Articles Posted in Energy and the Environment

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In 2021 the Texas Legislature created the Texas Produced Water Consortium to study possible beneficial uses of fluid oil and gas wastes. The Consortium produced its report to the Legislature in 2022. I recently ran across a remarkable conclusion in that report: it estimates that in 2019 unconventional tight-oil formation wells in the Texas portion of the Permian Basin produced almost 4 billion barrels, or 506,800 acre-feet, of wastewater.  (click on image to enlarge)

wastewater506,800 acre-feet is a column of water covering an acre of land and 96 miles high. Or 11.6 square miles covered one foot deep in water. Lake Buchanan, the largest Texas lake, has a capacity of 992,000 acre-feet. New York City consumes 1,236,000 acre-feet of water per year.

It is no wonder that the underground injection of such a huge volume of water is causing problems. Much of that water is being injected into shallow oil-producing formations, in particular the depths of the Delaware Mountain Group, damaging producing wells and causing waste. The increased pressures in injection zones have caused abandoned wells to erupt in gushers of injected water. And water injection is inducing seismic events, otherwise known as earthquakes. The Railroad Commission has even ordered some injection wells to be shut down in response to those quakes.

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This link shows a report from CBS Odessa affiliate about a huge leak of injected water. These events are occurring all over West Texas because the Railroad Commission grants permits to dispose of produced water into shallow formations. Thousands of old wellbores exist in West Texas, some never plugged, some plugged before regulation of wells, some plugged in violation of regulations. The over-pressurized formation breaks into the wellbore, or finds its way to the surface. Until the Commission addresses the problem by properly regulating produced water injection, these problems will only grow. (Click on image to enlarge)



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Maybe you’ve heard of “green hydrogen.” There’s been a lot of press lately about projects to produce hydrogen to use as an alternative fuel, and the Inflation Adjustment Act provides tax credits for production of “green hydrogen.” But did you know that there are other hydrogen “colors”? An excellent article from provides a summary of the methods and tax credits and regulations being developed for green hydrogen programs. Here is its description of colors of hydrogen:

Types of Hydrogen

Hydrogen can be created through a variety of techniques. To distinguish between the different processes, the industry has developed an informal color-based categorization system:

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A good article in Texas Tribune about the growing problem of P-13 wells that are leaking and contaminating land and groundwater.

When an oil and gas operator drills a dry hole or decides to abandon a well, instead of plugging the well it can transfer the well to the surface owner to re-complete as a water well. The parties file a Form P-13 with the Railroad Commission to accomplish that change in ownership. The Commission and the operator contend that the surface owner then becomes responsible for plugging the well. But apparently the law is not so clear on the issue. The Middle Pecos Groundwater District contends that some 40 P-13 wells in its area are the responsibility of the Railroad Commission to plug as orphan wells. The problem is exacerbated by operators using a shallow formation to dispose of produced water; the formation is pressured up and unplugged P-13 wells become a conduit for flowing polluted salt water to come up the wellbore.


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Last year KUT produced a podcast, “The Disconnect,” chronicling the February 2021 Texas freeze and blackout. KUT has now produced Part 2: “The Disconnect: Power, Politics and the Texas Blackout,” explaining what has happened since–what has been fixed, the cost in electric bills, and the aftermath–hosted by KUT reporter Mose Buchele. An excellent look at what the legislature, regulators, gas producers and generators have and have not done to prevent future system failures.

Yesterday the Texas Railroad Commission approved new regulations requiring well, gas plant and pipeline operators to winterize their facilities. Critics are skeptical they will do the job.

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Dr. Scott Tinker will host a 12-episode TV series on energy and climate, on Austin’s PBS station, KLRU, beginning September 4 at 6 pm and streaming on More information can be found here.

From the press release:

Energy and climate are intertwined, two of the most important topics in the world today. Yet very little is known about them. This show aims to change that. ENERGY SWITCH brings together two renowned experts from government, NGOs, academia and industry, with differing perspectives on important energy and climate topics, such as: Could solar and wind power our future? Or could hydrogen be the dominant energy source? Should we have more or less nuclear power? How should we respond to climate change? What policies most effectively reduce emissions? How could we pay for them?

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We’ve seen much posturing and finger-pointing from politicians on who is to blame for power failures during Winter Storm Uri last February. UT’s Austin Energy Institute has issued a report: The timeline and Events of the February 2021 Texas Electric Grid Blackouts, laying out the facts on what happened. The POWER Committee of the Austin Energy Institute, chaired by Dr. Carey King, issued this report. Dr. King does research related to how energy systems interact within the economy and environment, and how policy and social systems can made decisions and trade-offs among competing factors. The report clarifies how much the reduction in natural gas supply contributed to the disaster.

Summary from the report:

Factors contributing to the electricity blackouts of February 15-18, 2021, include the following: Continue reading →

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With the recent cold snap, we’re all remembering what we were doing last February when the lights went out.

Repercussions continue. As reported by Michell Ferman at Texas Tribune, Vistra corporation is in a dispute with Energy Transfer over its bill to Vistra for $21.6 million, for gas sold to Vistra during the freeze. Energy Transfer has threatened to cut off gas supplies to Vistra if it doesn’t pay, and Vistra has asked the Texas Railroad Commission to prevent that. Ferman writes:

During last year’s winter storm — which caused the near-total collapse of the state’s power grid, left millions without power for days and caused hundreds of deaths — Vistra spent approximately $1.5 billion for natural gas, ‘twice its planned natural gas cost to fuel its entire Texas fleet for a full year,’ the filing said. Vistra paid Energy Transfer more than $600 million during the storm, ‘which is more than 96% of all amounts invoiced by [Energy Transfer].’

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According to an article in The Texas Tribune, senators on the Senate Business and Commerce Committee were frustrated that the Railroad Commission had not done more to require natural gas producers, processors and pipelines to winterize their systems. In a committee hearing on Tuesday, they castigated Commission Executive Director Wei Wang for not moving faster. They did not seem to realize that the Commission was following the timeline set out in Senate Bill 3, passed in the last regular session to address the power loss across the state last February.

As I’ve posted, the Commission has proposed a rule requiring the gas producers, processors and pipelines to designate whether they are critical infrastructure, but the statute allows the industry to opt out of that category if they want to, a loophole that seemed to surprise and frustrate the senators. Wang pointed out that the Commission’s proposed rule mirrors the language of Senate Bill 3, which seemed not to mollify the senators, who demanded immediate action from the Commission.

The statute provides that a committee will map out the state’s energy infrastructure by September 2022, after which the Commission will have 180 days to finalize weatherization rules, a timeline the senators also criticized.  As the Texas Tribune reported, “Energy experts said lawmakers have themselves to blame if they wanted the state’s natural gas infrastructure, which sends fuel to many of Texas’ largest power plants, to be weatherized quickly — or at all. ‘The Legislature left this loophole open,’ said Doug Lewin, an Austin-based energy and climate consultant.”

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A recent report from Deloitte provides a good perspective on the prospects for wind and solar electricity.

Some takeaways:

Costs of wind and solar are now competitive with coal and gas. “Power purchase agreement (PPA) prices for wind and solar power are also competitive with other resources. The weighted average US price for the first half of 2021 from auction and PPAs for solar PV is US$31/MWh, while for onshore wind it is US$37/MWh. This compares to a weighted average wholesale electricity price of about US$34/MWh across US markets during the same period.” It now costs less to build new solar and wind plants than to continue operating existing coal-fired plants. Wind and solar costs are projected to fall by half by 2030.

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