Urban wildlife cellphone videographer Christine Wilson sends some footage captured from Allen’s Landing documenting the eons-old nature vs. civilization struggle, which played out earlier this week in the form of tiny ducks dodging their way through the floating trash field where White Oak and Buffalo bayous join up. Wilson caught sight (and sound) of a duck and 4 ducklings struggling across the White Oak outflow toward the Buffalo side of the confluence, which she notes is significantly less debris-spangled. That’s the Harris County Jail in the background for most of the shot, across White Oak from the main building of the University of Houston Downtown. (The footage cuts out mid-scene, but Wilson says the ducks did eventually make it across.)
The map above (a snap from Luke Whyte’s click-and-zoom-able original version, published this week by the Texas Tribune) shows the abandoned oil and gas wells scattered in and around the Houston area, per the official accounting of the Texas Railroad Commission. The state agency (which has had nothing to do with railroads since 2005) regulates pipelines, oil, and gas, and keeps tabs on so-called “orphaned wells” whose original owners have stopped keeping tabs on them for one reason or another, writes Jim Malewitz this week — the ones that were reported in the first place, that is. Kerry Knorpp, formerly on a defunct state committee overseeing oilfield cleanup efforts, also tells Malewitz that “there is about to be a tsunami of [newly] abandoned wells — wells were drilled at $110 oil that you would have never completed otherwise.”
The shaded hexagons above are meant to help show the density of those holes, not the degree to which they might pose a pollution hazard (though the agency ranks each well by its hazard potential, too, to help it decide which ones to plug up first, of the more than 10,000 currently on the docket).
Just what kind of hazards can a bunch of abandoned holes pose, anyway?
Weather permitting, an area along the edge of the San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund site under the I-10 East bridge should be getting around 800 cubic feet of new rocks piled onto it this week and next, according to this month’s EPA update on the project. The agency asked International Paper and McGinnis (which might be on the hook financially for much of the final cleanup) to cover up some recently-discovered areas of the nearby riverbed that were scoured as deep as 8 feet in some places by this spring‘s torrential flooding; the tarp-with-rocks-on-it armored cap itself doesn’t appear to have been damaged, but the EPA says the extra rocks will help ensure its continued protectiveness.
The little and not-so-little red dots on the map above show off sites on the EPA’s list of plants and refineries required to have a Risk Management Plan due to their potential for accidental hazardous chemical releases — with the larger dots showing the places that have already had an accident (or, in some cases, as many as 43). Clicking each dot will tell you what the facility’s name is, as well as how much toxic or flammable material it stores on site (to the nearest thousand pounds or so).
The Union of Concerned Scientists and t.e.j.a.s. put together the interactive map as part of a report released late last week, which compares the EPA’s data on air quality and cancer rates in a few neighborhoods on the west side of town (specifically in Bellaire and in the West Oaks and Eldridge area, just inside Hwy.6 near the Barker reservoir) with the same data in a couple of east side spots (Galena Park and Manchester).
Yesterday the EPA released their recommendations for what to do about the toxic muck in the San Jacinto Waste Pits, after more than a decade of local and federal agencies poking and fishing around in the area (on either side of the I-10 crossing of the river). So far the Superfund site has been temporarily dealt with by the 2011 placement of a pretty-much-just-a-tarp-with-rocks-over-it armored cap, which the EPA says has already been repaired at least 7 times; the document released yesterday notes, however, that disturbances at the site caused by weather and previous nearby sand mining operations “could cause a catastrophic release of the highly toxic waste materials from the impoundments, if they remain in place.”
The EPA wants to remove about 202,000 cubic yards of contaminated material (roughly enough to fill the floor of the Astrodome with a 13-foot-deep layer) but says it’ll have to be done carefully so as not to accidentally stir up the waste into the surrounding river while trying to get it out; the removal would also probably take place in stages to avoid potentially exposing too much of the waste at a time to storms or flooding. Here’s the EPA’s map of the 2 sites where the paper sludge was originally dumped in the 1960s — the (capped) northern area is outlined in blue and labeled Cap Site, while the southern site (outlined in yellow and labled Southern Impoundment) is covered in part by the Glendale Boatworks building, next to Southwest Shipyard:
This month the Galveston Bay Foundation and Houston Advanced Research Center released their second annual report card on the health of Galveston Bay, boiling down a wide range of measurements into a series of letter grades. The report card, which looks at the bay itself along with the bayous that drain into it, aims to be easy to understand for folks with or without scientific training. Each of the 6 main categories of grade — including subjects like wildlife population trends,pollution sources, and human health hazards — is broken down with explanations of what specific measurements that rating is based on (and more details in the full report, for those who want them).
The agencies have also put together a Find Your Watershed tool, which lets you check in on how your own part of town is affecting the bay’s GPA. (That’s Buffalo Bayou watershed’s report shown above; the bayou did exceptionally well in dissolved oxygen and nitrogen content this term, but failed wetlands.) You can look up any address and see how the surrounding runoff area measures up in some of the report’s subject categories. (Note that the search tool’s map doesn’t use the same color-by-grade scheme that the rest of the report employs — you’ll have to click on each watershed to see the actual marks).
FRIENDLY LOCAL BOT NOW CONTINUOUSLY TWEETING ABOUT HOUSTON’S ELEVATED AIR TOXIN LEVELS Benzene levels have been relatively high near the TCEQ’s Channelview and Galena Park sensors today, according to the Twitter account of Kuukibot, the air-quality-obsessed automated program which Neethi Nayak, James Van Dyne, and some of the other civic-minded tech types at Sketch City launched last week with the Houston Air Alliance. (They were high yesterday, too — and the day before that, and the day before that.) Upon launch, Kuukibot’s feed immediately started filling up with short, sunny notes about levels of the carcinogen in those 2 neighborhoods; the lung-irritating 1,3 butadiene makes an occasional appearance in the feed as well, though few other places have shown up so far. The tweets, generated on the hour, don’t necessarily mean there’s a specific health hazard or legal violation occurring — just that the sum of the last 24 hours of TCEQ data for a particular sensor has crossed a certain threshold the team picked for each chemical as a reference point. The team is still working up public notes on the methodology, but according to Sketch City founder Jeff Reichman, the program wouldn’t be too hard to expand to most of the other chemicals (and other locations across the state) that the TCEQ monitors. [Previously on Swamplot] Capture of Kuukibot tweets: @kuukihouston