Kepler-452b Compared with Earth  (NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)

Kepler-452b Compared with Earth (NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)

Kepler Space Telescope Discovers Most Earth-like Planet To Date

Big news this morning from NASA’s planet hunting mission.

Dr. Mike Endl, a research scientist with The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory, spoke with the Texas Standard about the mission.

Listen back to Marfa Public Radio’s episode of West Texas Talk with Dr. Endl about the search for Earth-like planets.

On what’s so special about Kepler 452B:

“[Kepler 452B] is one of the most earth like planets ever discovered. It’s important because these planets are still very rare. We still don’t know how frequently Earth like planets are in the galaxy. And that of course determines whether we have are optimistic that there is extraterrestrial life out there or not. That was the prime science goal of the Kepler mission to determine exactly how frequent those earth size planets are.”

On Kepler 452B’s similarities with Earth:

“Kepler 452B is about 1.6 times the size of Earth. It’s almost in identical orbit to our Earth. That’s very important because there is only a certain distance that you can be from your star where the temperatures are just right to have a habitable world. That’s why we call it the habitable zone… Currently this planet is right at the edge of our most conservative estimates of the habitable zone… [Kepler 452B] is basically where everything matches. Not only is the planet as close as possible to the Earth but also the sun. The star is very closely resembling our sun by probably a few billion years old…maybe a couple of billion years old.”


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A map of intrastate pipelines in Texas. Opponents say the Trans-Pecos Pipeline would amount to a de-facto international project. (U.S. Energy Information Administration)

A map of intrastate pipelines in Texas. Opponents say the Trans-Pecos Pipeline would amount to a de-facto international project. (U.S. Energy Information Administration)

Pipeline Company Wants Feds To Deny Opponents’ Request For More Oversight

Energy Transfer, the company behind the planned Trans-Pecos Pipeline, has asked the federal government to deny requests from some Big Bend area opponents to have the project governed under stricter federal regulations.

Opponents, led by the Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA), are hoping to have the entire length of the project subject to federal environmental reviews. Presidio and Brewster Counties, along with elected officials in El Paso County, have asked for that expansion as well.

“What we really are trying to accomplish here is to federalize the project,” said Coyne Gibson with the BBCA.

Gibson feels the pipeline company is trying to skirt around the intent of the decades-old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a wide-reaching law that lays out the government’s responsibility on a variety of infrastructure and land management issues.

As it stands, federal regulations only apply to the pipeline’s border-crossing section.

In a motion filed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last week (July 15), the pipeline company asks the commission to keep it that way.


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Pecos County Judge Joe Shuster says for people in his county, the Trans-Peccos Pipeline plan is business as usual. (Travis Bubenik / KXWT)

Pecos County Judge Joe Shuster says for people in his county, the Trans-Peccos Pipeline plan is business as usual. (Travis Bubenik / KXWT)

Pecos County Judge On Pipeline Plan

The planned Trans-Pecos Pipeline has been a big point of a discussion in Alpine, Marfa, Presidio and the surrounding areas in recent months.

People opposed to Dallas-based Energy Transfer’s plan to build a 143-mile natural gas pipeline from the Permian Basin to Mexico are still confident they can stop the plan from becoming a reality, or at least slow it down long enough to let their concerns be heard.

Meanwhile, in Pecos County, the pipeline is already being shipped in and staged on the side of the road. And this is, after all, where the pipeline will originate – from a gas transit hub near Coyanosa, TX.

To find out how the plan’s being received outside the immediate Big Bend area, we spoke with Pecos County Judge Joe Shuster. He says for people around Fort Stockton who are well-acquainted with oil and gas activity, it’s “just a normal day.”

Bobby Burns, President & CEO of Midland Chamber of Commerce, introduces Laura Roman, President of the Board, July 2015 (West Texas Public Radio).

Bobby Burns, President & CEO of Midland Chamber of Commerce, introduces Laura Roman, President of the Board, July 2015 (West Texas Public Radio).

Midland Chamber of Commerce Gets National Accreditation

Many cities across Texas have a local chamber of commerce. But few are accredited with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This week – after years of planning – the Midland Chamber announced it had done just that.

Bobby Burns, President and CEO of the Midland Chamber of Commerce, says, “We want to be influential. We want to be impactful. We want it to be relevant. We want it to matter.”

Laura Roman, President of the Board, explains, “Only three percent of all the chambers of commerce receive accreditation. Meaning out of about 7,000 chambers across the country, only about 200 have gone through and received the accreditation process. I think it’s easy to set up in a community an organization of businesses and call it a Chamber of Commerce. And we decided with Midland businesses growing, that this was something that was very important for us to do at this time.


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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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Kepler-452b Compared with Earth  (NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)
A map of intrastate pipelines in Texas. Opponents say the Trans-Pecos Pipeline would amount to a de-facto international project. (U.S. Energy Information Administration)
Pecos County Judge Joe Shuster says for people in his county, the Trans-Peccos Pipeline plan is business as usual. (Travis Bubenik / KXWT)
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Rick Smith, Energy Transfer's V.P. of Engineering for the planned Trans-Pecos Pipeline, gives updates on the project in Alpine, TX. (Travis Bubenik / KXWT)
booster-shot-kxwt

Booster Shot: Colonoscopies

This is Booster Shot, your monthly look at personal health. On this show, we talk with Robert Brenner, a doctor of Internal Medicine and Gastoenterology at Medical Center Hospital in Odessa, about colonoscopies.

“This is a deadly disease we’re talking about,” Brenner says, “colon cancer. It’s the second most common cause of cancer death among both men and women. And we have this tool that can outright prevent it. And it’s just a matter of getting screened.”

Colonoscopies are used to find polyps. Polyps are growths in the colon lining that could become cancerous. If the polyps are removed, so is the risk of cancer.

“It’s that simple,” Brenner states. “And there are very few disorders in medicine that are like that where we have the capability. With a skin examine, you can find pre-cancerous skin lesions. With a pap smear, you can find pre-cancerous cells. That’s it. Those are the three things where you can actually prevent cancer from occurring. Other screening tests find cancer at an early stage or a later stage.”

Brenner recommends colon screenings begin from age 50 for both men and women with earlier screenings for African Americans or those with a family history of cancer.

“If the family member had cancer at a fairly early age, like 45,” Brenner explains, “then we do it 10 years prior to that person’s age of diagnosis, so that would be 35 in that example.”

Screenings are usually taken every 10 years.

To reduce the chance of developing polyps, Brenner suggests a high fiber, low fat diet.

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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Rick Smith, Energy Transfer's V.P. of Engineering for the planned Trans-Pecos Pipeline, gives updates on the project in Alpine, TX. (Travis Bubenik / KXWT)

Energy Transfer Tries to Ease Concerns as Pipeline Plan Moves Forward

Dallas-based Energy Transfer is moving along with its plan to build a 143-mile natural gas pipeline from the Permian Basin to Mexico, despite growing opposition to the plan in the Big Bend area.

There have even been calls from West Texas counties for expanded federal oversight of the project, which would carry natural gas from Texas producers to Mexican power plants.

On Wednesday in Alpine, company representatives revealed new details and gave a status update on the project. The day before, the company hosted a similar meeting in the border city of Presidio.

“We’ve moving along very well, in terms of advancing the pipeline,” said Rick Smith, Energy Transfer’s V.P. of Engineering for the Trans-Pecos Pipeline.

Smith said the company has completed land surveys on 111 miles of the pipeline’s proposed 143-mile length, and has received permission from landowners to survey a total of 126 miles.

Still, the company hasn’t reached any formal deals with landowners yet.

“We have not executed any permanent easements yet,” Smith said. “We’ll initiate that process this summer, probably in late July.”

The details revealed at Wednesday’s meeting – and the fact that the meeting was held in the first place – showed Energy Transfer is aware of the criticism that’s been lodged at its plan, and at the company itself.

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Attorney Steven Fischer began practicing law in North Dakota's Bakken oilfield after recognizing the huge demand for legal services. (Emily Guerin)

North Dakota Oilfields: One Place Without Enough Lawyers

Steve Fischer finished law school in Ohio in 2010 — one of the worst years to graduate in recent memory. Less than 70 percent of law school grads who passed the bar in Ohio that year landed a job as an attorney. He finally called an old friend and asked if he was hiring.

He was — in fact he was desperate for help. Soon, Fischer, “was making better money than most of my law school classmates.”

His job? It wasn’t exactly something he had studied for. He ended up loading crude oil onto rail cars. Like so many other down on their luck Americans, Fischer had landed in North Dakota’s Bakken oilfield.

His co-workers soon found out about his background and began asking him for legal advice on things like drunk driving and reckless endangerment charges and plea deals. Of course he couldn’t legallyadvise them, but he started doing research for them. And that’s when the big realization happened.

“There was enormous demand for legal services,” he said. “Why don’t I hang my own shingle?”

The number of criminal law cases in rural western North Dakota – site of the Bakken oil boom — has tripled since 2009, as have the number of mineral rights disputes. Now, entrepreneurial young attorneys like Fischer are moving here and setting up their own practices.

Attorney Richard LeMay sees that enormous demand every day at Legal Services North Dakota, which serves the low-income and elderly.

“Ordinarily we have a lot of people that call us because we’re free,” he said. “Now they’re calling us because they can’t find representation any other place.”

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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)

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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