Energy & Environment

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Around 3,000 more Austin properties will find themselves in high-risk floodplains thanks to a new National Weather Service study called Atlas 14. Those new flood designations could impact everything from what you pay for insurance to how you build your home.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

A plan to build a publicly funded seawall to protect oil refineries has highlighted gaps in how oil and gas companies inform investors of potential risks associated with climate change.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

More than half of Austin waterways have unsafe levels of fecal bacteria, according to a study out today. The analysis from Environment Texas found 46 of the 76 sites tested in Austin exceeded safe levels of bacteria at least once last year. 

Brian Zabcik, a clean water advocate with Environment Texas, said nearly half of the 1,450 freshwater sites tested across the state had similar problems.

"Of those locations, 49 percent had at least one day of unsafe bacteria level last year," Zabcik said, "bacteria levels that were too high to safely go swimming."

Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

From Texas Standard.

Before sunrise on July 16, 1945, a bomb exploded in the New Mexico desert. It was a new weapon so powerful that at the time it almost seemed like science fiction – the atomic bomb. Scientists built it in a secluded laboratory in Los Alamos where physicists from around the world hoped to invent something strong enough to end World War II – maybe even all wars.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

As a boy in the 1950s James White remembers going with his father to his job in the oilfields of the Permian Basin. His dad would give him a five-gallon bucket, some soap and a scrub brush and come back to check on him hours later.

During those hours of scrubbing in the West Texas sun, he developed a passion for oil rigs and pump jacks.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

For all the good news in the oil business these days, its long-term future remains uncertain. The rise of electric vehicles, the potential for stricter climate regulation and the volatility introduced by fracking all pose threats to the industry. But oil companies still need to place their wagers on the future of energy, and in a few weeks Shell is placing a big one on the Appomattox Deepwater Platform, which sets sail soon from the Texas coast.

Ryan Healy/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

From Texas Standard.

Hackers are a threat to credit card information, election data, and now – according to a report from iDefense, an arm of consulting group Accenture – they’ve come for the energy sector.

Nicolas Henderson/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

From Texas Standard.

Does the Wink Sink ring any bells for you? It is, as the name implies, a pair of giant sinkholes near the town of Wink, located about 60 miles west of Odessa. One of the reasons why they’re remarkable is that they’re unique, though that may not always be the case.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has opened up a public comment period for new floodplain maps for Caldwell, Guadalupe, Gonzales and Hays counties, showing a significant increase in flood risk, especially in places that recently experienced devastating floods.   

KUT News

From Texas Standard.

Global warming and climate change are two oft-used phrases in the conversation about energy production. Much of the time, scientists and reporters present the remedy as “green” energy, such as solar or wind. But there’s a lot we still don’t know about the climate effects of these energy sources.

Texas leads the nation in wind energy production, so it makes sense that researchers from New York would turn to the Lone Star State to study how wind power affects local climates.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

Texas' energy industry is in flux.

The state's seen recent closures of three coal-powered power plants, as the state market shifts toward renewable sources like wind and solar energy. And, on the national level, the state's former governor is lobbying to extend a hand to the nation's struggling coal and nuclear industries.

KUT's Mose Buchele spoke to Jennifer Stayton about what the closures mean for Texas' energy industry and about this week's rejection of a plan from Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to subsidize nuclear and coal power. 

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

Texas just got out of its longest cold spell in six years. Starting Sunday, parts of the state dipped below freezing and stayed there for around three days. Ice caused accidents. Snow brought delight. But one notable outcome was something that did not happen: The lights didn't go out.

Larry D. Moore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 3.0)

From Texas Standard:

While the Trump administration says the "war on coal" is over, market forces are having their say when it comes to the fossil fuel, closing plants in several Texas communities.

Texas' largest generator of coal-powered energy, Luminant, says it is ceasing operations at two plants in the state. The company says Texas' competitive energy market and cheap natural gas  make these older coal-fired plants unprofitable. Another Texas coal operator has already announced plans to close two facilities.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

While we’re still a long way from understanding the full environmental impact of Hurricane Harvey, the damage has been done, and experts say Harvey has highlighted inconsistencies in Texas’ ability to contain hazardous materials in the face of future storms.

The U.S. power grid could become less reliable if too much electricity comes from renewable energy and natural gas, according to a study from the Department of Energy.

But not everyone is buying it. Environmentalists suspect the Trump administration is just trying to prop up an ailing coal industry.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry called for the study in the spring. The report doesn't say there is a grid reliability problem now — only that one could develop if more coal and nuclear power plants shut down.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

It’s estimated that 1 million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute. A few years ago, National Parks decided to try and make a small dent in that number by banning water bottle sales on parkland. Now, the Trump administration has reversed that policy.

Eddie Seal / Texas Tribune

The science on whether there's a link between oil and gas activity and a surge in earthquakes in Texas isn't clear-cut, says the new seismologist for the agency that regulates the industry here.

It has become a rite of summer. Every year, a "dead zone" appears in the Gulf of Mexico. It's an area where water doesn't have enough oxygen for fish to survive. And every year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commissions scientists to venture out into the Gulf to measure it.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUTX

People love to wax nostalgic about the Austin of decades past. The rents were cheaper, the traffic was lighter, the music was live-r. Some of that talk may be history viewed through rose-colored glasses, but there is at least one metric by which Austin was, literally, cooler: the temperature.

Ivan Pierre Aguirre / Texas Tribune

There’s almost enough pipeline transporting crude oil and other chemicals buried under Texas to reach the moon and back. Last week, one small section of that infrastructure in Bastrop County was damaged by a maintenance crew. The result was a spill of more than 50,000 gallons of crude oil.

Photo illustration by Martin do Nascimento / KUT

Scrolling through Twitter is not for everyone, but if it's the kind of thing you’re into you’re likely to come across many tweets that make no sense. A few weeks ago one of them said this: “Curve Crunch: WTI flips to contango. Backwardation banished!”

What could this mean?

Courtesy of Mike Bergin

Solar power is one of the fastest growing energy sources in the world. Whether from massive utility-scale solar farms or residential rooftop panels, you can expect to see more solar in the future.

But scientists have identified something that can really hurt the performance of those panels: air pollution.

Filipa Rodrigues / KUT

After an explosion at a fertilizer plant killed 15 people in West, Texas, in 2013, the EPA created new safety protections for the storage of dangerous chemicals. Now, at the urging of the industry, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is delaying those rules until 2019.

Octavio Aburto-Oropeza

Fish can breathe under water. They’re great swimmers. But they’re not really known for their singing.

But they do sing – kind of. And now scientists on the Texas Gulf Coast are hoping that fact can help sustain their populations.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Texas leads the country in wind energy production and, because of the way the state’s electric grid is set up, most of that power stays right here. But a plan that would allow the state to make money exporting wind and solar power is moving slowly. 

Qiling Wang for KUT

Judging from how hot it has been, this year could end up being Austin’s hottest ever. Heat impacts health, happiness and the environment. So the city is trying a simple approach to reducing it: planting trees.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

Depending on what thermometer you’re looking at, this year’s average temperature has been between 5 and 7 degrees hotter than usual so far in Austin. That could set 2017 up to be one of Austin’s hottest years ever.  People who research climate change already know a lot about how warmer temperatures disrupt human activity. But hot days may have an impact on our mental health that we’re only just starting to understand.

Jorge Sanhueza Lyon / KUT

More people in Texas drink from water systems that are in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act than any other state in the country,  according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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