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

Smoke rises from the scene of an explosion Wednesday at the port in Beirut, Lebanon.
Hussein Malla / AP

For some, Tuesday’s deadly explosion in Beirut, which officials say was caused by thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate, was a grim reminder of a 2013 disaster in the city of West, Texas.

Gas is burned off from an oil well in West Texas.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

The amount of methane that fossil fuel companies burn off in Texas as a waste product could power every home in the state, according to some estimates. The industry practice known as “flaring” has been decried as wasteful and polluting by public health groups, environmentalists and even some in the industry.

Up to three inches of rain will be possible in the Austin area over the weekend, just enough to reverse a drought.
National Weather Service

This week, when Travis County Commissioners voted to enact a “burn ban” in response to dry conditions, Fire Marshal Tony Callaway said there could be an added bonus to approving the measure.

“Normally, if we put a burn ban in place, we do receive the rain,” he chuckled, “so that’s one positive way of looking at this.”

Toxic blue-green algae was blamed for the death of at least five dogs last year.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

The heat of summer is here and that means toxic blue green algae may return to Austin lakes and creeks. Last year, at least five dogs died after swimming in parts of Lady Bird Lake containing the algae. So, this year, the city is developing an early-warning system to let people know when conditions are ripe for a deadly bloom.

West Texas landscape
Julia Reihs / KUT

Texas is no stranger to droughts. From the bone-dry stretch of the 1950s, the state’s longest drought, to the fiery months of 2011, the state’s single driest year, droughts have shaped Texas' culture and economy.

But, according to the state climatologist of Texas, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

The sunset over Canyon Lake in the Texas Hill Country.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Dust that has traveled across the ocean from the Sahara desert arrived in Austin this week. It’s an annual phenomenon that makes for hazy skies and beautiful sunsets. But this year it could also increase the spread and the deadliness of COVID-19.

Kinder Morgan is constructing a natural gas line, known as the Permian Highway Pipeline, through the Texas Hill Country.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

The pipeline company Kinder Morgan violated the Safe Drinking Water Act when it spilled tens of thousands of gallons of drilling fluid into Blanco County groundwater, according to a new lawsuit from local landowners and groundwater conservation groups.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Remember last year, when we only had to worry about dog-killing algae?

Well, on top of the pandemic, Austinites also still have to worry about dangerous algal blooms in local waterways.

People ride bikes near Auditorium Shores.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

This year, as the hottest days of summer clutch Texas in a fiery embrace, a team of volunteers will fan out through Austin neighborhoods to take the temperature of the city.

The endeavor is part of an urban heat mapping project, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that aims to present a clearer picture of what parts of town get the hottest and who is most affected.

The National Weather Service has issued a severe thunderstorm watch for parts of Central Texas until midnight.

Tornadoes and large hail are possible, the NWS said. Wind could gust up to 80 mph.  


A flash flood warning is in effect for much of Central Texas until 12:15 AM Monday. Storms moving through the area could bring flooding, lightning and hail up to one inch in diameter in some areas.

Cots in the Smithville Recreational Center during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Martin do Nascimento / KUT

The coronavirus arrived in Central Texas with the spring. That meant no South by Southwest and an early end to the school year. It also meant people stuck at home, at least, enjoyed some pretty good weather.

That’s likely about to change.

National Weather Service

Severe weather is expected overnight in Central Texas. Storms moving in from the west could bring up to 3 inches of rain to the Austin area over a short period of time, which could cause flash flooding in some spots. The National Weather Service says pockets of up to 5 inches of rain are possible.

A severe thunderstorm watch has been posted for most of the Austin area until 4 a.m. The NWS warned of dangerous lightning, heavy rain and strong winds. 

The control room at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texans.
Julia Reihs / KUT

The group that operates the Texas electric grid expects the state to break records for peak electricity use this summer, despite the fact that people are using less electricity because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An oil rig outside Midland, Texas.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

For months, the state agency that regulates oil and gas in Texas has considered reducing the amount of crude companies can pump from the ground. Supporters of the plan hoped it would reduce a supply glut and stabilize oil prices. But the proposal died Tuesday without a final vote.

A blue jay is perched on a birdbath in the Cherrywood neighborhood of Austin on Wednesday.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

One of the first things people noticed were the birds.

Once the stay-at-home orders were in place and the sounds of traffic and business dimmed, the birds seemed louder. There seemed to be more of them.

Pipes for Kinder Morgan's Permian Highway Pipeline are stacked in the Hill Country as the company begins work on the natural gas pipeline.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

The Hays County Commissioners Court has revoked permits it issued to let Kinder Morgan’s Permian Highway Pipeline project bore under county roads.

An oil rig and gas flares in far West Texas
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

A meeting of Texas oil and gas officials started Tuesday with a prayer both ominous and inscrutable.  

“Father, we come to you this morning recognizing an attack upon us as a country, as an industry,” Railroad Commission Chair Wayne Christian intoned.

The Austin skyline
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Austin’s air was more polluted with toxic particles than ever before in the period from 2016 through 2018, according to the American Lung Association. The group warns air quality could continue to worsen as the federal government erodes public health protections.

An oil pump jack in Odessa.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

For the first time in history, a barrel of West Texas oil was so worthless Monday that oil companies would pay you to take it. Oil prices have been low for months, but the negative pricing of a valuable commodity can be hard to wrap your head around. How does it happen?

An oil rig outside Midland, Texas.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

In a move that would have been unimaginable just a couple months ago, Texas is considering limiting oil production in the state. Capping the amount of crude that can be pumped is a power the state has not used in nearly 50 years. But, at a meeting Tuesday, regulators heard it may be needed to stabilize an industry in freefall.

Severe thunderstorms and possible tornadoes could hit the Austin area overnight into early Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

Laborerers work on the helipad of an offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Coronavirus hit the global markets this week, sending stocks reeling and pushing economies toward possible recession. In Texas, the view could be even bleaker thanks to plummeting oil prices. Analysts say the state can expect layoffs, bankruptcies and state revenue shortfalls in the months ahead if prices remain low.

Pumpjack in Pecos County near Fort Stockton.
Marjorie Kamys Cotera / The Texas Tribune

Oil prices plummeted to their lowest point in decades overnight as Saudi Arabia declared a price war on Russia, adding another stressor to financial markets already reeling amid concerns over the rapid spread of a new strain of coronavirus.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Texas' first case of white-nose syndrome in bats has been confirmed.

The fungus that causes the disease was first detected in Texas bats in 2017, but the disease itself, which has killed millions of bats on the East Coast, hadn't been found by Texas Parks and Wildlife until Feb. 23 in Gillespie County.

Bluebonnets and other wildflowers dot the landscape near I-35 earlier this month.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Bats in December. Bluebonnets in January. Butterflies in February. These are a few of the unseasonal appearances Austinites noticed this warm winter. And, experts say, people should get used to such sights.

Gas is burned off from an oil well in West Texas.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

The amount of natural gas that oil companies burn off in Texas as a waste product could power every home in the state. It’s an industry practice known as “flaring,” and as it grows, so does pollution and waste associated with oil extraction. So, last week, a top state oil and gas regulator produced a report on it.

Raul and Christy Garcia wade through water in East Houston.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers isn’t liable for flood damage to thousands of Houston homes after the agency cracked open the gates on two massive dams in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

A liquefied natural gas export facility under construction near Quintana, Texas in 2018.
Travis Bubenik / Courthouse News Service

Construction on a hotly contested natural gas pipeline through the Texas Hill Country could proceed quickly after a federal judge on Friday declined opponents’ request to temporarily block the project.

Signs opposing the Kinder Morgan pipeline in Driftwood, Texas.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to give Houston-based pipeline giant Kinder Morgan the go-ahead to clear land for a hotly contested natural gas line through the Texas Hill Country within the next two days, attorneys for the company and the federal government said Wednesday.