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Capital Highlights

Quakes prompt officials to limit disposal wells


The Texas Railroad Commission has suspended nearly two dozen permits that allow oil and gas companies to inject saltwater into the ground, which regulators say has contributed to increased earthquakes of greater magnitude in West Texas.

The Austin American Statesman reported the 23 disposal wells hold hundreds of thousands of barrels of produced water, which is a toxic brine. A 2022 report said the state generated 3.9 billion barrels of produced water from extracting oil and gas.

The RRC instructed major companies to no longer dispose of saltwater in Reeves and Culberson counties, which had seven earthquakes last year, including a 5.2 magnitude temblor that was the fourth highest in state history.

Meanwhile, the RRC has developed a framework for pilot programs to recycle produced water “safely and economically.”

“Operators will apply for authorization to conduct pilot studies, and RRC will issue a permit or letter of authorization if the application meets requirements. The operators would compile data of how treated produced water can be reused in certain activities that are safe and protective of human health and the environment,” the news release said.

The goal is to reduce the amount of produced water injected back into the ground, reducing earthquake incidents.

“This framework opens up the potential to use treated produced water in ways that have never been seen before in Texas, which is a win-win for conserving water resources, and protecting the environment and Texans,” Wei Wang, executive director, said.  

Last year was hottest ever for Texas

It likely comes as no surprise to all of us who endured last summer, but 2023 was the hottest ever recorded in Texas, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and reported by the Texas Tribune.

The average temperature in the state measured 68.1 degrees last year, beating the previous 2012 record by 0.3 degrees. Every year since 2000 in Texas has been warmer than the 20th century average, said John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist. Last year was 3.5 degrees hotter than the 20th-century average in the state.

“That consistent warmth is because of climate change,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

Texas wasn’t alone in feeling the heat. Since federal record keeping began in 1895, last year was the fifth warmest in the contiguous United States, not counting Hawaii and Alaska.

“You can think of (2023) as kind of a preview of the future and it’s not pretty,” Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, said.

Paxton asks high court to shield him from deposition

Attorney General Ken Paxton is asking the Texas Supreme Court to keep him from being deposed in a long-running whistleblower lawsuit filed by four former employees at the agency.

The aides claim they were wrongfully fired after complaining to the FBI about Paxton’s conduct concerning a prominent campaign donor.

The Statesman reported Paxton filed the motion with the high court after an appeals court rejected his attempt to avoid being deposed. That ruling allows the whistleblowers to continue their suit, which comes after a $3.3 million settlement agreement last year imploded when the Legislature refused to pay for it.

An investigation into the whistleblowers’ claims led to an investigation that resulted in the House impeaching Paxton, who was acquitted in the Senate. Paxton contends he complied with the nonmonetary terms of the settlement agreement, which included retracting a disparaging news release, and that the Legislature’s refusal to fund the settlement does not warrant continued settlement talks or a trial.

“The Legislature considered and rejected OAG’s request for funding, and even added a rider to the appropriations bill forbidding OAG from settling this case with taxpayer funds,” the attorneys for the whistleblowers wrote in their response.

Homelessness in Texas on the rise

Homelessness in Texas grew by more than 12% last year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Tribune reported more than 27,000 Texans were unhoused when homelessness advocates conducted their annual Point-in-Time count last January, with 43% of those living on the streets.

Higher rents and the end of pandemic-era safety nets such as federal rent relief funds and a moratorium on evictions are being blamed for the increase. Homelessness rose in nearly every demographic group, according to the Point-in-Time estimate.

“We’re in a huge affordability crisis,” said Eric Samuels, president and CEO of Texas Homeless Network. “There’s a lot of people out there at risk of homelessness. And if they fall into homelessness, we have a lot fewer units to help them escape homelessness.”

Rabies vaccine bait airdrop marks 30 years

Planes are taking to the air in South Texas to kick off the 30th annual oral rabies vaccine airdrop, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“Our goal is to vaccinate coyotes and gray foxes along the border to maintain herd immunity against rabies and keep new or previously eliminated rabies variants from becoming established in Texas,” said Kathy Parker, project director. “We will be distributing vaccine baits over 18 border counties this year.”

The project is expected to last two weeks. Vaccine baits are dropped along half mile intervals. More than 820,000 oral vaccine baits will be dropped.  Since the airdrop program began, the number of animal rabies cases caused by the variants found in South Texas dropped from 122 cases in 1994 to zero cases by 2000.

There have been no human cases of rabies attributable to the rabies cases found in that region since the program began.

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches, Lufkin and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.


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