Energy & Environment

Water, energy, conservation, sustainability, WTP4, pollution, oil and gas, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), recycling, and other environmental issues related to Austin and the Central Texas counties of Travis, Hays, Caldwell, Bastrop and Williamson

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Residents of Texas and Puerto Rico are still recovering from the last hurricane season, as the next season is set to start. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration predicts 2018 is going to be an active one.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Student activists around the country are pushing for universities not to invest in industries that contribute to global warming. But at the University of Texas, some environmentalists are taking a different approach, urging UT not to divest, but to adopt more climate-friendly drilling rules.

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

Austin is evaluating the destruction caused by a landslide last week along Shoal Creek, just downstream from Shoal Creek Boulevard. Part of a hill next to the creek collapsed after heavy rains Friday, but the full scope of the damage – including damage to private property in the posh Pemberton Heights neighborhood – is only now coming into focus.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Jessica Zarowitz was in for a surprise while walking her dog, Lady Bird, along the Shoal Creek Hike and Bike Trail on Monday: The trail that had been there for years suddenly wasn’t. Trees had fallen over it, and the pavement had buckled and slid into the creek in places.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

When electric scooters flooded into Austin, the companies that rent them touted their environmental benefits: “Riders were able to prevent 445,334 pounds of carbon emissions,” a press release from Bird said. The startup LimeBike estimated its scooters reduced 8,500 pounds of CO2 here in just two weeks.

But those numbers are based on some shaky assumptions.

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.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

An oxygen-deprived “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico would take decades to reverse, according to a study from the University of Waterloo in Canada.

Mose Buchele / KUT

If you’ve spent your life in the city, maybe you’ve never experienced the smell near a dairy farm, cattle feedlot or a newly fertilized field.

The U.S. is on track to become the world's biggest oil producer, pumping out more crude than at its peak nearly a half century ago. For decades, few expected such a comeback, and it's all the more remarkable because the price of a barrel of oil is nowhere near what it was during the last, recent boom.

"This is an incredible statement, but we're probably making more money at fifty dollars a barrel than a hundred," says Kirk Edwards, president of Latigo Petroleum in Midland, the de facto oil capitol of West Texas.

University of Texas

You can now watch Austin’s only resident peregrine falcon up close and personal, thanks to a camera aimed at her nest at the top of the UT Tower. 

There’s good reason to keep an eye on the bird – affectionately known as the "Tower Girl" by birders in the community – over the next few months. 

Chase Fountain/TPWD

“Infested” is not a word you want to hear in reference to anything. But that’s exactly the word the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is using to describe Lake Austin.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

When Billy Whipple was learning carpentry as a young man in New England, he got some strange advice about from a veteran carpenter.

“He had his old beliefs that holes [in houses] were good; they got you fresh air,” he says. “Now we’re so sophisticated that we manage the air.”

Marjorie Kamys Cotera

The 40-foot wall of water that gushed down the Blanco River in May 2015, wiping out parts of Wimberley and killing more than a dozen people, was largely a natural phenomenon. But a new study shows that development along the waterway made its impact on the fast-growing Central Texas community that much worse. 

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.   

Mose Buchele / KUT

In the brutal final scene from the 2007 movie There Will Be Blood, sociopathic oilman Daniel Plainview meets his rival for the last time. If oil fields are like milkshakes, he says, it pays to have a straw that reaches all the way across the room “and starts to drink your milkshake.”

“I. Drink. Your. Milkshake,” Plainview screams maniacally. “I DRINK IT UP!”

What does that have to do with the Railroad Commission of Texas? More than you might think. That’s because the commission regulates oil and gas in Texas. Ironically, it has nothing to do with railroads.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

A lot of what you read in the news boils down to numbers. What's the unemployment rate? How's the stock market? What’s the price of a gallon of gas? When those numbers are wrong, the whole story can be wrong. That’s exactly what appears to be happening with some important numbers from the Energy Information Administration.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Like most everyone else, Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon has been feeling the chill lately. He's even taken to wearing a coat in his office at Texas A&M.

“My office has been in the 50s the past couple days,” he said Thursday.

Elizabeth Parrish

As both the tourist and resident populations of San Marcos double, so must efforts to protect it from litter. While individual groups tackle the problem in their own way, everyone comes together for one type of prevention: annual and monthly cleanups.

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.

Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

The banana water lilies that once filled Jefferson County's Salt Bayou marsh started dying off years ago.

The aquatic plants, with their elegant white and yellow blooms, used to pepper the 139,000-acre wetland in Southeast Texas – a hub for wildlife, boaters and commercial fisheries. 

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

Trey Murphy is a grad student in North Carolina, but he has dreams of owning land in West Texas. A few months ago, he was looking at real estate online and came across something strange.

“I saw that there was this particular listing that was selling the surface estate, but not willing to sell the wind estate,” he says.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

The announcement that three coal power plants in Texas plan to close next year is likely good news for the environment, but bad news for the people who worked at the plants. As for what it means for your electric bill if you live in Austin, that’s complicated.

That was basically the message Austin Energy, the city’s publicly owned electric utility, delivered this month to a city oversight committee.

Magnani et al.

Over the last 10 years, Texas has experienced a massive upsurge in earthquakes linked to oil and gas activity. Now, research is showing how that activity can wake up fault lines that were “dead” for hundreds of millions of years.

Mose Buchele / KUT

Scott Canada says his company had big plans this year for a 100-megawatt solar farm outside Fort Stockton, Texas.

“It would have been built over the next 18 months,” says Canada, senior vice president of renewable energy for McCarthy Building Companies. “It generally would have probably employed 300 to 400 people at its peak, depending on how tight the schedule was being compressed.”

Investigators Say Harvey Chemical Plant Fires Should Be Wake-Up Call For Industry

Nov 15, 2017
U.S. Chemical Safety Board

Investigators say chemical plant fires during Hurricane Harvey should be a warning to other industrial facilities ahead of the next hurricane season.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

News that the Sandow Power Plant outside Rockdale was closing broke on Friday the 13th.

“You would think you could put off till Monday to make that announcement," Steven Garza chuckles. "But that’s how it went down.”

Garza has worked as an electrician at the plant for four years. He and his wife were driving their son to school when he got the call and had to tell her he would be out of a job. 

Kathleen Harnett White
Screenshot Texas Public Policy Foundation/YouTube

Kathleen Hartnett White is facing scrutiny from U.S. senators today as part of her nomination to lead President Trump’s Council on Environmental Quality. Hartnett White was Texas' top regulator for six years. Her nomination to the White House post has proved controversial, even in an administration that is no stranger to controversy.

Mengwen Cao / KUT

One of the many things Donald Trump promised during his campaign was that he would boost the country’s coal industry. Soon after he won the presidency, though, it became clear to some experts that the future of coal in the U.S. was dim; that natural gas, wind and solar were pushing it out of the market.

The coal industry found an ally in Trump’s pick to helm the Department of Energy: former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

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