Mose Buchele

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.

From StateImpact Texas:

Stanley Rabke’s family has lived and worked on their Hill Country ranch since 1889. Generations of Rabkes have struggled with the extremes of Texas weather, but one storm sticks out in Stanley’s memory: it came after the drought of the 1950s.

“It rained and rained and rained,” he says. “Back then we raised turkeys, we lost thousands of turkeys that washed away in the creek.”

The disaster underscores an irony of life in Texas. “You hope and pray that you’re going to get a good rain, [but] on the other side of it, you hope you don’t get a flood,” says Rabke.

A quick walk from where the turkeys met their fate, some new technology that will help manage that risk is being installed — soil monitoring sensors in the ground.

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.

  This week Denton, Texas became the first city in the state to ban fracking within its city limits. The ban passed with nearly 59 percent of the vote.

Many in Denton worry about how fracking and associated activities impact their health and quality of life.  But opponents say the ban is bad for the economy. The drilling industry, which pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign against the ban, is concerned with the precedent Denton could set for other Texas towns.

Just hours after the vote, the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TxOGA) filed a legal challenge to the ban, as did the Texas General Land office with a suit.

There may be more legal challenges on the way.

The TxOGA lawsuit asserts that "the public policy of Texas is to encourage the full and effective exploitation of our mineral resources," says Tom Phillips, a lawyer with Baker Botts who is working on the challenge.

Update: Ryan Sitton defeated Steve Brown in the race for Railroad Commissioner 58.31 percent to 36.49 percent.

Original Story (Nov. 4, 4:14 p.m.): An empty seat on a strangely-named state regulatory agency usually flies under the radar of voters. But the race to serve on the Railroad Commission of Texas has gained additional attention and importance this election. That’s because whoever wins will not oversee railroads, as the name suggests, but will regulate the Texas oil and gas industry. It’s an industry in the midst of a boom that’s transforming global energy markets and pumping billions into the Texas economy.

The two major party candidates competing for the seat offer starkly different visions for what the job entails.

From StateImpact Texas:

For Cathy McMullen, the reasons to ban fracking in Denton are as obvious at the drilling rig that sits on the corner of Masch Branch and Hampton Road on the northwest side of town. It’s big, it’s noisy, and she believes it vents toxic emissions into the community. The site is, however, not very close to any houses.

“I’ll show you where this exact same thing was sitting by someone’s home,” she says.

For years, some residents of Parker County in North Texas have believed that nearby gas drilling was responsible for high levels of methane in neighborhood water wells. Research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences appears to back that up.

The study looked at water contamination in Texas and Pennsylvania. It suggests that faulty cement jobs on drilling wells could be at fault in North Texas. Cement is poured between the rock wall and the steel tubing of oil and gas wells to block contaminants.

“We think either there isn’t enough cement in this location or more likely there are cracks or imperfections in that cement. That’s what allowed the strong gas to move up through the well and then out into peoples drinking water,” says Robert Jackson, a professor of environmental sciences at Stanford, who co-authored of the study.

It’s been a shaky week in Texas with two small earthquakes rattling the Dallas-Fort Worth area and another slightly more powerful quake detected in South Texas.

On Sunday, the first quake measuring magnitude 2.4 struck near Arlington. It prompted some residents to call 9-1-1 after feeling their houses shake and hearing “explosions,” according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

Earthquakes are often accompanied by loud “booms,” something that has become a source of anxiety in newly quake-prone parts of the state.

From StateImpact Texas:

  Texas is getting more oil out of the ground than is has since the great boom of the 1970s. The oil fields of North Dakota are, for the first time ever, producing over one million barrels a day. Across the country, the boom has lead to predictions that the US will overtake even Saudi Arabia in oil production by the end of the year.  But is all that drilling helping US consumers at the pump?

A quick look at the numbers before the long weekend would indicate not. Prices were about 20 cents per gallon higher than this time last year, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

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.

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."

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