MIdland County Commissioner Luis Sanchez, September 1, 2015 (KXWT / Lana Straub)

MIdland County Commissioner Luis Sanchez, September 1, 2015 (KXWT / Lana Straub)

County Officials Address Residents Affected by Groundwater Contamination

Residents in a neighborhood south of the city of Midland have been avoiding their well water. This is after tests showed high levels of contaminants. In 1990, a similar mixture of contaminants were found at a Baker-Hughes facility nearby, and the company has been involved ever since with remediation and monitoring efforts. On Tuesday, county officials visited with affected residents.

Midland County Commissioner Luis Sanchez stands in front of a church south of Interstate 20, where residents have been coming for bottled water, ice, and information. “Alright,” he says, “I’ll give you my phone number. Again, I do want to talk to those residents.”

It’s believed that groundwater contaminants date back to a spill more than 20 years ago. “My understanding,” says Sanchez, “it was a spill that was back in the 1990s. It’s not too far from here.” He points to the north, toward a Baker-Hughes property. “It happened in that facility, somewhere on there on Market Street, on their property. Where exactly, I don’t know. Again, that would be a good Baker-Hughes question.”


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What’s Contaminating the Water in Midland County, near Interstate 20?

In a Midland County neighborhood just south of Interstate 20, residents have been warned not to drink from their tap water. This comes after routine tests showed contaminants there. In 1990, high levels of chlorinated solvents were identified in the groundwater near a facility operated by the company Baker Hughes. This week, the company has responded by passing out bottled drinking water to affected residents.

Tommy Flood and his wife Patty are here looking for bottled water and information. “We bathe in it. We wash our clothes in it and everything. But we don’t drink it.”

Dr. Kelly Stribner is a toxicologist brought in to assess damage to the area. “The preliminary results we’ve seen – and we’ve only gotten a few in so far – there were a couple of detections above the drinking water standards.”

She listed the three chlorinated solvents found in the test samples. “DCE is dichloroethene. It’s a break-down product of the other two: Tetrachloroethene and Trichloroethene. And those two, back in the ‘70s or so, they were commonly used as degreasers at industrial facilities.”

According to Lauren Silverman, a representative of Baker Hughes in the Permian Basin, “You know, the sources of all of those chemicals are unclear at this time. We are working closely with our industrial neighbors. Obviously, next steps are to get those processed and analyzed, so we can take the appropriate measures.

More than 50 residents have been taking advantage of the bottled water and ice supplied by Baker Hughes. 

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A woman wades across the Rio Grande from Texas into Chihuahua. The woman is a US citizen on her way to see family in Mexico living a few hundred yards from the shoreline. (Lorne Matalon)

A woman wades across the Rio Grande from Texas into Chihuahua. The woman is a US citizen on her way to see family in Mexico living a few hundred yards from the shoreline. (Lorne Matalon)

Skirting The Law To Survive On The Rio Grande

CANDELARIA, Texas — The United States and Mexico are pouring money into a showcase experiment to rescue damaged economies on the Texas-Mexico border.

But that experiment only involves two towns, Boquillas in Mexico and the community of visitors and National Park Service personnel at Big Bend National Park, a epic mosaic of desert, rock and sky that already draws hundreds of thousands of adventure travelers every year.

There are dozens of other towns along this section of the border, forgotten, struggling, forced in some cases to break the law to survive.

To put that reality in context, one need only look back to April 2015. Then, citizens of two countries witnessed a choreographed but symbolic event on the Rio Grande.

US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell had crossed the river in a rowboat, with Mexico’s Environment Secretary, from Big Bend National Park to the Mexican village of Boquillas.

“It’s not the same as crossing into Tijuana or Juarez,” she said as residents watched her tour the town after sprinting up the banks of the river.

Mexican villagers, US Park Rangers, Mexican Army and US Border Patrol agents mingled to celebrate the second anniversary of the opening of the border opening here, the first of its kind on rural parts of the river since the terror attacks of September 11, 2011.

The economy’s been given at least a shot at recovering from the trauma of a sealed, post 9-11 border.

“This is a positive story about a border, a border that doesn’t have a fence, a border that has a river that takes people back and forth,” said Secretary Jewell.


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Artist impression of white dwarf. Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, S. Geier.

Artist impression of white dwarf. Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, S. Geier.

Texas Astronomers Discover Massive Outbursts in Dying Stars

This week Texas astronomers are announcing a new discovery: that dying stars display massive outbursts as they decay. These hot, bright flashes haven’t been seen before in stars like these.

Almost all stars end up as white dwarfs, when they run out of the fuel that makes them shine. And as white dwarfs, these dying stars pulsate like a heartbeat: bright then dim, bright then dim.

“These stars vibrate. They ring, really like a bell, in a regular – a very regular – way,” says Keaton Bell, a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. Working with J.J. Hermes – now at the University of Warwick in England – Bell found something different happening with white dwarfs – an irregular heartbeat. “That regular rhythmic brightening and dimming that we observe is broken up with a fairly large outburst event, where the star gets very bright for many hours.”

To find this phenomenon required a dedication to observation. Bell explains, “This star was observed for more than 1-1/2 years, just pretty much continuously. The telescope stared unblinking at the same patch of sky.”

And to make this discovery, Bell and Hermes didn’t rely on earthbound tools. “We’re not getting data during the daytimes or when it’s cloudy from the ground. And so we may miss these rare events from traditional telescopes.”

It was from the telescope on the Kepler spacecraft that made the discovery possible. Bell says, “This discovery was enabled by the sheer amount of data that the Kepler spacecraft provided us.”

Bell and Hermes are publishing their findings in academic journals.

American and Mexican runners finish a 10K race on the Paso Del Norte Bridge in Juarez, Mexico, looking toward El Paso, TX, August 8, 2015 (Tom Michael / KXWT)

American and Mexican runners finish a 10K race on the Paso Del Norte Bridge in Juarez, Mexico, looking toward El Paso, TX, August 8, 2015 (Tom Michael / KXWT)

An International Race Reconnects El Paso & Juarez

Each year, 6 million pedestrians and 9 million vehicles cross the border between El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. This weekend, however, it was 1,000 men and women in running shoes. It’s a 10-kilometer bi-national race that may signal a new phase for a once-troubled borderland.

The sun is rising over the city of El Paso and Roberto Barrio is with his dog Watson at a coffee-shop. It’s race day along the border. “The run is the Run Internacional. I think that’s it going to hopefully be a great tradition that they start up again.”

Due to U.S. security concerns and Mexican drug violence, this event hasn’t been held in a decade and half. But times have changed and Barrio is taking a holistic view.  “Because El Paso – Juarez is really one city.”

Chelsea Shugert will also run across the Rio Grande. The 24-year-old from El Paso grew up keeping away from Mexico. “I was barely 16, 17 when it started getting really bad, so now I’m excited for the opportunity to experience Juarez and Mexico and the friendliness of it… like my parents talk about how it used to be.”


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Grape vines at Mesa Vineyards, the state's largest winery and vineyard, located in rural Pecos County, TX. (Travis Bubenik / KXWT)

Grape vines at Mesa Vineyards, the state's largest winery and vineyard, located in rural Pecos County, TX. (Travis Bubenik / KXWT)

The Biggest Winery In Texas Thrives In The Desert

The Texas wine industry’s been growing in recent years – with new tasting rooms and vineyards popping up in the hill country and across the state.

When you think about Texas wine, you’re probably imaging a quaint little roadside farm in the hill country somewhere.

But what you might not realize is that there’s a big player in the industry just off a lonely stretch of I-10, way out in the West Texas desert.


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College of Business & Engineering, Mesa Building, University of Texas of the Permian Basin

College of Business & Engineering, Mesa Building, University of Texas of the Permian Basin

UTPB Petroleum Engineering Program Gets Accredited

On Wednesday, the University of Texas of the Permian Basin announced that its degree program in Petroleum Engineering got accredited. The profession is of course vital to the oil-and-gas industry in the Permian Basin. The president of UTPB is David Watts. At his office in Odessa, he described the history of program, which launched in 2011, with its first class of graduates in 2013. He also talked about the process of accreditation and the importance of accreditation to local companies as they hire.

 

Scott and Julie McIvor stand above their unusually green property in the Davis Mountains. (Graham Dickie/KRTS)

Scott and Julie McIvor stand above their unusually green property in the Davis Mountains. (Graham Dickie/KRTS)

The Drought’s Over, But Ranchers Rein in Excitement

The recent rains throughout the state have led some scientists to declare Texas’s state-wide drought over. Ranchers, however, remain wary.

For the McIvors, one of the oldest ranching families in the area, the last five years have been no easier than the first 125. Sitting on his porch in a rocking chair next to his wife Julie, Scott McIvor discussed the problem that’s plagued his family for generations—lack of rain.

“Can’t ever have enough,” said McIvor. “Rancher can’t never have enough rain.”


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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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MIdland County Commissioner Luis Sanchez, September 1, 2015 (KXWT / Lana Straub)
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A woman wades across the Rio Grande from Texas into Chihuahua. The woman is a US citizen on her way to see family in Mexico living a few hundred yards from the shoreline. (Lorne Matalon)
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We’re Hiring a Development Director!

We’re looking for a full-time Development Director based in Midland or Odessa, TX that will design and oversee all critical aspects of fundraising; including individual, corporate, planned and major giving campaigns, and grant writing, and deliverable management., and marketing.

West Texas Public Radio is part of the Marfa Public Radio network that serves the Permian Basin cities of Odessa-Midland (KXWT 91.3 FM) and the Big Bend region of rural Far West Texas (KRTS 93.5 FM), with broadcast headquarters in Marfa, Texas.

RESPONSIBILITIES:

– Creates a comprehensive development strategy
– Hires and evaluates skilled personnel
– Manages underwriting and carries a book of business
– Writes and administers grants for both stations
– Works with GM and Board on cultivating major gifts
– Oversees planning and execution of local off-air fundraisers\
– Helps prepare for on-air membership drives
– Prepares monthly reports on development activities
– Coordinates underwriting spots with programming and operations
– Coordinates board committee work on Development and Events
– Expands the presence of West Texas Public Radio at community events

QUALIFICATIONS:

This position requires an experienced, positive, energetic, creative individual with a public media background and a successful track record in all aspects of public media development.

The successful candidate will also demonstrate a desire to learn about the people and culture in West Texas. Knowledge or experience in donor prospecting, research methods, outsourcing, and techniques and strategy is necessary. A bachelors’ degree is required.

HOW TO APPLY: 

Send resume to jobs@kxwt.org. KXWT is an EEO employer.

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RMB Lonn Taylor Web

Filipino Cuisine in the Desert

Stopping at the Capri in Marfa for lunch not too long ago, Lonn Taylor says in this week’s “Rambling Boy,” was “like being back in Manila” — the capital of the Philippines where he spent time as a boy.

That’s because of the chef there on Sundays and Mondays, Shirley Villar. Villar is from the Phillipines and came to Marfa with recipes for traditional Filipino meals after learning to cook her country’s dishes closer to home.

Taylor tracks down where her ingredients come from, runs down some dishes like pancit and lupias, and discusses how Villar ended up in West Texas. She operates at the Capri from 11am to 3pm on Sundays and Mondays.

 

The Rambling Boy is broadcast Monday evenings after the 7 pm newscast.
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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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An Authorship Dispute Deepens

On this week’s “Rambling Boy,” Lonn Taylor offers a correction — sort of.

Following the broadcast of Taylor’s recent show on J. Frank Dobie, John D. Young, and the issue of who wrote The Vaquero of the Brush Country, he received a call, and then an in-person visit, from a former California congressman named Duncan Hunter.

Hunter arrived at Taylor’s home with an armful of old papers and a case in favor of Young, who he claims as a relative. In this episode, Taylor weighs the evidence once again, offering a window into the process of historical verification when you’re missing a couple crucial pieces of evidence.

 

The Rambling Boy is broadcast Monday evenings after the 7 pm newscast.
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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 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.”

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