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Welcome to the “Energy Department”

Reporting on a different kind of power in Texas.

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There’s no debate: 2016 was a momentous year, both globally and for our nation. But, as we do here at Texas Monthly, we’ve paid particularly close attention to the changes, trends, and shifting winds in our own state—and what a trip around the sun it was for Texans. Last year, open carry and campus carry went into effect. The Supreme Court made a major ruling that affected women’s health here and around the nation, and SCOTUS also weighed in on an immigration policy case brought by the state against the federal government. Senator Ted Cruz made a bid for the presidential nomination. Simone Biles broke Olympic records. Tim Duncan retired!

I could go on and on, but one of the most important narratives to emerge in 2016 is just how fundamentally important energy is in Texas—and how important Texas energy is to the world. Consider a few big O&G stories from the year: After a precipitous decline in 2015, West Texas Intermediate Crude prices clawed their way back from less than $30-per-barrel to hovering at or above $50 today. Despite this turbulence, Texas still managed to increase oil production over several months. Halliburton and Baker Hughes, two Houston-based energy titans, called off a merger (Halliburton later laid off 5,000 employees from the company).

But, of course, it isn’t just oil and gas. As the Wall Street Journal reported (paywall), Texas continues to be a pioneer in wind-based energy production, with turbines making up 16 percent of the state’s electrical generating capacity. And solar power is seeing its own boom: according to the Houston Chronicle, “Texas ranked third in the nation for most solar capacity installed in the third quarter, following Utah and California.”

It’s important to simply note that Texas leads the nation in energy production of all stripes. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration:

  • As of January 2015, the 27 petroleum refineries in Texas had a capacity of over 5.1 million barrels of crude oil per day and accounted for 29% of total U.S. refining capacity.

  • Texas accounted for about 29% of U.S. marketed natural gas production in 2014, making it the leading natural gas producer among the states.

  • Texas leads the nation in wind-powered generation capacity more than 16,000 megawatts; in 2014 Texas generated over 39 million megawatthours of electricity from wind energy.

Then there’s some of the biggest news to cap off last year. Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, was tapped by Donald Trump to be the Secretary of State (and appears poised to be confirmed), and Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas who held tenure for fourteen years, many of them through a great increase in the state’s oil and natural gas production, was Trump’s nominee for Energy Secretary (Perry had a relatively good show during his confirmation hearing earlier this month).

Of course, this whole notion that energy is one of the most vibrant and important drivers of Texas’s economy and culture is not news to anyone in these halls or to our readers. Texas Monthly has been covering the energy industry since our inception (the cover in November 1974 proclaimed the Texas wildcatter to be an endangered species). We wrote extensively about the eighties oil boom. And the subsequent oil bust (this cover from May 1986 says it all). And the subsequent distrust that stemmed from those bad years. We’ve weighed in on old and new feuds. And we haven’t shied away from talking about the environmental impact increased energy demand and production has on our water, air, and lives.

The launch of the “Energy Department” is our way of showing our commitment to covering—candidly, accurately, and relentlessly—a topic that has proven for decades to be part of the lifeblood of our Texas experience. We are also proud to have a launch sponsor for our new endeavor, Direct Energy, though we will always act with editorial independence and control. Please come to us with story ideas, comments, and thoughts in the comments.

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  • Dennis Barrett

    There’s a new technology on the horizon …… energy from Thorium …. using the latest in generation 4 power generating plants, Molten Salt Reactors or MSRs . Much of what is present will be displaced. Times change, Technology changes ….

  • Tom Rommel

    20 billion-barrel Wolfcamp Shale discovery. Uge.

  • Blind Willy

    How about a story regarding “Eminent Domain” and the Trans Pecos Pipeline.
    My understanding is that ETP bullied their way through private land and historic sites so that they could carve out a route for a pipeline that doesn’t even benefit the people.
    I’m all for progress, but this sounds like they used a legal loophole to practically steal land for their profit.
    These guys would have more info that I would.

  • John Young

    Yes, how about a story regarding Eminent Domain and the total of six natural gas pipelines that are scheduled to be taking fracked gas by October 2018 (the first one, crossing the Rio Grande River at Rio Grande City, starting operations December 2014 and the sixth one to start operations October 2018 traveling under the Gulf of Mexico).

    And how four communities on the south most tip of Texas have passed resolutions against the three LNG export companies seeking FERC permission to Build and operate at our local Port of Brownsville (next door to South Padre Island).

    And how our Port of Brownsville is building a new oil dock and repairing an old one so that an increasing number of explosive oil trains will be rumbling through a number of our unprepared and defenseless local communities towards the Port, with no liability coverage and without any of the communities having any say about any of it.

    Our local Port was created by the Texas Legislature in 1929 with boundaries that exclude most of those threatened by the LNG, oil train, and pipeline operations from having any say as to what kinds of operations the Port Commissioners decide to bring our way — operations threatening our safety, health, and local economies (including sustainable gulf shrimping and eco-tourism).

    For more information, visit saveRGVfromLNG on Facebook.