NASA’s Plan B
NASA is reportedly considering relocating its backup mission control center from Alabama to the Bryan-College Station area. The Bryan-based firm Texas Space, Technology, Applications and Research signed an agreement with NASA back in March to evaluate potential locations in the area, and TSTAR President Matt Leonard said this week that his company has “had several meetings” with the agency at its headquarters and at Johnson Space Center in Houston, KBTX reports. He expects to submit a draft report within the next two weeks.
NASA would use the backup mission control—currently located in Huntsville, Alabama—if a hurricane or other disaster threatened the safety of its Houston personnel, according to KBTX. Moving the facility to Bryan would cut the fifteen-hour transition time down to two hours.
The Bottom Line: TSTAR has set an ambitious goal of opening a temporary mission control center in Bryan by January and a permanent facility one year later. A NASA official told KBTX in March that if the agency does move forward with TSTAR’s proposals, it would hold the company to very strict standards: “We will end up having to put them through the ringer.”
Wastewater Under the Bridge
Marathon Oil Company caught a break from the Texas Railroad Commission this week when the agency shot down an attempt to prevent the company from disposing of drilling wastewater in a well near a South Texas aquifer. The Gonzales County Underground Water Conservation District filed the protest with the commission, arguing that injecting waste into the well could contaminate the region’s water supply, the Texas Tribune reports. The Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer supplies water to a number of cities in Central and South Texas, including San Antonio.
But on Thursday, commissioners unanimously sided with Marathon’s contention that the well in question is located outside the conservation group’s jurisdiction by about four miles. The company had also argued “that no groundwater district should have standing to protest a disposal well, because such moves created regulatory uncertainty”—a claim the Railroad Commission did not rule on, according to the Tribune.
The Bottom Line: The oil and gas industry is hoping state regulators will eventually support that broader ruling, which would allow companies to avoid delays caused by conservation district protests. The Tribune reports that the fracking boom has swiftly driven up demand for permits to use groundwater aquifers as wastewater disposal sites: The Railroad Commission granted more than 660 of those permits in 2013, about twice as many as it did four years earlier.
Electric Line Orchestrated
Several Southeastern states could soon be plugged into Texas’ electricity grid, thanks to a newly proposed 400-mile transmission line that would run from east of Dallas into Louisiana and Mississippi, the Houston Chronicle reports. California’s Pattern Energy Group is spearheading the $2 billion project, which it hopes will “allow Texas to share its abundant low-cost wind energy resources with its neighbor states to the southeast,” according to the company’s CEO.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has already approved Pattern’s plans for the transmission line, which could be up and running within five years, pending arrangements with the energy producers that would sell the electricity and the electric companies that would buy it.
The Bottom Line: Texas is emerging as a national leader in wind power, which helped drive a twelve percent increase in the state’s renewable energy production in 2013, according to the Chronicle. The proposed line would be the largest of its kind in the region, capable of carrying as much as 3,000 megawatts of electricity.
Winner of the Week: Energy Future Holdings
Energy Future Holdings Corp. managed to keep its bankruptcy proceedings in a business-friendly Delaware court this week, dodging an attempt by some creditors to move the venue to the company’s home turf in Dallas. After filing for Chapter 11 in April, the energy provider is restructuring $42 billion in debt, mostly to creditors located on the East Coast. But Wilmington Savings Fund Society—a bond trustee that The Wall Street Journal reports “will get little or no recovery under Energy Future’s proposed restructuring strategy”—requested the change of venue in hopes of buying more time to challenge Energy Future’s reputed value.
The federal judge overseeing the case declined that request, admitting that while Energy Future’s decision to file in Delaware “was clearly forum shopping,” the strategy “was not ‘insidious,’” Reuters reports.
Loser of the Week: Goldman Schwartz
This week the Federal Trade Commission permanently closed the books on a Houston-based debt-collection company, wrapping up a case that settled for $1.4 million, Consumerist reports. Last year the FTC accused the former owners of Goldman Schwartz Inc. of practicing “shady collection tactics” including charging bogus fees, claiming to be attorneys and law enforcement personnel, and threatening to have debtors thrown in jail without a legal basis for doing so — all of which are considered no-nos under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The defendants are now banned from the collections industry and must pay $550,000 in restitution to their victims, ironically incurring their own debt for the remaining $850,000 they are unable to pay.