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

Anton Cruz via Wikimedia Commons

From The Austin Monitor: The battle over whether to loosen or make permanent some current water restrictions played out, once again, Wednesday at the City Council Public Utilities Committee, as Council Member Don Zimmerman questioned the intent of a recent public survey by Austin Water.

According to the survey data (collected at five public meetings held throughout January), roughly 57 percent of the public polled disagreed with a move to permanent once-a-week watering restrictions. 


Mose Buchele / KUT

Deep in South Texas oil country, there’s a place known as the “Hotel Capital of the Eagle Ford Shale.” More than 20 hotels were built in the small town of Cotulla during the oil boom, but that boom came to a standstill in 2015. 

KUT reported on the town a year ago and recently returned to see how Cotulla and other oil towns are faring. 


Mose Buchele for KUT News

Cattle rustlers have been both reviled and mythologized in Texas since there was cattle on the range. Now, the downturn in oil prices may be giving rise to a new kind of criminal in South Texas: oil rustlers.


Wikimedia Commons

If there’s one bit of conventional wisdom when to comes to oil prices it’s this: What goes down, must go up. The boom-bust cycle of the oil markets means that the cheap gas you’re enjoying now will cost you more sometime in the future. But what if low oil prices are actually the new normal? Some people are saying just that.

Photo via flickr/MarcDalio; photo illustration by Andrew Weber/KUT

It’s been a few weeks since Congress lifted a decades-long ban on crude oil exports, but something that often gets lost in talking about the end of the ban is that not all oil is created equally.

Oil from one place might have has more sulfur or more impurities than oil from another place; you might hear it called “heavy” or “light” crude. The differences have a big effect on what that oil can be used for, but explaining those differences can be, well, boring. But The Wall Street Journal's Russell Gold says he has a much more interesting corollary that might help illustrate those differences: alcohol.


NASA, via Getty Images

Texas is winding down a year of extreme weather. A lot of it is attributed to the El Niño weather pattern that pushes more moisture in our direction. 

Recently the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, took a look at past severe El Niño years, with an ear to what music was popular at the time.

It was a historical perspective so unique, KUT’s Mose Buchele decided to put it on the radio.


Flickr user Señor Codo

In another lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Texas is taking aim at tightened standards on ground-level ozone — President Obama’s effort to cut down on smog that chokes the nation’s skies. 

Mose Buchele/KUT

The Texas Water Development board has $7 million to spend to improve the state’s emergency response to flooding.


Shelby Knowles/Texas Tribune

Tucked into the semi-wilderness a few miles north of this Central Texas town, within spitting distance of a federal prison, Nahja, a 25-year old chimpanzee at the Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research, wraps a handful of woolly nesting material around her head into something that resembles a shawl.

New technology developed here in Austin promises to give advanced warning for floods, but what exactly would that mean for first responders struggling to rescue people? A look at recent flooding in Central Texas shows how a project to provide real-time flood prediction software on a national scale could help.


flickr/smreilly

The low gas prices a lot of us are enjoying when we fill up our cars are thanks, in part, to a glut in the global supply of oil.  In fact there’s so much crude oil being pumped right now that it's created a traffic jam in an unlikely place.


Ivan Pierre Aguirre/Texas Tribune

Natural gas, coal, wind are the resources that usually come to mind when we think about power generation in Texas. But a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey estimates Texas has enough uranium underground to power nuclear plants across the country for five years.

The USGS assessment found a 60-million-ton concentration of unmined uranium oxide embedded in sandstone under the Texas Coastal Plain – a deposit that, if developed, the agency estimates could supply a year’s worth of power to U.S. nuclear reactors.


Staff Sgt. James L. Harper, Jr., USAF, via flickr/chucksimmins

Over seven years after hurricanes Ike and Dolly devastated the Texas coast, $3.1 billion in federal disaster relief remains unspent. It's a number that recently became a point of focus at a state Senate Committee hearing on disaster recovery.


Courtesy: Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

In some part of the world, including a site near the Texas-New Mexico border, nuclear waste is kept in rock salt deposits deep underground.  It’s long been thought that these geologic formations were some of the safest places to store humankind’s most toxic waste, but new research suggests those places may not be as safe as we thought.


UT Austin

A team of scientists at UT Austin has brought us closer to understanding how some animals turn almost invisible in certain lights by studying fish deep in the ocean.


Mose Buchele/KUT

Austin’s creeks and waterways are part of what’s attracted people to this part of the world for thousands of years.  But, of course, they also create flooding hazards. When one heavy rain on top of another sends tons of debris into the creeks, that flood risk becomes even more difficult to control.

KUT News

There’s an old rancher’s saying that the cattle always look good around an oil well.  It means if the ranch is making money leasing to oil companies, the ranch's finances are probably in pretty good shape. So, is the decline in oil hurting Texas ranchers? That’s something state lawmakers are trying to figure out.


Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Public safety officials and researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have unveiled a new national flood prediction system, which researchers say will increase the amount of river and creek flood forecasts by more than 700 percent and offer a new approach that will save lives in Central Texas and beyond. 


Flickr/loozrboy

From StateImpact Texas: President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline provoked cheers from environmental groups, boos from rival politicians and a little bit of head scratching in the State of Texas. 


mrjoro/flickr

This is a story of two nuts: the almond and the pecan. 

In the 1960s the pecan industry loomed large over the almond. But, then, something changed. Since then, the almond crop has seen a nearly 33-fold growth, while the pecan crop has seen little to no growth. But things are looking up for the once-proud pecan.


Most of the rivers and creeks engorged by Friday's heavy rainfall have reached their highest points and have started to recede. As they do, the residents of hard-hit places, like San Marcos, Bastrop County and Austin's Onion Creek neighborhood, are starting the process of cleaning up and assessing the damage. 

Though the rescue efforts are over, and many donation centers are no longer accepting donated material goods, there are still ways you can help, whether it's by donating money, or making yourself available to volunteer, or bringing in clean clothes for those who lost their belongings. If you're a resident looking for help removing damaged goods or receiving donations, there's information for you as well.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon for KUT News

If you spend much time around Austin this sight might be familiar: A new building goes up, or a street is completely redesigned. Along with that development a row of young trees is planted along the sidewalk. Then, several months later, some of those trees are dead.


Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News

As of Thursday, the wildfire near Smithville in Bastrop County was well contained at 85 percent and had covered about 4,500 acres — that hasn't changed in several days. The Texas A&M Forest Service says the cause of the fire is still under investigation. But the Bastrop County Judge has said the fire was probably caused by one of two things: farm equipment that overheated or a fire built in violation of the county’s burn ban.


Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT

After burning nearly 4,600 acres and destroying nearly 70 homes, the Hidden Pines Fire remains at 80 percent containment. As people in fire-damaged areas of Bastrop County take more steps toward the recovering, officials and residents are preparing for expected flooding this weekend as investigators determine the cause of the fire.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT

The Hidden Pines wildfire in Bastrop is now 80 percent contained, but just how do officials reach that determination? Well, it’s an art and a science.


Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT

The Hidden Pines Fire in Bastrop County started one week ago today. Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said Tuesday morning that the fire is 80 percent contained and has burned about 4,600 acres. Sixty-eight homes have been lost, and 95 are currently threatened. 

KUT News

The Environmental Protection Agency has released new rules to reduce ozone pollution.  The Austin area has managed to stay on the right side of current rules, but the new standards will be harder to meet.


Image via Flickr/TexasEagle (CC BY-NC 2.0)

In Texas, there's been a job opening for what you might call a monarch over Monarchs. The formal title is "Monarch Outreach Specialist."

The challenge? To get the Monarch butterfly to return to Texas, where their numbers seem to have been dropping.

 


Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

This week the US Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce new limits on the amount of ozone Americans breathe. Those limits could force Austin and other Texas cities to reduce ground-level ozone pollution in an effort to mitigate the pollutant’s harmful health effects.


Wikimedia Commons

It might sound surprising that the U.S. does not allow the export of one of its most valuable and plentiful natural resources — but in the case of crude oil, it's true.

A lot of Texas politicians would like to see the ban overturned, and soon lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives may vote on just that.  But why is there a ban in the first place?

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