Energy

The U.S. is in the middle of an oil drilling boom that few people saw coming. After decades of decline, crude oil production is rising again. Technologies such as hydraulic fracturing in places such as North Dakota are getting a lot of attention. But the Gulf of Mexico still accounts for more than one-fifth of domestic oil production.

Louis Vest via Texas Tribune

GALENA PARK — In this city east of Houston, petrochemical facilities are a common part of the landscape and a major engine for the local economy.

But they can also be heavy emitters of what the Environmental Protection Agency labels “toxic air pollutants,” such as benzene, which have been linked to health problems like cancer, reproductive problems and birth defects. And at times, the facilities can emit huge amounts of pollution that normally wouldn't be allowed, but are exempt from rules because they happen only when facilities are starting up, shutting down or malfunctioning. 

Jonathan Warner/Flickr

Earlier this year, the earth hit a frightening milestone: carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached its highest level since humans have inhabited the earth. The last time there was this much carbon on the planet was nearly a million years ago.

As the heat-trapping gas proliferates, the world warms, and the climate effects domino: droughts intensify, floods increase, ice melts and seas rise. The question now isn't whether human activity is changing the global climate; the question is what to do about it.

World Resources Institute via Texas Tribune

From The Texas Tribune:

DENTON – Voters will decide whether this North Texas college town will become the state's first city to ban hydraulic fracturing. 

After a public hearing Tuesday night that stretched into Wednesday morning, the Denton City Council rejected a proposal to ban the method of oil and gas extraction inside the city, which sits on the edge of the gas-rich Barnett Shale. The 5-2 vote kicked the question to the city’s November ballot, the next step in a high-profile property rights clash that will likely be resolved outside of Denton.   

How One Austin Home Produces More Energy Than It Uses

Jul 14, 2014
Mengwen Cao for KUT News

From StateImpact Texas:

As the mercury rises in Texas, so does our energy use. Air conditioners will work overtime to keep your house cool. And when that happens, the Texas grid can become stretched thin.

One solution is to build more power plants to meet growing demand. Another is to simply get Texans to use less energy.

Mose Buchele/StateImpact Texas

From StateImpact Texas

In the coming years, the federal government wants Texas to reduce its carbon emissions by about 40 percent. With a goal like that, you might expect to see more programs aimed at promoting renewable energy in Texas. But something like the opposite appears to be happening.

Donna Nelson, chair of Texas’ Public Utility Commission, asked last month if wind power generators, not Texas utility customers, should pay for upgrades to transmission lines. The Commission regulates the state’s electric grid, among other things.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/chesil/

While the crisis in Iraq is half a world away, it’s impact can be felt here in the U.S.  The rapidly destabilizing region is a base for major Texas oil companies, some of whom have had to evacuate the increasingly hostile environment.  

New Carbon Rules Could Have Big Impact on Texas

Jun 2, 2014
Andy Uhler/KUT News

Big changes could be coming for Texas power plants. The Obama administration is announcing new rules today aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants – the chief culprit behind global warming.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel power plants in the U.S. by 30 percent (from their 2005 levels) by 2030. That “is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year,” according to the EPA. In Texas, that drop will need to be even higher: the state’s carbon emissions from the power sector will need to fall 39 percent by 2030 under the proposal.

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The global boom in energy production driven by fracking and horizontal drilling is leading to a shortage of skilled workers. A new report by the human resources firm Mercer says two-thirds of oil and gas companies are now poaching employees from their competitors.

"The industry seems inclined when an individual is trained and developed by a competitor to, especially in the first five years of employment, go after that key talent, as opposed to training and developing their own,"  says Philip Tenenbaum, a senior partner at Mercer. 

He says in some cases, the practice has become quite overt.  

As they say: Everything is bigger in Texas.

Today, the state's biggest power company filed for one of the biggest Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings in corporate history.

Larissa Liska

In the history of Texas, few figures are as colorful as the wildcatters: oil prospectors who gambled big on the lure of black gold and striking it rich, or went broke trying. But what if you could be a wildcatter with a click of the mouse?

According to a company selling stakes in rigs right now, you too can own an oil well – or at least part of it – right here in the states. 

This post was updated at 4:47 p.m. ET.

The cleanup of an oil spill near the Houston Ship Channel is continuing today, and authorities say they have opened one of the country's biggest ports in a limited capacity this afternoon.

While watching the turmoil in Ukraine unfold, you may feel as though it has little to do with the United States, but the conflict is stirring a contentious debate in Europe over a topic familiar to many Americans: fracking.

Much of the continent depends on Russian natural gas that flows through pipelines in Ukraine. European countries are asking themselves whether to follow the U.S. example and drill for shale gas.

flickr.com/shannonpatrick17

The controversial Keystone XL Pipeline is taking over national headlines again. 

Last week, the State Department released an environmental review of the pipeline, finding tar sands extraction would have little impact on greenhouse gas emissions. 

As KUT's StateImpact Texas reports, "tar sands oil will be extracted regardless of whether or not the pipeline is built."

KUT's Mose Buchele talked with The Takeaway this morning about the impact that the largest oil producer in the world is having in Texas.

The State Department says that production of Canadian tar-sand crude, which has a bigger greenhouse gas footprint than other types of oil, is unlikely to be increased if the Keystone XL pipeline goes ahead — and therefore would do little to contribute to climate change.

Meet the Answer to Texas' Air Conditioning Issues

Jan 30, 2014
flickr.com/dan_h

From StateImpact Texas:

For years, Texas has struggled with how to solve its energy crunch: forecasts said not enough power plants were being built to meet the demands of a growing population and a booming state. But it turns out the state’s supplies are likely adequate. Despite all the growth in Texas, peak power demand hasn’t increased as fast as expected.

To understand why, it helps to start with those long, hot Texas summer afternoons just six months ago.

A large section of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline went into official operation Wednesday, in a move that supporters say will help ease the flow of oil to refineries in the Gulf Coast region. The Obama administration has yet to rule on the project's northern portion.

Justin Dehn, Texas Tribune

As chilly weather grips much of Texas, the state's electricial grid operator is asking consumers to reduce their energy use, though it says a brief threat of rolling blackouts has been averted. 

In an alert sent at 8 a.m., the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the grid covering 85 percent of the state, issued an emergency alert, meaning the grid's power reserves had dropped below a comfortable threshold. 

But the situation, ERCOT said, was improving.

flickr.com/pagedooley

The holidays are here and it might surprise people how energy-intensive they can be. Commentator Michael Webber is keeping a list - and checking it twice - on some ways we burn fuel this time of year.

For starters: There's the energy involved in travel to visit family – those long road trips over the hills and through the woods to visit Grandma, plane flights, even train travel.

Then there's the energy for heating our homes during cold weather. In the northeast that's likely fuel oil; gas in the Southwest; and electricity in the South. Then there are all those presents!

flickr.com/silvershaina

As you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, consider this: how much energy it takes to produce and consume that food.

Throughout the year, transportation is responsible for 28 percent of our energy consumption. And there's a non-trivial bump right around Thanksgiving time. According to USA Today, more than 25 million people in the United States are expected to fly for the Thanksgiving holiday. 

There's an old joke that if Moses had turned right when he led Jewish tribes out of Egypt, Israel might be where Saudi Arabia is today — and be rich from oil. Consultant Amit Mor of Eco Energy says that joke is out of date.

"Israel has more oil than Saudi Arabia," he claims. "And it's not a joke."

But that oil will be difficult to reach, if it can be recovered at all. The oil he's talking about is not yet liquid but is trapped in rocks underground.

Should Texas Pay Power Companies Just For Opening New Plants?

Nov 26, 2013
Jessie Wang for KUT News

The Public Utility Commission of Texas is proposing a change to the way the state’s electricity market is run. And some lawmakers voiced concerns during a public hearing at the Capitol yesterday.

The Texas Senate Natural Resources Committee hosted a hearing to question the Public Utility Commission, or PUC, about the possible change to the market.

flickr.com/vanwest/

Most computer users are familiar with sleep mode. But the Round Rock Independent School District has found the value in shutting their computers down completely.

The school district is expected to save an estimated $251,000 annually by using a program that automatically shuts computers down after 6 p.m. Over 30,000 desktops and laptops are automatically shut down, drastically cutting energy costs.

facebook.com/WorldWarZMovie

Let’s talk zombies. Can’t kill them. Can’t eat them. What are we to the living dead? 

No longer merely the province of Halloween season, nowadays zombies proliferate in American pop culture, from books to TV to film.

Dr. Michael Webber, deputy director of UT’s Energy Institute, says there’s good reason for the persistence of zombies – and it has a lot to do with how we think about power. 

Energy – or the lack thereof – is always a sign of post-apocalyptic and zombie culture. Loss of energy inevitably leads to resource wars among the apocalypse’s survivors. From “The Walking Dead” to “World War Z,” the main drive is often for fuel, water, or power.

I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

Texas policymakers searching for ways to curb energy use across their rapidly growing state might want to examine efforts in their capital city.

Austin is among large U.S. cities doing the most to conserve energy, according to a study released Tuesday by a national group that promotes energy efficiency. The Washington D.C.-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy analyzed conservation efforts across the country’s 34 most populous cities, ranking Austin sixth behind Boston, Portland, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle.

Texas is expected to have sufficient levels of stored power to serve peak demands this fall and winter. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas released its Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy on Tuesday.

83rd Lege's Regular Session: What Happened, What Didn't

May 28, 2013
Bob Daemmrich/Marjorie Kamys Cotera/Todd Wiseman via Texas Tribune

It's been a whirlwind of an end to the 83rd Legislature's regular session, and with Monday's announcement of a special session, lawmakers aren't done. Here's a look at the deals reached and the measures that fell short during the 140 days of the regular session. 

BUDGET

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Even before the President’s State of the Union Address was over last night, some environmental and renewable energy groups were sending out congratulatory emails.

“We thank President Obama for his leadership” read one from the Solar Energy Industries Association. The speech outlined “clean energy solutions”  said the group Environment Texas.

Erik Reyna/KUT News

Gas prices are up. Across Texas, regular is up 14 cents this week, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Price Report. In Austin, average prices were up by almost 15 cents to $3.36.

Oil analyst Tom Kloza says prices often rise and fall with the seasons, but these are the highest gas prices Americans have seen for this time of year.

Dave Fehling, StateImpact Texas

New legislation that’s been introduced in Austin is supposed to help build a lot more hike and bike trails. It would do that by using those long ribbons of green space called “rights of way”, what are now used by big, utility transmission lines.

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