Texas

Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Proposed Law Would Allow Houston To Regulate Mountains Of Coal

Mountains of petroleum coke near the Beltway 8 bridge at the Houston Ship Channel.

Photo by Dave Fehling.

Mountains of petroleum coke near the Beltway 8 bridge at the Houston Ship Channel.

State lawmakers are proposing legislation to deal with something we reported on this past December: giant piles of petroleum coke or “pet coke.” It’s a form of coal piling up along the Houston Ship Channel, and it’s leading to complaints from some nearby residents.

We recently reported how black mountains of petroleum coke could be seen along the Ship Channel; one pile looked to be more than half as high as the Beltway 8 bridge. The pile is just a mile from a neighborhood where we’d talked to Esmerelda Moreno who said with so many refineries and chemical plants nearby, they get used to mystery odors.

“Sometimes there’s like a smell, a weird smell,” Moreno said.

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Five Years After BP Spill, What’s Killing Gulf Dolphins?

A dolphin spotted in Galveston.

carolyn/flickr

A dolphin spotted in Galveston.

It was five years ago next month that a BP oil drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers. Millions of gallons of crude spilled into the water. Damage was done to aquatic life.

But is the spilled oil now to blame for the deaths of hundreds of dolphins?

“The magnitude and the duration of the deaths is utterly unprecedented in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Ryan Fikes, a scientist with the National Wildlife Federation. In a conference call, Fikes talked with reporters along with the group’s David Muth. They released a report titled “Five Years & Counting” about the effects of the spill on wildlife.

“There is compelling evidence that this mortality event that has been going on since the spill is linked to the spill,” said Muth, head of the group’s Gulf Restoration Program.

But is BP’s oil to blame?

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Regional Haze, The ‘War on Coal,’ and How Environmental Policy Is Made

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.

 

How The Oceans Have Dried Texas Out

A weed grows out of the dry cracked bed of O.C. Fisher Lake in July. The drought has taken a severe toll on Texas' lakes and rivers.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A weed grows out of the dry cracked bed of O.C. Fisher Lake in July. The drought has taken a severe toll on Texas' lakes and rivers.

Over the last several years, climate patterns from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans have exacerbated the historic Texas drought. A reverse in those patterns could bring Texas abundant rains over the next couple decades, according to State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.

But, Nielsen-Gammon says, long term trends give Texans no reason to break out the champagne.  Global climate change means the next major drought could be even worse than this one.

The Texas climate is sensitive to weather cycles in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and neither has favored precipitation in the state since 2005.  “The Pacific Ocean has been unfavorable for rainfall since about 2000 or 2005. The Atlantic Ocean has been unfavorable since 1995,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

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This Dam Holds in Lady Bird Lake, So When Will It Get ‘Essential’ Repairs?

Officials have long been aware of the need for repairs at Longhorn Dam.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

Officials have long been aware of the need for repairs at Longhorn Dam.

The poor condition of the dam that holds in the waters of Austin’s beloved Lady Bird Lake continues to vex city officials.  Emails obtained in a public information request reveal challenges the city faced in performing maintenance on Longhorn Dam, which crosses the Colorado River beneath Pleasant Valley Road. Documents tell of water lost through the dam’s gates that could potentially stay in upstream reservoirs, and show city departments struggling to assign responsibility for the structure and plan a long-term solution.

Austin Energy, the city-owned electric utility, and the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) have long known about the need for work on the dam. Austin Energy is the city department that operates the structure. The LCRA operates dams upstream from Austin and coordinates with Austin Energy when they release water downstream.

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Looking for a Silver Lining in Falling Oil Prices in Texas

Economists and state officials are reaching for their calculators as to predict how  the Texas economy will respond to lower oil prices. We’re already seeing falling oil and natural gas revenues pinch incomes and constrain spending, including layoffs at some energy companies. But is there also a silver lining? Could the downturn in the energy sector also mean savings at pump and a new eagerness to spend?

State Parks are seeing more visitors. Above: Palo Duro Canyon, in the Panhandle.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

State Parks are seeing more visitors. Above: Palo Duro Canyon, in the Panhandle.

Lower Gas Prices = More Road Trips 

The average price of gas in Texas dipped to $1.82 a gallon in late January, and though it’s climbed back to $2.17 today, it’s still a dollar cheaper than the state average a year ago, according to the Automobile Association of America (AAA). The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration predicts the average price of gas will remain under $3 per gallon for the coming year.

With those savings, drivers are starting to hit the road more. Continue Reading

West Texas to Mexico Pipelines On Track for 2017 Finish

Two planned pipelines would export natural gas from the Permian Basin across the border to Mexico. (Energy Transfer Partners)

(Energy Transfer Partners)

Two planned pipelines would export natural gas from the Permian Basin across the border to Mexico. (Energy Transfer Partners)

A Dallas-based company looking to build two sizable natural gas pipelines from Far West Texas to Mexico says it plans to have both pipelines built and operating by early 2017.

Energy Transfer won a contract from Mexico’s electricity commission to build the manage the pipeline’s construction. It’s estimated the two 42″ lines could carry a combined 2.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

In an earnings call this week, the company’s CEO Kelcy Warren – also the owner of the Lajitas Golf Resort near Big Bend National Park – said the company’s making progress on meeting that timeline.

“We’re very excited about our business south to Mexico,” Warren said. “The next two projects that we were winners on, we’re looking at both of them to come on in the first quarter of 2017, and we are finalizing negotiations and everything is on track to that timeline.”

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Company Wants to Expand Nuclear Waste Site in Texas

Waste Control Specialists' Andrews County storage site, where low-level waste is already housed.

WCS

Waste Control Specialists' Andrews County storage site, where low-level waste is already housed.

A Dallas-based company is looking to expand its nuclear waste site in rural West Texas into a longer-term storage site for high-level radioactive waste.

Waste Control Specialists (WCS) is asking the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to approve a new license to expand its above-ground storage facility in Andrews County to allow more radioactive types of waste.

The company already stores “low level” waste – contaminated rags, tools and other equipment that have come mostly from the national nuclear research lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

The site also served as a home for waste that was supposed to wind up at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico, until that site was shuttered after a leak contaminated workers there about a year ago.

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How Texas Challenges The Power Of Cities And Their Citizens

“Texas is being California-ized,” Abbott said at a keynote speech he delivered January 8th to the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Screengrab from the video.

“Texas is being California-ized,” Abbott said at a keynote speech he delivered January 8th to the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

In a speech last month, Governor Greg Abbott said his state was becoming more like California because cities are banning things like fracking or the cutting down of trees. The Texas Legislature may soon debate passing laws to stop those local initiatives. But is that so new?

When Governor Abbott expressed dismay at what city governments and their citizens were doing in his state, it might have struck some observers of Texas politics as nothing new. Because for years now, the state of Texas has been challenging the power of the cities of Texas and of individual Texans.

But who exactly would want to do that and why?

We looked for answers at the statehouse. It’s where last spring the issue came up in a public hearing held by the House Committee on Environmental Regulation.

“I’d like to tell you our story,” said Lesley Carey shortly after she took the podium in front of the committee.

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EPA Team Looking At Relationship Between Irving Quakes and Disposal Well

Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section for Region 6 in Dallas.

Photo by Philip Issa

Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section for Region 6 in Dallas.

The earthquakes that have shaken Dallas and Irving, Texas the last several months have people looking into whether oil and gas activity in the area plays a role. Some of those people work at the Environmental Protection Agency. But EPA researchers say they’re not getting the data they’ve requested from Texas state oil and gas regulators to investigate the possible link.

Philip Dellinger is head of the EPA’s Underground Injection Control Section in Dallas. At a conference of the Groundwater Protection Council Tuesday, he showed early results from a study his team conducted on earthquakes around Irving.

The group looked at the use of wastewater disposal wells closest to Irving earthquakes. Dellinger does not necessarily believe the recent quakes are related to disposal wells, where wastewater from oil and gas drilling is pumped underground. But these types of wells have caused other earthquakes, so his team wanted to see what wells were close to the Irving events.

His choice for where to look was simple. There are only two wells near the recent quakes, and one had been plugged up.

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