Articles Posted in Energy and the Environment

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Read about most recent developments here. After failed efforts of the industry to self-police destruction of lizard habitat in the Permian, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to launch a full review of a proposal to classify the lizard as either endangered or threatened. The saga goes back to 2104, when development in the Permian accelerated. In the meantime, sand mines have invaded the Permian, further endangering the lizard.

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Dr. Scott Tinker and Switch Energy Alliance have released their second documentary about energy, Switch On. A great film.

Scott’s first documentary, Switch, debuted in 2012, an award-winning film that has now been seen by millions. It sought to educate Americans and the developed world about the sources and uses of energy in the developed world, our challenges and our choices. Scott’s second documentary focuses on the challenges of energy production and consumption for two billion people in the developing the world, and what is happening with energy in those places. Switch Energy Alliance was formed by Scott as a non-profit “dedicated to inspiring an energy-educated future that is objective, nonpartisan, and sensible.”

Dr. Tinker is a geologist, educator, energy expert and documentary filmmaker. He is Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin and is the State Geologist of Texas. He holds the Edwin Allday Endowed Chair of Subsurface Geology and is Associate Dean for Research at the BEG. He has a gift for making difficult concepts simple and conveying information in an objective and entertaining way.

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Two studies by University of Texas’ Jackson School of Geosciences analyzed data on water use in eight major US shale plays from 2009 to 2017. The first study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, quantifies how much water is produced from wells and how much is need for hydraulic fracturing. The second, published in Science of the total Environment, assesses the potential for using produced water in other sectors, including agriculture. UT’s announcement and summary of the studies can be found here. The announcement includes this:

Oil plays produced much more water than natural gas plays, with the Permian Basin producing about 50 times as much water as the Marcellus in 2017. As far as recycling potential for hydraulic fracturing, the research shows that in many cases there’s plenty of water that could be put to good use. For instance, in the Delaware Basin, which is part of the larger Permian Basin in Texas, scientists found that projected produced water volumes will be almost four times as great as the amount of water required for hydraulic fracturing.

Managing this produced water will pose a significant challenge in the Delaware, which accounts for about 50% of the country’s projected oil production. Although the water could theoretically be used by other sectors, such as agriculture in arid West Texas, scientists said water quality issues and the cost to treat the briny water could be hurdles. In addition, if the water is highly treated to remove all the solids, large volumes of salt would be generated. The salt from the produced water in the Delaware Basin in 2017 alone could fill up to 3,000 Olympic swimming pools.

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The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation has funded research resulting in a report, “Emissions in the Stream: Estimating the Greenhouse Gas Impacts of an Oil and Gas Boom,” by to professors at UT Austin. The report focuses on downstream sources of methane emissions, and will be followed by a report examining policy and technology solutions to reduce emissions.

Here’s the abstract of the report:

The Shale Revolution has stimulated a large and rapid buildout of oil and gas infrastructure in the Gulf and Southwest regions of the United States (US), expected to unfold over decades. Therefore, it is critical to develop a clearer understanding of the scale and composition of the likely greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with this activity. We compile a detailed inventory of projected upstream oil and gas production expansions as well as recently and soon-to-be built midstream and downstream facilities within the region. Using data from emissions permits, emissions factors, and facility capacities, we estimate expected GHG emissions at the facility level for facilities that have recently been constructed or are soon to be constructed. Our central estimate suggests that the total annual emissions impact of the regional oil and gas infrastructure buildout may reach 541 million tons of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) by 2030, which is more than 8% of total US GHG emissions in 2017 and roughly equivalent to the emissions of 131 coal-fired power plants. A substantial fraction of the projected emissions come from petrochemical facilities (38%) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals (19%). Researchers have largely focused on upstream emissions such as fugitive methane (CH4) associated with new US production; our findings reveal the potentially greater prominence of midstream and downstream sources in the studied region.

The full report can be found here.

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I recently heard a presentation by Dr. Scott Tinker, head of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas. He is the founder of the Switch Energy Alliance, about which I’ve written before. Switch Energy Alliance is “a 501(c)(3) dedicated to inspiring an energy-educated future that is objective, nonpartisan, and sensible.” It produced a documentary called Switch, and is working on another called Switch On. Switch can be viewed and downloaded on SEA’s website.

A premise of Dr. Tinker’s work is that rational decisions about energy and CO2 emissions and global warming can’t be made without understanding the role of energy in the world and the challenges facing efforts to wean ourselves of fossil fuels.

Here are just a few of the powerpoint slides from Dr. Tinker’s presentation (click on image to enlarge):


Sources and uses of energy in the US. Note the huge amount of “rejected energy” – wasted energy:


Global sources of energy:


A look at electricity. Electricity generation by region (note Asia Pacific): Continue reading →

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Three recent cases illustrate a little known aspect of Texas law – administrative law and how it works, and doesn’t work. Although the cases don’t directly affect mineral owners, they show how different the Texas Railroad Commission’s administrative process is from other agencies’.TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_Small

Many disputes in Texas are resolved not in trial courts but by administrative hearings. In many cases, the law that governs those hearings is the Administrative Procedure Act, found at Chapter 2001 of Texas’ Government Code. The hearings are held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) who works for the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). If two parties get into a dispute in which the law requires adjudication by an administrative hearing, an evidentiary hearing is held before an ALJ who hears testimony, takes evidence, and prepares a Proposal for Decision (PFD). The PFD then goes before the board of the responsible agency, which either adopts the PFD or makes changes, and issues a final order. That order can then be appealed to a state district court in Travis County. The district court acts as an appellate body, and must uphold the decision if it is supported by “substantial evidence” in the record from the administrative hearing and otherwise complies with the governing law.

The APA limits the grounds on which an agency can change a PFD and requires the agency to explain its reasons for doing so. APA section 2001.058(e) provides:

A state agency may change a finding of fact or conclusion of law made by the administrative law judge, or may vacate or modify an order issued by the administrative judge, only if the agency determines:

(1) that the administrative law judge did not properly apply or interpret applicable law, agency rules, written policies provided under Subsection (c), or prior administrative decisions;

(2) that a prior administrative decision on which the administrative law judge relied is incorrect or should be changed; or

(3) that a technical error in a finding of fact should be changed.

The agency shall state in writing the specific reason and legal basis for a change made under this subsection.

Two cases, both from the Austin Court of Appeals, are appeals of orders by administrative agencies. Hyundai Motor America v. New World Car Imports San Antonio, Inc., No. 03-17-00761-CV, is an appeal of a decision by the Board of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. The case involves the obscure laws that govern the relationships between car manufacturers and their dealers. Continue reading →

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Last month the Environmental Defense Fund released an analysis of NOAA satellite data estimating volumes of gas flared in the Permian Basin in 2017. Its findings: operators report half of the amount of gas actually flared.


104 Bcf of gas is enough to serve all needs of Texas’ seven largest cities – $322 million worth of gas. The State also does not collect severance tax on that gas.

Operators must obtain permits to flare gas and report volumes flared. The RRC has not denied any permits. Between 2016 and May 2018, the RRC issued more than 6,300 flaring permits in the Permian. Between 2008 and 2010, the RRC issued fewer than 600 flaring permits for all of the state.

EDF’s analysis also compared the top 15 oil producers in the Permian (click on image to enlarge):


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Dr. Scott Tinker, the Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, University of Texas, and the Texas’ State Geologist, produced and starred in a film a couple of years ago called Switch.  It provides an overview of how we use energy in the world and the opportunities and challenges facing our future in trying to reduce our reliance on hydrocarbons. A great film. He also created a great resource for educators about the many facets of energy, found at, with multiple videos explaining every facet of energy production and use, from biofuels to environmental impacts to fracking to coal.

Dr. Tinker has released a new set of educational videos at, on topics such as How We Make and Use Energy, How Batteries Work, Unconventional Sources of Oil, Risks of Fracking, How Solar Works, and many others, all free on his website.

Now Scott is making a sequel to Switch, called Switch On, which focuses on energy poverty. Scott emailed friends:

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An article in yesterday’s Austin American-Statesman – “How gas flare-offs could bring water” – caught my attention. It was written by Vaibhav Bahadur, an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UT Austin. He posits that natural gas could be used to harvest water from the atmosphere (“atmospheric water harvesting”), enough to supply a significant part of the water needed for hydraulic fracturing.gas-flare

I remember reading about atmospheric water harvesting using solar power, for drinking water. Scientists have developed crystalline powders called metal organic frameworks, or MOFs, that suck water from the air. Omar Yaghi, a chemist at the University of California, and Evelyn Wang, a mechanical engineer at MIT, designed a system using an MOF that uses solar energy to condense 2.8 liters of water per day from the air, even in the desert.

Bahadur’s proposal is to use conventional gas-powered engines to run compressors that condense water from the air. He says that a cubic meter of gas would capture up to 2.3 gallons of water.  He estimates that 2 billion gallons of water could be harvested annually from gas flared in the Eagle Ford, which would meet 11% of the annual water consumption in the Eagle Ford. In the Bakken, he estimates that 4 billion gallons of water could be harvested in a year, supplying 65% of the annual water consumption there.

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An article in the Harvard Business Review, Oil’s Boom-and-Bust Cycle May Be Over. Here’s Whyprovides an excellent overview of how the global oil market has been changed fundamentally by development of shale oil resources.  Excerpts:

  • U.S. shale producers “now represent half of U.S. oil production, up from a mere 10% just seven years ago in 2011. In fact, 2018 may mark the first year shale producers will be able to fund future expansions of drilling programs through their own cash flow.”
  • ” Oil companies will need to develop both new conventional and unconventional crude oil resources to keep up with current demand for roughly one million more barrels of oil every year in addition to replacing the approximately four million barrels lost annually as reservoirs are naturally depleted. In total, we estimate that the oil and gas industry will have to replace about 40% of today’s oil production over the next seven to nine years.”
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