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

The Austin skyline on a hazy day in October.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

As COVID-19 spread across the globe in the spring, people noticed a strange side-effect of the pandemic: The air was getting cleaner. Stay-at-home orders, along with the economic crash caused by the outbreak, meant less industrial and transportation-related pollution.  

But not necessarily in Austin.

Voters Have Two Very Different Choices For Texas' Next Oil And Gas Regulator

Oct 14, 2020
Republican Jim Wright is competing with Democrat Chrysta Castaneda for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission
Campaign websites

Texas voters have the opportunity to choose the next state oil and gas regulator – and the two candidates in the race would have very different approaches to that role.

An otter pokes its head out of the San Marcos River in August.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

River otters have been making a comeback in Central Texas for the past few years. But this past summer, otters were spotted where they typically haven’t been seen before: in the San Marcos River.

A snout butterfly in Austin in October.
Gabriel C. Pérez

Lee esta historia en español. 

The last couple weeks you might have noticed a large number of small butterflies drifting through Central Texas. The view from a park or garden can be magical, as hundreds meander through the air flashing specks of brown, black and yellow. The view from a highway is less so, as the bugs reel between vehicles before getting squished by an oncoming windshield. 

A flash flood warning has been issued for parts of Burnet, Williamson, Travis and Hays counties until 5:30 p.m. This includes cities such as Cedar Park, Leander and Lakeway.

Buda and Manchaca are included in the flash flood warning.
National Weather Service

A flash flood warning is in effect for parts of southern Travis County and eastern Hays County until 11:30 a.m., the National Weather Service said. Between 2 and 3 inches of rain has already fallen, the agency says, and flash flooding is ongoing or expected to start soon.

Water flows through open floodgates at the Mansfield Dam into Lake Travis in 2018. Intake pipes take water from the lake to treatment plants.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Lee esta historia en español. 

Austin gets all of its water from the Highland Lakes, but that might not always be the case. The city recently took a first step towards storing massive amounts of water underground. If the plan works, it could help Austin survive as climate change threatens traditional water supplies.

Water rushes out of the Addicks Reservoir in Houston.
Craig LeMoult for Houston Public Media

Like many of her neighbors in the Nottingham Forest VIII subdivision in Houston's Energy Corridor, Katie Mehnert was convinced her home would never flood.

NOAA/NESDIS/STAR GOES-EAST

Galveston residents fleeing the path of Hurricane Laura are being bused to Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. From there, they’ll be placed in local hotels until it’s safe to go back to the Gulf Coast.

A car with a sensor attached to it on a street in Southeast Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Lee esta historia en español. 

Volunteers have fanned out in Austin and 12 other U.S. cities this summer to take the temperature of their neighborhoods – literally. The data collection is part of a project to help protect people as the world warms. And, in many places, it is highlighting how already-vulnerable communities suffer the most from climate change and urban heat.

The National Hurricane Center's update from Sunday morning on Tropical Storm Marco.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Updated 12:45 p.m. CDT Sunday

The National Hurricane Center has updated the projected path of Tropical Storm Marco to show the storm hitting the southeastern coast of Louisiana as a Category 1 hurricane Monday evening before heading into Texas by Wednesday.

Woman walking in heat with umbrella to shield the sun
Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT

Lee esta historia en español. 

By the end of this weekend, Austinites can expect to have sweated through more than two weeks in a row of triple-digit heat. Texas summers are supposed to be hot. But there’s nothing normal about heat waves like this one.

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.  

NWS

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.

Pages