Mose Buchele, KUT News | KERA News

Mose Buchele, KUT News

Mose Buchele is the Austin-based broadcast reporter for KUT's NPR partnership StateImpact Texas . He has been on staff at KUT 90.5  since 2009, covering local and state issues.  Mose has also worked as a blogger on politics and an education reporter at his hometown paper in Western Massachusetts. He holds masters degrees in Latin American Studies and Journalism from UT Austin.

Texas generates more wind power than any other state in the country. It’s a fact that a lot of people in the state like to crow about, but a new federal review of which states use the most wind as a percentage of their total electricity generation has called that into question. Texas didn’t make the top 10.

The race to fill an obscure but powerful statewide office in Texas has been overshadowed by national politics this year. That’s a shame not only because the office is important, but because the race for that office has been packed with strange twists and turns.

A lot of those twists and turns come down to perceptions (and misperceptions) about the names involved in the race for Texas Railroad Commissioner.

Over the last several years, scientists, including those at the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency, have linked an increase in earthquakes in Texas to oil and gas activity. But, industry and Texas state regulators remain reluctant to publicly acknowledge it.  Now, a study that looks at the quakes from space might put more pressure on them to do so.


Somewhere in the forests of Northeast Texas there is a tree, or maybe group of trees, where an invasive species is breeding.  It’s a beetle called the emerald ash borer (EAB), and it’s wiped out forests of ash trees since it arrived in the U.S. from Asia a few decades ago. If unchecked, it has the potential to decimate trees in Texas, but there’s a plan to fight the ash borer.

And, it sounds almost like something from a horror movie. 


Information out from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirms what many probably already knew: It was a really warm winter. NOAA’s National Climate Summary for December through February says the lower 48 states experienced the warmest winter ever recorded when it comes to average temperature. 


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.


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. 


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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline has prompted some head scratching in Texas. From member station KUT in Austin, Mose Buchele explains why.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is back from his first official trip to Mexico. While he was there, the governor met Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and talked border security, trade and energy. As KUT’s Mose Buchele reports, cross-border energy issues are of growing importance on both sides of the border.


The Texas horned lizard — also known as the horny toad, or the horned frog to TCU fans — lives in some of the harshest deserts in the Southwest.  But scientists are learning more about how the lizard survives, and what they’ve discovered could have applications for the rest of us.


This year state lawmakers severely restricted the ability of Texas towns to regulate local oil and gas drilling.

A law known as House Bill 40 was a reaction to a fracking ban passed by voters in the North Texas city of Denton.

Denton has come to represent local fracking bans and clashes between local governments and the oil and gas industry. But while Denton was the first city in Texas to ban fracking, it wasn't the first city to ban drilling within city limits.

That practice goes back years, according to a survey by the Texas Municipal League.

The North Texas City of Denton made headlines last year when voters there banned the oil drilling technique known as fracking. Early this morning, the Denton City Council repealed that unenforceable ban in a move to head off costly future legal battles.

Many Denton City Council members said they had no choice but to repeal the ban. Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law earlier this year that takes the power to regulate most drilling activity away from local governments.

When voters in Denton banned the oil drilling technique called fracking there last year, the North Texas city took center stage in a national debate over oil and gas, property rights and the environment. But now some of the same people who pushed for the ban are calling to repeal it.

You might have noticed gas prices inching up, but crude oil prices are still waaaay lower than they were a year ago – so what’s behind the jump in gasoline?  Usually, higher prices at the pump are linked to the higher cost of crude oil. But at this time of year, people blame refineries.  

"What we’re seeing is that strong relationship between gas and oil fade," says Patrick Dehane, an oil analyst with Gasbuddy.com. "It is… I wouldn’t say a nasty breakup. But the two are becoming more distant because of refining.” 

By now, the surprise of cheap gas has probably worn off.

But drivers on the hunt for the very best prices have noticed a new trend: Small, independent gas stations are often the first to cut prices when the price of crude oil falls. This has a lot to do with how gas is bought, sold and moved from pipeline to pump.

People in Dallas were surprised by a swarm of small earthquakes that started shaking the city a couple of days ago. There have been 11 by last count.  And the quakes, though new to the Dallas area, are just the most recent in a major upsurge in earthquakes in Texas over the last few years.

Earthquakes were pretty much unheard of in the Dallas area until 2008. Since then there have been a lot of these swarms of quakes. In Irving, Texas, where this new cluster is located, there have been more than 50 in the last several years, according to the city manager. This current swarm started around September.

Congress’ attempts to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline have re-ignited debate over the project, which would allow more crude oil to flow from the tar sands of Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.  It’s also re-ignited debate over what could happen to that oil once it gets to Texas.

The clean energy plan put forth by the Environmental Protection Agency aims to combat climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by power plants.  But it may come at a price, according to a report released Monday by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the group that manages much of Texas electric grid.

The report says electricity bills could rise as much as 20 percent because of the carbon reduction goals, adding that the goals could also endanger electric reliability. Part of that is due to the way the plan would change Texas' energy mix.  

“What we found is that the likely impact of the clean power plan is going to be the retirement of a significant portion of the coal-fired capacity in ERCOT," says ERCOT Director of System Planning Warren Lasher.

The goal of the EPA’s clean energy plan is to reduce Texas carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

A Dallas jury recently awarded nearly $3 million to a family who said they were poisoned by a natural gas drilling operation near their North Texas ranch. The verdict, reached on April 22, is being called a landmark by opponents of the drilling technique, called hydraulic fracturing or "fracking."

There's been a surge in earthquakes in the U.S. over the last few years. In Texas, there are 10 times the number of earthquakes now than just a few years ago.

Scientists say it's likely linked to the boom in oil and gas activity, meaning that people who never felt the ground shake are starting to.

Here's how Pat Jones of Snyder, Texas, describes the earthquake that struck her town in 2010: "It just sounded like some car hit the back of our house. We got up and checked around and we didn't see anything or hear anything else."

Another minor earthquake shook the North Texas community of Azle on Monday. It’s one of dozens to hit the region over the last few months that have residents on edge and complaining of property damage.

Many see a link between the quakes and increased oil and gas activity. But challenges confront scientists researching the quakes for the U.S. Geological Survey and Southern Methodist University. For one, they’ve needed to more accurately pinpoint the epicenters of the Azle quakes.

View Earthquakes Near Azle, Texas in a larger map

Map created by Andrew Weber for KUT News and StateImpact Texas. Orange circles represent earthquakes, wavy blue lines represent active wastewater disposal wells.

This is part four of a series looking at the infrastructure of dams in Texas, and what can be done to improve it. You can find part one here, and part two here, and part three here.

In a peaceful, wooded corner of Bastrop County, Texas sits one of the unluckiest dams in the state. In 2011 the Labor Day Wildfires burned soil and vegetation around Clear Springs Lake and its earthen dam. Then, half a year later, a massive rainstorm hit. Water poured over the structure and wrecked havoc on an already crumbling spillway.

“Our poor little dam has gone between being scorched to being flooded in a matter of six months,” Bruce Bar, a floodplain engineer and the manager of the community’s dam told StateImpact Texas. “So it’s handled about as much as nature can throw at it.”

This is part three of a series looking at the infrastructure of dams in Texas, and what can be done to improve it. You can find part one here, and part two here.

In 1978 a massive storm hit the West Texas town of Albany. It dumped 23 inches of rain in just eight hours. Waters caused 9 deaths, flooded hundreds of homes, and broke through a local dam. Troy Henderson, who now works on the Brownwood Texas Lake Patrol, says since then he’s followed a simple rule.

“If I were to build a home somewhere, I’d make sure that if it was downstream from a lake that their dam is property maintained,” he told StateImpact Texas, “and the reason I say that is, I lived in Albany in 1978.”

This is part two of a series devoted to looking at the infrastructure of dams in Texas, and what can be done to improve it. You can find part one here.

In 2008, the Texas State Auditor’s office released the kind of report that keeps public officials awake at night.  It found that state regulators were not ensuring the proper maintenance of thousands of dams in Texas. The audit found that state inspectors had never visited hundreds of dams that could cause loss of life if they failed.

This is part one of a StateImpact Texas series devoted to looking at the infrastructure of dams in Texas, and what can be done to improve it.

Of the 1,880 dams inspected by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality since 2008, 245 were found to be in bad condition, according to the TCEQ. Around 2000 of the state’s dams were built with federal help in the wake of the great drought of the 1950s. Almost all of those are now past or nearing their projected 50 year lifespan, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Statistics like these don't come as a surprise to the people who work with dams in the state of Texas.

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