this summer day, you’d hear a barely audible zooming on the track. Peek down from the stands, and you’d see little pods zipping along the track at a brisk 45 miles an hour. They’re solar-powered cars, part of the annual Formula Sun Grand Prix competition, where several teams of college engineering students race against each other, and the constant drain of batteries.

Last year, a solar-powered yacht sailed all the way around the globe for the first time. A few weeks ago, a solar-powered plane completed a trip across the country. As oil prices and carbon emissions rise, could solar-powered transportation be a cheaper, cleaner way to get around? Continue Reading

In Photos: Fertilizer Plant Explosion in West, Texas

After an explosion in the small town of West, Texas Wednesday night, some 14 are dead and 200 injured. The incident has displaced a number of people in the small Central Texas community, and questions have risen about the safety and regulation of the plant.

KUT photographers Filipa Rodrigues and Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon traveled to the town of West with StateImpact Texas to document the story. You can see their images, along with photos from wire services and state officials, in the gallery above.


A Plant Closes on the Plains, and a Community Ponders Its Future

By the time the cows arrived at Criselda Avila’s work station at the Cargill Excel Beef Processing Plant in Plainview, they had already been slaughtered, skinned and gutted. The carcasses came in hanging from a long chain that ran over the plant floor. They were divided up and divided again. Avila worked on skirt steaks.

“You gotta spread it open and then cut the little skirt off, and then throw that on the table and then peeling and just trimming the fat off is what it was,” she remembered recently, sitting in her living room. “You know, fajitas.”

It was numbingly repetitive work. More than 4,500 cows went through the plant every day. So when Avila was done with one, there was always another behind it. Then, on the last day of January, she saw something she never expected to see.

Photo courtesy of Criselda Avila

A group picture taken the day the last cow came through the Cargill Plant.

“There were the last few cows, then the last cow was coming down the chain, and people there were just banging our hooks,” she said. “People started crying, like ‘oh my god this is the end of it.’”

That was how the city of Plainview lost over 2,000 jobs. After years of drought, the U.S. cattle herd is at its lowest level since 1952. Cargill Meat Solutions, the company that owns the plant, says there are simply not enough cows in existence to keep the plant running. For years ranchers across Texas have been cutting back their herds in response to the historically dry weather, but this is the first time those cuts have reached up the supply chain, to hit the industrial heart of a Texas city.  The plant closure could have wide sweeping ramifications across the region. Continue Reading

After Drought, Texas Christmas Trees Face New Foe

Drought takes no prisoners, and Christmas trees are no exception. The 2011 drought decimated Texas wildlife, and not even resilient evergreens could take the heat. This left Christmas tree farmers in Texas with little or no trees to sell during the holidays. Some farms, like Evergreen Farms in Elgin, shipped in trees from Washington State and North Carolina to sell instead. Other farms had no choice but to close their doors.

This year, things have changed.

“We didn’t lose any from the drought this year, and we lost hundreds and hundreds last year,” says Mike Walterscheidt, owner of Evergreen Farms.

This year’s wetter summer weather improved tree growth, so Evergreen Farms is back to cutting down trees in the field. Continue Reading

Garbage Gas: Is Methane Going To Waste in Texas?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are 27 landfills in Texas that are producing enough methane gas to make electricity or provide fuel to power industrial equipment. The agency says another 57 landfills are candidates for such projects.

“Texas is one of the few remaining states with a large number of landfills that don’t already have landfill gas energy projects and may have the potential to support them,” the EPA wrote in a lengthy statement emailed to StateImpact Texas.

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LCRA Vote Resonates in Spicewood Beach

Slide show compiled by Filipa Rodrigues

The first indication that things are still not right in Spicewood Beach comes as you reach town. You’re greeted with a welcome sign and a notice that stage four water restrictions remain in effect.  It’s been nearly a year since the small Highland Lakes community earned the distinction of being the first town in Texas to run dry during the great drought. The situation remains much the same. In some ways it’s gotten worse.

For one thing, there are a lot more ‘For Sale’ signs in front of a lot more houses.

“There’s vacancies all through here and unbelievably low prices, but there’s not takers. Who wants a house with no water?” asks Jim Watson, sitting next to his wife Wanda in their two story home.

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How to See the Leonid Meteor Shower This Weekend in Texas

Stars of the racetrack won’t be the only lights in the firmament this weekend. It’s also peak time for viewing the Leonid meteor shower. “The shower should produce perhaps a dozen or so “shooting stars” per hour,” UT’s StarDate at McDonald Observatory writes. “The best view comes in the wee hours of the morning, as your part of Earth turns most directly into the meteor stream.”

Peak viewing times should be between midnight and dawn Saturday night.

“Just remember, a meteor shower peak prediction is not an ironclad guarantee,” EarthSky writes. “If it’s clear, you might see nearly as many meteors in the predawn darkness on Friday, November 16 or Sunday, November 18. The days before and after that might feature meteors as well, as we pass through the Leonid meteor stream in space.”

Eyes of the Storm: Hurricane Sandy in Photos

Some six million people were without power this morning because of Hurricane Sandy, and at least 33 are dead, many of them killed by falling trees. Travel and transportation has largely come to a standstill in many areas of the Northeast. In the photos above, you can see the impact of one of the most destructive storms in the area’s history.

And while the storm’s physical damage is limited to the East, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been felt here in Texas. Many flights have been canceled at Texas airports. And several Texas utilities are sending staff East to help restore power in areas affected by Sandy.

Some thirty tree-trimming and eight distribution contractors from Austin Energy are headed Northeast to help, as are crews from Entergy, Oncor, and CenterPoint. AEP Texas is sending 81 employees to West Virginia to help AEP crews there restore power, and has released an additional 38 contact crews to help as well. And San Antonio’s CPS energy has a convoy of some 50 workers headed out to assist in restoring power in the Northeast.

Videos, after the jump: Continue Reading

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