Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas


Upcycling Across Borders: How U.S. School Buses Become Camionetas

Where do school buses go when they die? It might surprise you to learn that most American school buses don’t die at all; they’re often reborn as public transportation south of the border.

The story of one aging school bus that was sold off and driven to Guatamela to begin a new life as an ornate shuttle is the subject of a new film that premiered at the SXSW Film Festival this week, La Camioneta. Through this one bus, the film examines how one country’s trash becomes another’s treasure, the importance of mass transportation in a country with widespread poverty and how violence and gang warfare threaten the safety and viability of that transportation.

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You Could be Hunting with a Silencer Soon in Texas

Photo Courtesy of boboroshi via flickr creative commons. www.flickr.com/photos/boboroshi/4379040397/

Silencers make hunting easier on the ears, but some control control groups worry about safety.

StateImpact Texas intern Dave Barer contributed research and reporting to this article.
UPDATE: On March 30, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department approved the use of silencers while hunting in Texas. Read about the new rule here.

Without making much noise, a new proposal is headed to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. If it passes, hunters in the state will be able to use a silencer when hunting deer, birds, and even alligators.

The Parks and Wildlife Department says the rule change is primarily about protecting hunters’ hearing and maintaining the tranquility of the outdoors.

“Some neighbors don’t want to hear gunshots, and they’re less likely to hear or be disturbed by gunshots through a firearm with a suppressor or silencer attached,” Scott Vaca, TPWD Assistant Chief of Wildlife Enforcement, told StateImpact Texas.

Just how quiet is a firearm with a silencer or suppressor attached?  Well, if you don’t happen to have the equipment at home, you can watch this video to hear the difference a silencer can make. Continue Reading

In Their Own Words: What No Water Would Mean for Rice Farmers

A deadline is looming for many rice farmers in southeast Texas. If there isn’t 850,000 acre-feet of water in the Highland Lakes by midnight tonight, the Lower Colorado River Authority will not be sending water downstream for rice farmers this year. In this video by Jeff Heimsath for StateImpact Texas, we travel to Bay City, Texas to hear firsthand what this cutoff would mean for rice farmers and the businesses that depend on them. “We certainly don’t have any expectations of making any money,” says Joe Crane, who runs a rice mill in Bay City. “We’re just hoping to hold on.”

The combined storage of Lakes Buchanan and Travis, which typically hold much of the water for rice farmers, is at 846,800 feet as of 8 a.m. today. (An acre-foot of water is a volume measurement equal to about 325,800 gallons of water.) If more than 3,000 acre-feet of water — the equivalent of around a billion gallons — doesn’t come into the lakes by midnight tonight, most rice farmers will lose their season entirely.

Ex-Shell CEO and Peak Oil Researcher Face Off Over America’s Energy Future

What happens when “drill baby drill” meets peak oil prognostication? An audience found out firsthand this week, when two power policy pugilists faced off at the University of Wisconsin.

In one corner was Texas’ own Dr. Tad Patzek, incoming president of the Association of the Study of Peak Oil, and Chair of UT’s Department of Petroleum & Geosystems Engineering. In the other corner, former CEO of Shell Oil Company and domestic drilling proponent John Hofmeister.

Highlights include Hoffmeister’s prediction that gasoline is likely to reach $5 a gallon this summer, and that America’s energy crunch will lead to new lows in political partisanship. Continue Reading

Where Did Spicewood Beach’s Water Go?

Photo by David Barer/KUT News

Harold and Nell Myers live in Lakeside Beach. He used to manage the community's water system before it was sold to LCRA.

Mose Buchele of StateImpact Texas and Andy Uhler of KUT News contributed to this report.

Just weeks before water had to be trucked in to Spicewood Beach, it was being sold to haulers who trucked it out. Over a million gallons in the last year.

Today, StateImpact Texas spoke with Larry Ogden of Hamilton Pool H20, one of two haulers that bought water from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) in Spicewood Beach. The community doesn’t actually own their own water — they gave it over to the LCRA over a decade ago. The LCRA now owns and manages the wells, which began to fail Monday.

The LCRA says most of the water sold from the system wasn’t taken out by Ogden’s company. It was likely taken out by the other contractor, Hills of Texas Bulk Water, which hauled out 1.3 million gallons of water from Spicewood Beach last year. Hank Cantu, who owns the company, has not returned our calls.

Ogden agrees that his water hauling operation probably took out much less. “I would guess it was probably in the neighborhood of 60-80,000 gallons of water [last year]. We’re not one of the big haulers in the area.” Ogden says his 2,000-gallon trucks would pull into Spicewood Beach, hook up to a fire hydrant, fill up, and then haul it off to their customers.

“Generally, it’s for primary source of water for a home. Showers, toilets, maybe some drinking water if they have the proper setup.” Ogden says almost all of the water went to private customers within ten miles. And the LCRA didn’t charge him a lot for it.

“Water’s cheap,” Ogden says. And he has a point. For the roughly 1.4 million gallons of water trucked out of Spicewood Beach last year, Ogden says the LCRA was probably paid a little over $11,000. And that’s if the haulers paid on the high end.  Continue Reading

Surviving the Drought: One Rancher’s Story

How do you come back from a drought like this, especially one that’s still not over? While rains have eased conditions in parts of the state, there is still a very long way to go before we can say we’ve fully recovered from the worst single-year drought in Texas history.

Doris Steubing ranches cattle in Maxwell, Texas, about 30 miles south of Austin. Freelance videographer Jeff Heimsath visited her recently to see how the drought has affected her and other ranchers in the state. You can watch his video above, part of StateImpact Texas partner KUT’s “First Person” series.

What Happened at the Sandy Creek Power Plant?

Photo by Jeff Heimsath/KUT

In the dark: Rancher Robert Cervenka and other locals want to know what happened near their properties.

Update: Read more about the accident at the plant here

The field behind Robert Cervenka’s ranch in the small town of Riesel, Texas is scattered with historic equipment. There are horse-drawn plows and pickup trucks from bygone eras. Want to know what a 1954 John Deer tractor looks like? He’ll be happy to oblige. Cervenka’s been ranching since he was eight years old.

And now he’s eighty-one. “At my age I don’t want to buy any new tractors or anything,” he says, chuckling.

But not everything here is antique. A few years ago, much to his chagrin, Cervenka got a brand new coal-fired power plant as a neighbor, right next door to his ranch. The Sandy Creek Power Station was set to produce 925 megawatts of electricity for this energy hungry state, enough to power an estimated 900,000 homes. The chimney from the plant rises 360 feet in the air, higher than the Taj Mahal.

Cervenka opposed it, but in the end he watched from his field as it was built, and watched as plumes of steam and smoke first rose from it last fall. “They were what’s called cooking the boilers,” he recalls. “They were heating them up and making steam and trying to blow out all the pipes and tubing that may had welders slag or tools or anything in the pipes. And then one day, all of a sudden, it quit.”

It’s still not clear exactly what happened at the plant the day it quit on Oct. 17th last year. Continue Reading

Chesapeake Fracking Well Fire in Oklahoma

Fracking has suffered some particularly bad PR over the past few months. First, the EPA linked the hydraulic fracturing drilling process (where a mix of water, sand and chemicals are blasted deep underground through horizontal wells to release oil and gas deposits) to contamination of water in Wyoming. Then, on New Year’s Eve an intense earthquake struck Youngstown, Ohio. It was the eleventh quake since March, and seismologists linked it to a deep well used for disposing fracking wastewater. State officials suspended the well, and the Mayor of Youngstown went so far as to buy earthquake insurance for his home.

And last night in Oklahoma, a fracking well caught fire. Here’s the video from the website Drilling Ahead:

A report from the website says the rig, owned by Nomac, a subsidiary of the fracking giant Chesapeake, “drilled into a shallow gas pocket soon after spudding in at a drilling depth of 900′ northwest of Sweetwater, Oklahoma” around 6 p.m. on January 5. There are no reported injuries. Continue Reading

Perry Gaffe A Tough Break for the Energy Candidate

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s memory lapse at the GOP debate last night ( the now infamous moment when he couldn’t remember the third Federal Agency he would dismantle if he were president) was especially surprising considering the nature of his candidacy.

As we’ve reported in the past Perry has built his economic and jobs policies, to a large extent, around his energy policy. Continue Reading

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