Wind power generation in Texas has increased fivefold since 2003. Wind now represents 10 per cent of the state's electricity mosaic. (Lorne Matalon)

Wind power generation in Texas has increased fivefold since 2003. Wind now represents 10 per cent of the state's electricity mosaic. (Lorne Matalon)

Wind Power’s Success In Texas Leads To Subsidy Challenge

AUSTIN, Texas — Energy production in Texas is dominated by oil and gas. But the state also leads the United States in the production of wind power. Some energy analysts suggest that wind power’s success in the Lone Star state has now become its challenge.

State senators recently passed a bill that threatened to repeal a state law that required utilities to source a certain amount of electricity from renewables. For fifteen years, that mandate has paved the way for wind power’s growth in Texas.


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The McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis on June 18, 2015. (Cooper Neill)

The McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis on June 18, 2015. (Cooper Neill)

For Astronomers’ Sake, Some Drillers Cut Their Lights

FORT DAVIS — As a cool breeze blew across the 6,800-foot mountain that Coyne Gibson stood on, he gazed at a night sky dotted with constellations, planets and meteors — all visible to the naked eye, thanks to the surrounding darkness.

A satellite streaked across the celestial backdrop. Orange-red light from Betelgeuse, a star and supernova candidate more than 640 light-years away, glimmered, too. Not bad on a Thursday night that was far cloudier than normal.

Just how dark are the night skies at the McDonald Observatory, the West Texas destination for world-renowned astronomers? Dark enough to occasionally disorient experts who aren’t used to seeing so many constellations at first glance.

“They can’t recognize anything, because there are so many stars,” said Gibson, a research engineer at the University of Texas at Austin observatory, which was built in the 1930s.

Touting some of the darkest skies in North America and one of the world’s largest telescopes — the Hobby-Eberly — this secluded outpost draws about 75,000 amateur stargazers each year, along with professionals who have made major discoveries, including, in 2012, themost massive black hole ever detected. The Hobby-Eberly is undergoing a $30 million upgrade as part of a project focusing on dark energy, the mysterious force propelling the accelerated expansion of the universe.


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A  staging yard for the planned Trans-Pecos Pipeline near Fort Stockton, TX (Travis Bubenik / KXWT)

A staging yard for the planned Trans-Pecos Pipeline near Fort Stockton, TX (Travis Bubenik / KXWT)

Big Bend Counties Want More Federal Oversight on Trans-Pecos Pipeline

Elected officials in the Big Bend region are getting increasingly involved with a planned pipeline that would bring natural gas from producers in the Permian Basin to Mexican power plants.

Dallas-based Energy Transfer is building the 143-mile, 42″ Trans-Pecos Pipeline. Local activists and ranchers in Presidio and Brewster Counties have been organizing against it for months.

Now, after pressure from those grassroots efforts, the counties are asking the government for stricter federal regulations on the pipeline.

As it stands, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) only has jurisdiction over a small part of the pipeline that will stretch halfway across the U.S.-Mexico border, where it would connect with another line coming from the Mexican side. The Railroad Commission of Texas has authority over the rest.

FERC is currently reviewing a “presidential permit” application for the pipeline – the government approval needed for it to stretch across the border – but both Big Bend counties say they want the government to regulate the pipeline’s entire length.

“We feel that if we’re gonna keep it safe at the end, that it be safe from the hub all the way to where the custody is taken over by Mexico,” said Brewster County Judge Eleazar Cano.

He hopes expanding the fed’s jurisdiction would lead to stricter safety and environmental controls than what the Railroad Commission requires.


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A signed announced the resumption of fracking in Denton last May, after lawmakers passed HB40. (Mose Buchele)

A signed announced the resumption of fracking in Denton last May, after lawmakers passed HB40. (Mose Buchele)

After HB 40, What’s Next for Local Drilling Rules in Texas?

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 Texas Municipal League’s survey shows that about 30 Texas towns have more general bans on drilling.

Bastrop City Manager Mike Talbot says some of those date back decades. Bastrop’s has been on the books since 2007.

“It’s just not something you want in a residential neighborhood,” he says. “They’re bringing those big rigs in, and it could [be] dangerous or cause a problem, so that’s why a lot of cities have that ordinance.”

Before the Denton controversy, no one seemed to notice these local bans. But HB 40 appears to render them unenforceable.


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Ector County on Same Sex Marriage Licenses: Friday No, Monday Yes

UPDATE: On Monday (June 29) Ector County Clerk Linda Haney confirmed that the county would begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses, in concurrence with Friday’s Supreme Court ruling. On Friday, though, officials there indicated they were waiting for further instructions from the state. On Sunday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxson offered what was regarded as an “opt-out for county clerks, but with the caveat that they may open up their counties to legal action.

ORIGINAL POST: With Friday morning’s Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, making it legal in all 50 states, some courts in Texas began issuing marriage licenses. But not everywhere in the state.

In Odessa, as of Friday afternoon, no marriage licenses were being issued, although the court had received several inquiry calls.

Jennifer Martin, the Chief Deputy Clerk of Ector County, said, “Right now we are not going to start issuing the licenses. Ken Paxton, the Texas Attorney General, has recommended that all the county clerk’s wait for direction and clarity from his office.”

Martin went on to say that “computer program changes” would have to be made, among other steps, before Ector County would issue a marriage license to a same sex couple.

“At this point we are not going to issue them,” concluded Martin.

Garrison Brothers Distillery  (Erin Scott / KXWT)

Garrison Brothers Distillery (Erin Scott / KXWT)

Texas bourbon distilleries are on the rise

Sunday was National Bourbon Day. That’s a liquor associated with the state of Kentucky. But the geographic similarities between Texas and Kentucky are not lost on some new Texas distilleries. Marfa Public Radio’s Asa Merritt has more.

Every state has its treasures. California has its beaches. Louisiana its jazz clubs. Kentucky its bourbon. Legally though bourbon doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky to be bourbon. It’s all about the production. As long as its made from a grain mixture that’s at least 51% corn, ages in barrels for two years, and meets some specific proof specifications, you can slap a bourbon label on it.


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A brainstorming meeting for Pink Petro on May 22, 2015. The group aims to increase networking among women in the oil industry. (Lana Straub / KXWT)

A brainstorming meeting for Pink Petro on May 22, 2015. The group aims to increase networking among women in the oil industry. (Lana Straub / KXWT)

In the Male-Dominated Oil Industry, Efforts to Build Stronger Networks Among Women

When people picture the oil industry, they often picture men.

Of the 132,000 American oil and gas workers in 2013, 33,000 of them were women. That’s only 25%, and the situation is even more skewed in executive offices.

With those numbers in mind, we take a look at women leaders in the energy sector.

Kimberly Smith is a female “landman” in West Texas. Landmen are the oil industry reps that spend their time in offices, looking for signatures and operating agreements.

Smith’s friends call her a “Land Ma’am.” It’s a West Texas term of endearment, but it also distinguishes her as a woman in a male-dominated profession – a profession that often deals Smith some gender backlash.

She says when she tries to network for jobs, people often don’t see her as a breadwinner. It’s more like she’s working for spending money.

“I have had where if my husband, who is an owner in the company, had said ‘I’m looking for a project,’ people would be more intentional in helping him network,” Smith says. “Whereas they perceive that I’m just buying the kids fun stuff and accessories.”

That attitude hurts women trying to find work in this business.

“There’s a lot of women that are contributing and are maybe the sole provider for their families, and they wouldn’t be seen as that,” she says.


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Wind power generation in Texas has increased fivefold since 2003. Wind now represents 10 per cent of the state's electricity mosaic. (Lorne Matalon)
The McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis on June 18, 2015. (Cooper Neill)
A  staging yard for the planned Trans-Pecos Pipeline near Fort Stockton, TX (Travis Bubenik / KXWT)
A signed announced the resumption of fracking in Denton last May, after lawmakers passed HB40. (Mose Buchele)
kxwt-news-west-tx
Wind power generation in Texas has increased fivefold since 2003. Wind now represents 10 per cent of the state's electricity mosaic. (Lorne Matalon)

Wind Power’s Success In Texas Leads To Subsidy Challenge

AUSTIN, Texas — Energy production in Texas is dominated by oil and gas. But the state also leads the United States in the production of wind power. Some energy analysts suggest that wind power’s success in the Lone Star state has now become its challenge.

State senators recently passed a bill that threatened to repeal a state law that required utilities to source a certain amount of electricity from renewables. For fifteen years, that mandate has paved the way for wind power’s growth in Texas.

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Booster Shot: Breastfeeding Benefits

This is Booster Shot, your monthly look at personal health. On this show, we talk with Candy Powell a Lactation Consultant at Medical Center Hospital in Odessa, about breastfeeding.

“For babies,” Powell says, “it [breastfeeding] reduces their risk of respiratory infections, ear infections, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, allergies, certain types of childhood leukemia’s, and children that are breastfed tend to show higher IQ levels.”

Breastfeeding also benefits moms.

“In the immediate post-partum period,” Powell explains, “it reduces the risk of mom having heavy bleeding. It also helps mom to lose her baby weight. And long-term it seems to decrease mom’s risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding begin within an hour after delivery and that exclusive breastfeeding continue for six months.

“Exclusive,” Powell clarifies, “means no other foods or liquids, like no formula. Babies don’t need any juices, any water, anything like that. Breast milk meets all their requirements for the first six months.”

After six months, Powell suggests introducing other foods like cereals, fruits, and vegetables in addition to breastfeeding. Formula is not an adequate substitute for breast milk.

“Breast milk changes on a daily basis to meet baby’s needs,” Powell explains, “and it changes from month to month, too, as baby grows. It has at least 500 known substances in breast milk, but they only have around 30 of those that are replicated in formula.”

Powell suggests moms deliver with health care professionals who encourage breastfeeding. If problems occur, Powell recommends seeing a lactation consultant.

Work places can help moms breastfeed by providing breaks and comfortable spaces to pump. Businesses can even earn a designation from the state of Texas as a Mother Friendly Establishment.

Support for Booster Shot is provided by Medical Center Hospital, the only Level 2 Trauma Center in the Permian Basin. More information at 432-640-6000 or mch odessa (dot) com. Medical Center Health System, “Your One Source for Health.”

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Railroad Commissioner David Porter was elected to a six-year term on the Railroad Commission in 2010.

Porter Takes Over as Railroad Commission Chairman

The Texas Railroad Commission has a new leader.

The state’s three-member oil and gas regulator on Tuesday unanimously elected David Porter as its chairman. He replaces Christi Craddick in the largely ceremonial role.

Porter, who formerly ran a Midland accounting firm that catered to oil and gas companies, was elected to the commission in 2010.

“As railroad commissioners, it is our job to make sure industry produces efficiently and economically, and does so in the safest, most responsible manner possible,” Porter said in a statement that also took a shot at the federal government. “We must continue to challenge federal overreach because Texans know how to oversee Texas oil and gas production better than Washington does.”

At the agency (which also regulates mining, pipeline safety and natural gas utilities, but not railroads), Porter launched the Eagle Ford Shale Task Force, a collection of public officials, industry leaders, landowners and environmentalists who discussed issues surrounding oil and gas development in Texas’ drilling country. He has also pushed Texas to find new uses for natural gas – particularly as a fuel for automobiles.

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A Texas DPS trooper on patrol in West Texas (Tom Michael/KRTS)

Governor Abbott Signs Border Security Bill

On Tuesday, Governor Greg Abbott signed into law HB 11, the new border security bill recently passed by state lawmakers.

The nearly $310 million bill paves the way for the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to hire an additional 250 state troopers for border deployments, allows the department to implement 50-hour work weeks, and requires DPS to develop a plan for southbound checkpoints on international bridges that would intercept drugs, cash and other contraband heading into Mexico.

HB-11 also establishes a “transnational and organized crime” law enforcement division that will help local border authorities with investigations and prosecutions alongside a special prosecution unit.

The bill is part of a larger $800 million border security package approved by lawmakers this legislative session.

In the border security debate, Abbott has turned to language often used by former governor Rick Perry, saying the federal government isn’t doing its job to secure the border, and that Texas “will not sit idly by” as that happens.

Abbott spoke at a signing ceremony in Houston on Tuesday.

“Because of the magnitude of this challenge, I declared securing the border an emergency item, and the Texas legislature responded profoundly, and strongly,” he said.

West Texas Rep. Poncho Nevárez – whose district runs the border from Eagle Pass west through Hudspeth County – said with the millions of dollars being spent on border security in Texas, he hopes to see “real results” from the bill, not, as he put it, “more red meat for Republican voters.”

Other border Democrats have said they want to see more specific measurements on how effective the state’s ongoing border security surge efforts have been so far.

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President Enrique Peña Nieto greets citizens, Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Nov 28, 2013. His mandate will be strengthened or diminished in Mexico's midterm elections and there are implications in the results for both Mexico and the United States. (Lorne Matalon)

Referendum On Peña Nieto: Mexico Midterm Election Has Implications For United States

CHIHUAHUA, Mexico — Midterm elections in Mexico, as in the United States, are a referendum on a president’s performance.

Sunday, June 7, 2015, Mexicans will elect an entirely new congress along with 17 state legislatures and a host of governors and hundreds of mayors. The results will set the tenor for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s final three years in office.

Congressional representatives in the lower Chamber of Deputies are limited to a three year term. Senators serve a single six year term as does the Mexican president.

The new congress will support–or stall–the second half of Peña Nieto’s term. And the election outcome has implications for United States-Mexico relations.

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New mirrors arrive at the McDonald Observatory's Hobby-Eberly Telescope near Fort Davis, TX. (Anna Rose MacArthur)

New Telescope Mirrors Will Help McDonald Observatory Researchers Study Dark Energy

Almost seven years ago, teams of engineers and scientists began designing mirrors for a telescope to study the universe’s dark energy.

That’s the mysterious energy many scientists theorize the universe is largely made up of. No such mirrors had ever been created until now.

Last week, the mirrors arrived in West Texas at the University of Texas’ McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, brought in by police escort. 

The project started in December 2008. Hanshin Lee , John Good, and Herman Kriel of the McDonald Observatory have been working on the undertaking ever since, along with dozens of collaborators from UT Austin and the University of Arizona.

All three of them describe the project as a huge milestone in the observatory’s work.

“It is probably the most difficult optical system that humans ever made,” says Lee, the project’s head engineer.

It’s entirely new. The team had to create something that’s never been made to see something that’s never been seen – dark energy.

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