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Vote For Your Favorite Elections Question For Our “Texas Decides” Project

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been compiling questions about this year’s election sent to us by voters across Texas. It’s part of a project we’re calling “Texas Decides.”

Now, it’s time for you to help us decide which questions we answer!

Vote for the questions you find most intriguing below, and our reporters at public radio stations across the state will use the results to start digging in. On September 27, we’ll pick your five favorite questions and start reporting.

We want to hear from you! Not just here at Marfa Public Radio, but also at KUT in Austin, Texas Public Radio in San Antonio, Houston Public Media, and KERA in North Texas.


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Former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego (left) was ousted by Republican Will Hurd, right, in the 2014 CD-23 contest.

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego (left) was ousted by Republican Will Hurd, right, in the 2014 CD-23 contest.

In Hurd-Gallego Rematch, Veterans Issues Again a Flashpoint

If it’s an even-numbered year, there’s a good chance of a competitive race for Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, a perennial swing seat sprawling across West Texas. Also likely is a fierce debate over which candidate is a better advocate for one of its key constituencies: veterans.

This time around, the debate is between Republican freshman U.S. Rep. Will Hurd and Democratic challenger Pete Gallego, who are squaring off in a heated rematch. Hurd, a former undercover CIA officer, is trumpeting his work in Congress benefiting veterans, while Gallego is arguing that Hurd supports funding cuts for veterans programs and is not standing up to his party’s bombastic presidential nominee on their behalf.

“What do all these communities all across the district have in common? The answer is that there are significant numbers of veterans in all of our communities, even the small ones,” Gallego said in an interview Tuesday. “Respect for veterans and their service is a huge issue, and if you’re not willing to call someone out who’s disrespecting men and women in uniform, you don’t get high marks.” 

For starters, the district is bookended by two cities with heavy military presences: El Paso and San Antonio. Plus, the issue is hardly new territory for Hurd and Gallego, who clashed over it in their 2014 race when Hurd unseated one-termer Gallego. And in a volatile district, it’s one issue where the candidates can appear above the fray.


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Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez (right) speaks at a county commissioners meeting. (John Daniel Garcia/The Big Bend Sentinel-Presidio International)

Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez (right) speaks at a county commissioners meeting. (John Daniel Garcia/The Big Bend Sentinel-Presidio International)

Presidio County Sheriff Says He’ll Never Sign Conflict of Interest Policy

Ever since Presidio County adopted a new “conflict of interest” policy late last year, Sheriff Danny Dominguez has refused to get on board with it.

County Judge Cinderela Guevara is worried that could lead to the county losing critical law enforcement money it gets from the federal government – money that Sheriff Dominguez and his deputies need to do their jobs.

It’s not clear if that’s actually going to happen, but either way, this months-long standoff between the judge and county commissioners on the one side – and the sheriff on the other – points to some deep-seeded discord among elected officials.

The policy states that county employees and officials should disclose any potential conflicts between their personal interests and their duties as public representatives.

Federal border security funding programs like Operation Stonegarden require the county to have that kind of policy in place – the sheriff and the judge agree on that point.

But that’s about all they agree on.

Dominguez says the reason he won’t agree to the policy is essentially becuase he doesn’t have to.

“That is the reason I’m not signing it, because it does not include me,” he says.


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This rendering shows a snapshot from a cosmological simulation of a Lyman-alpha blob. (J.Geach/D.Narayanan/R.Crain/European Southern Observatory)

This rendering shows a snapshot from a cosmological simulation of a Lyman-alpha blob. (J.Geach/D.Narayanan/R.Crain/European Southern Observatory)

Astronomers Find Clues In The Case Of The Glowing Space ‘Blobs’

A mysterious glowing “blob” in outer space has puzzled astronomers for more than 15 years. Now, a team of researchers says it has uncovered the secret behind the blob’s eerie light.

The blob was first spotted back in the late 1990s by Chuck Steidel, an astronomer at Caltech, and some colleagues. They were observing a bunch of galaxies in the distant reaches of the universe, he recalls, “but we also saw these big blotchy things.”

At first, they thought they had somehow accidentally screwed up the images. But then they realized they had actually discovered strange, glowing clouds of hydrogen gas.

They were huge — about 10 times the Milky Way in diameter — making them some of the largest known objects in the universe.

Steidel’s team named these mysterious objects Lyman-alpha blobs. The “Lyman-alpha” part of the name just refers to the wavelength of light they emit. And the “blob” part was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, says Steidel, “like the blob from outer space or something like that.”

He and other astronomers just couldn’t understand what made the blobs glow.

“There was no obvious source that could be illuminating that blob,” says Steidel.


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Democratic vice presidential nominee, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, held a town hall at the Exeter Town Hall in Exeter, N.H., on Thursday afternoon. (John Tully for NPR)

Democratic vice presidential nominee, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, held a town hall at the Exeter Town Hall in Exeter, N.H., on Thursday afternoon. (John Tully for NPR)

Kaine: Some Trump Voters Are ‘Motivated By Dark Emotions’

A week after his running mate Hillary Clinton came under attack for describing half of Donald Trump’s supporters as in the “basket of deplorables,” Tim Kaine said he, too, believes there are ideals “not in accord with American values” motivating some of the GOP nominee’s backers.

“There are some who are motivated by dark emotions, that are not in accord with American values,” the Democratic vice presidential nominee told NPR’s Steve Inskeep during an interview Thursday in New Hampshire.

“When you have David Duke doing robo-calls telling people to vote for Donald Trump, which he did just a couple of weeks ago, that is highly troubling,” Kaine continued, referring to the former Ku Klux Klan leader now running for Senate in Louisiana. “And she was basically saying some of Donald Trump’s voters are motivated by these dark emotions that really are out of step with American values.”

The Virginia senator acknowledged that many of Trump’s supporters are also motivated by “deep economic anxieties.”

“She was not belittling those anxieties,” Kaine said about her remarks at a Democratic fundraiser. “She was actually telling a group of supporters of hers, there are Trump voters who have concerns that we need to speak to during the campaign, and that we especially need to speak to if we have the opportunity to govern.”


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Many Reasons, One Cause In Pipeline Protest

Opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline continues to grow beyond its North Dakota roots, with solidarity protests Tuesday in dozens of cities across the country and the world.

The protests began in April with a few members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation is downstream of where the 1,200-mile pipeline is slated to cross the Missouri River. The tribe is concerned a leak could contaminate its drinking water and that construction is already harming sacred sites near the reservation. But as the protests have spread, the motivations have also become more diverse.

In Denver, more than a hundred people packed into the Four Winds American Indian Council, a cozy church with big stained glass windows on a leafy street south of downtown Denver. Some held signs with slogans like “Break free from fossil fuels.”

Derek Brown was not one of them.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for fossil fuels,” he said. “I drove here.”

Brown is Navajo and for him, the pipeline protest is not an environmental fight. It is about tribal sovereignty and making sure Native Americans have a voice.

“We don’t have a seat at the table of negotiations,” he said. “I feel like we have to make a stand that we are still here, that we still exist. American Indians are not dead.”


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Multiple law enforcement agencies respond to a bomb threat at Big Bend Regional Medical Center after a shooting at Alpine High School on Thursday, September 8, 2016. (Travis Lux)

Multiple law enforcement agencies respond to a bomb threat at Big Bend Regional Medical Center after a shooting at Alpine High School on Thursday, September 8, 2016. (Travis Lux)

Details Released From Investigation Into Alpine School Shooting

The Alpine Police Department released new details on Tuesday about the recent shooting at Alpine high school that left one student dead and one injured.

In a statement yesterday, the department said the 14-year-old freshman girl who shot and injured a 17-year-old junior girl before killing herself had planned to shoot her 14-year-old stepbrother instead.

Police have not released any identities in the case as an investigation continues.

The department said the 17-year-old girl interrupted the planned shooting when she walked into a restroom and saw the younger girl with a gun. That’s when the younger girl started shooting and hit the older girl once in the lower body as the victim ducked and ran. The younger girl then killed herself in the restroom with a gunshot to the head.

Police said the 14-year-old girl committed the shooting with a 9 mm handgun – a Kahr model CW9 – and had “only one” magazine of ammunition on hand, with a total of 18 rounds. Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson had previously told reporters the girl had “plenty” of ammunition. Police said the gun was brought from the girl’s home, and that she fired a total of five rounds throughout the incident.

The department said it’s interviewed almost all 290 students at Alpine High School. Those interviews have led authorities to believe bullying of the 14-year-old shooter was not factor in the shooting and “did not take place.”

In a separate statement released Tuesday, Alpine Police Chief Russell Scown expressed his “unyielding gratitude” to the first responders and others that dealt with the shooting. He thanked a handful of law enforcement agencies and specific officers for their “professionalism, and for their dedication to this community.” Scown also praised the faculty and leadership at Alpine I.S.D. for their response to the shooting. He thanked the students as well, in particular the victim.

“One of the strongest and courageous of all is the young lady wounded that day,” Scown said. “The actions of this young lady, although unintentional, thwarted a much deeper tragedy.”

Scown did not elaborate on how the victim’s actions prevented a larger tragedy.

Native American protestors march from an encampment on the banks of the Cannonball River to a nearby construction site for the Dakota Access Pipeline to perform a daily prayer ceremony. (Andrew Cullen)

Native American protestors march from an encampment on the banks of the Cannonball River to a nearby construction site for the Dakota Access Pipeline to perform a daily prayer ceremony. (Andrew Cullen)

N.D. Pipeline Protester: It’s About Our Rights As Native People

In North Dakota, work has stopped on one section of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. Still, over the weekend protesters continued to stream into camps set up near the construction site.

One protest camp is about an hour’s drive south of Bismarck. A prairie there is covered with teepees, tents and RVs. Flags from tribes around the country line the dirt road into the camp.

“We brought a ton of water, sleeping bags, mats to sleep on,” says Jessie Weahkee of Albuquerque. She traveled 17 hours from Albuquerque to bring a moving truck full of donations for the hundreds of people who are now living at the camp.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe opposes the pipeline because the route crosses sacred sites and burial places. They’re also concerned that if the pipeline ruptures it could pollute local drinking water.

Weahkee says her family faced a similar situation back home. They opposed plans to build a highway through Petroglyph National Monument but they lost that battle. So she’s here — hoping the Standing Rock Sioux can win this one.

For her, this protest is about more than opposing an oil pipeline. “It’s about our rights as native people to this land. It’s about our rights to worship. It’s about our rights to be able to call a place home and it’s our rights to water,” she says.

The company Energy Transfer Partners thought it had all the approval it needed to build the 1172 mile-long, $3.78 billion pipeline.

Last Friday, a federal judge rejected a request from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to stop construction. But then the Obama administration stepped in and stopped construction on federal land. In a statement, the administration also asked the company to voluntarily stop construction within 20 miles of the section on federal land.


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Authorities stand watch near where a person was killed after being hit by a train on Saturday. (Travis Bubenik/KRTS)

Authorities stand watch near where a person was killed after being hit by a train on Saturday. (Travis Bubenik/KRTS)

Train Hits, Kills One Person in Marfa

This story will be updated as details become available.

One person is dead after being hit by an eastbound train in Marfa, according to Marfa Volunteer Fire Department Chief Gary Mitschke and the Union Pacific Railroad.

Union Pacific Spokesperson Jeff DeGraff said the person killed was a male in his mid-to-late teens. Authorities have not released an identity as an investigation continues.

According to DeGraff, the teenager was walking on the tracks with his back to the train when he was struck. He said the teenager had earphones in at the time, and “appeared to be playing a video game of some sort.”

“The conductor saw the individual on the tracks, and attempted to alert him through train horn and whistle,” DeGraff said. “Unfortunately, the individual didn’t respond, most likely due to the headphones.”

Witness Cory Lovell said he was at a nearby coffee shop when he heard the train’s brakes screech to a halt.

“That obviously isn’t a good sign,” he said.


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The "pusher escape system" shown in action on the crew capsule of Blue Origin's "New Shephard" space craft. (Blue Origin)

The "pusher escape system" shown in action on the crew capsule of Blue Origin's "New Shephard" space craft. (Blue Origin)

Blue Origin Planning Next Test Launch for Early October

Billionaire Jeff Bezos said Thursday his commercial space company Blue Origin is planning to perform another test launch from the company’s West Texas facility in early October.

According to Bezos, this launch will feature an “in-flight escape test” involving the New Shephard space craft’s crew capsule.

“Our next flight is going to be dramatic, no matter how it ends,” Bezos said in an email, adding that the it will be the company’s “toughest test yet.”

“We’ll intentionally trigger an escape in flight and at the most stressing condition: maximum dynamic pressure through transonic velocities,” he said.

This test will mark the fifth time Blue Origin has reused a single rocket booster, a new technology the company has focused much of its developmental efforts on.

But, Bezos said, this next test will “probably destroy” that rocket, and it’s likely it won’t be able to be used again.

“We’d really like to retire it after this test and put it in a museum,” Bezos said. “Sadly, that’s not likely.”

Bezos said New Shephard’s rocket booster wasn’t designed to survive an in-flight escape, and that on the off chance that it does survive, the company will “reward it for its service with a retirement party.” (And yes, put it in a museum.)

There’s not set date for the test yet, but the company hopes to blast off from Culberson County in early October. Bezos said this flight will be live-streamed online again, as the company’s last test in June was.

Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers monitor the situation at Sul Ross State University in Alpine amid a campus-wide lockdown on Thursday, September 8, 2016. (Pete Szilagyi)

Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers monitor the situation at Sul Ross State University in Alpine amid a campus-wide lockdown on Thursday, September 8, 2016. (Pete Szilagyi)

Shooting at Alpine High School Leaves One Dead, One Injured

Updated to include a comment from the Marathon Motel indicating a reported bomb threat there was the result of a misunderstanding.

A seemingly average Thursday morning in small-town Alpine, TX turned traumatic after a 14-year-old female freshman student shot and injured another female student before turning the gun on herself.

Brewster County authorities said the shooter was found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, and the victim suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

The identities of the shooter and the victim have not been released.

In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson expressed shock at the incident that took place sometime after 9 AM, saying his department had never had to respond to an “active shooter” situation of this type before, especially at a local school.

“It’s not supposed to happen here,” he said.

Authorities said the shooting happened inside the high school near the band hall. Band Director Chuck Wilson – who said the victim was one of his students – echoed Dodson’s sentiment about the unusual nature of the shooting in a town where violent crime is rare.

“This is supposed to be something that happens someplace else,” Wilson said. “It’s really hard to put into words, it’s not something you can really prepare for as a parent or as a teacher, and it’s tough.”


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Bundles of marijuana were discovered in a silver Ford F-150 truck Tuesday evening. (Presidio County Sheriff's Office)

Bundles of marijuana were discovered in a silver Ford F-150 truck Tuesday evening. (Presidio County Sheriff's Office)

High Speed Chase Ends With Drug Bust South of Marfa

A high speed police chase Tuesday evening on Ranch Road 2810 in Presidio County ended with a Texas man under arrest for trying to smuggle 1,101 pounds of marijuana.

The Presidio County Sheriff’s Office said the chase happened around 7:15 PM a few miles south of Marfa on 2810. A silver Ford truck loaded down with pot was headed north when Border Patrol agents called the sheriff’s office for assistance in stopping the truck.

The sheriff’s office said a deputy opened fire on the truck’s tires and successfully shot them out, stopping the truck about a mile south of Marfa. 


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Protestors left their signs on the fence surrounding the South Texas Family Residential Center near Dilley, Texas on May 2, 2015.	(Ryan McCrimmon)

Protestors left their signs on the fence surrounding the South Texas Family Residential Center near Dilley, Texas on May 2, 2015. (Ryan McCrimmon)

Privatized Immigration Detention Centers to be Focus of Federal Review

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Monday called for a review of its current policy of detaining undocumented immigrants in private, for-profit facilities — several of which are in Texas.

The announcement comes after the U.S. Department of Justice called for a phasing out of its contracts with private facilities this month.

In a statement, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said Homeland Security Advisory Council Chairman Judge William Webster will spearhead the review and form a committee to look into whether the current system should be abolished.

“I asked that the Subcommittee consider all factors concerning [Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s] detention policy and practice, including fiscal considerations,” Johnson said. The review is due at the end of November.


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Ancient mortar holes identified by Trans-Pecos Pipeline opponents as lying within the pipeline's construction path in Brewster County. (Alyce Santoro)

Ancient mortar holes identified by Trans-Pecos Pipeline opponents as lying within the pipeline's construction path in Brewster County. (Alyce Santoro)

Activists Fear Archeological Site Will Be Damaged by Pipeline

Opponents of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline say they’ve identified a historic archeological site located within the pipeline’s path that they fear could soon be damaged by construction.

In an emailed press release, the Big Bend Conservation Alliance (BBCA) said a team of archeologists working with the group and with area landowners recently identified the site on a ranch in northeastern Brewster County.

The BBCA first identified where the site was exactly, but later asked for it to not be identified out of concern for the landowners’ privacy and the privacy of the site itself. (The ranch owners are also pipeline opponents.)

The BBCA says Sul Ross Archeologist David Keller and his team discovered evidence of prehistoric occupation in three different areas of the ranch. Keller said in a statement the “most significant” of the sites includes multiple “ancient bedrock grinding features,” which are believed to have been used by ancient peoples to grind food.

The site has been nominated to the State Historical Commission for protection as a State Antiquities Landmark. 

The commission’s Antiquities Advisory Board is expected to consider the nomination at a hearing in October. From there, it will move on to a regular commission meeting in January, but pipeline opponents worry the site will be damaged by construction in the meantime.


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Mural in Alpine, TX, home to Front Street Brokes (daveynin via Flickr/Creative Commons CC BY 2.0)

Mural in Alpine, TX, home to Front Street Brokes (daveynin via Flickr/Creative Commons CC BY 2.0)

Texas Bookseller Picks 3 Summer Reads

Julia Green of Front Street Books in Alpine, Texas, recommends Moonlight on Linoleum by Terry Helwig, City of Women by David R. Gillham and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.


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Kelly Bryan checks one of his feeders at the hummingbird sanctuary he runs in the Davis Mountains. (Rachael Vasquez)

Kelly Bryan checks one of his feeders at the hummingbird sanctuary he runs in the Davis Mountains. (Rachael Vasquez)

New Decade-Long Study Confirms West Texas Hummingbird Population Rivaled Only by Arizona

A new study published in July by Fort Davis biologist Kelly Bryan confirms that West Texas has the second-most diverse hummingbird population in the country, with 17 species identified in the region.

The study, which Bryan has been collecting data for over the last ten years, identified the 17th species, the Buff Bellied Hummingbird.

We never ever had any reason to think that a bird found in South Texas – that’s the Buff Bellied Hummingbird – would show up in West Texas,” said Bryan. “But one did.”

To collect the data need for the study, Bryan used a process called bird-banding, which involves catching individual hummingbirds and putting a .56 millimeter band on each bird’s leg. Each band has a unique number on it, and that number corresponds to a set of data specific to the bird’s species, age, and gender, and over the ten-year period Bryan banded over 18,000 hummingbirds.

Based on Bryan’s data, the most common hummingbird to the area was the Black-Chinned Hummingbird with 7,199 banded, followed by the Rufous Hummingbird with 4,426, and the Broad-Tailed Hummingbird with 3,705 banded.

– Rachael Vasquez

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Vote For Your Favorite Elections Question For Our “Texas Decides” Project

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been compiling questions about this year’s election sent to us by voters across Texas. It’s part of a project we’re calling “Texas Decides.”

Now, it’s time for you to help us decide which questions we answer!

Vote for the questions you find most intriguing below, and our reporters at public radio stations across the state will use the results to start digging in. On September 27, we’ll pick your five favorite questions and start reporting.

We want to hear from you! Not just here at Marfa Public Radio, but also at KUT in Austin, Texas Public Radio in San Antonio, Houston Public Media, and KERA in North Texas.

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Native to North Africa, aoudad were introduced to Texas in the 1950s. At ease in the roughest terrain, they’ve flourished in the Trans-Pecos, and aoudad hunts are good business. But wildlife managers say the newcomers are edging out native species.

Aoudad – For Wildlife Managers, A Hardy Newcomer’s Success Raises Tough Questions

Some visit the Big Bend for a day or a week – and have their fill. But an intrepid few find they’re suited to this harsh terrain, and make it their home. Native to northern Africa, aoudad – or Barbary … Continue reading

Nature Notes is broadcast Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:35 am and 4:45 pm.
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El Cosmico in Marfa (flickr user: Marci)

Thu. Sep 22 Interview: Liz Lambert

Today on West Texas Talk, host Pete Szilagyi speaks with hotelier Liz Lambert. She’s built a network of popular hotels including Marfa’s El Cosmico, plus locations in Austin, San Antonio, and soon — Todos Santos, Mexico.

They talk about the origin of the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music and Love, how the Foo Fighters came to record an EP at her Saint Cecelia Hotel in Austin, and the line between inspiration and appropriation.

West Texas Talk is broadcast live at 6:30 pm each weekday.
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Courtesy ; SSGMusic.com

Wed. Sep 21 Interview: Andy Stack of Wye Oak

Andy Stack is a very busy person.

He’s one-half of the band Wye Oak, where he pulls double duty on drums and keys, he also plays drums in Hotel Brotherhood, a band filled to the brim with local Marfa talent.

He’s the touring drummer of EL VY, a super-group of sorts, started by Matt Berninger of The National and Brent Knopf of Ramona Falls.

He also has a solo project titled Joyero, produces remixes, and does arrangement work for television and film.

On tonight’s talk, Jackson Wisdorf had a chance to sit down with Andy a few days before he is set to perform with Wye Oak at the 2016 Trans-Pecos Music Festival at El Cosmico in Marfa.

 

 

West Texas Talk is broadcast live at 6:30 pm each weekday.
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"This is Presence" artists Nina Sarnelle, Scott Andrew, and Agnes Bolt (credit: Pete Szilagyi, Marfa Public Radio/West Texas Public Radio)

Tue. Sep 20 Interview: Ballroom Marfa to open “This is Presence” exhibition September 23

Today on West Texas Talk, Institute for New Feeling artists Agnes Bolt, Scott Andrew, and Nina Sarnelle talked about Ballroom Marfa’s multi-media, multi-faceted fall exhibition

Curator Laura Copelin described “This is Presence” as “artists thinking about technology and its effects on the body.”

West Texas Talk is broadcast live at 6:30 pm each weekday.
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A drilling rig that began operating near Balmorhea Lake in late 2015. (Travis Bubenik/KRTS)

Mon. Sep 19 Interview: Apache Corporation Talks Details About Its “Alpine High” Oilfield Discovery

Earlier this month, the oil and gas company Apache Corporation announced it had discovered a huge new oilfield straddling the Reeves-Jeff Davis County line that the company is calling the “Alpine High” play.

Apache has acquired more than 300,000 acres in this part of Far West Texas where it hopes to scale up oil and gas drilling in the coming years. The company says this is all part of a couple years worth of exploration and research that essentially bucked the old wisdom of the industry that this part of the region wasn’t worth exploring: that it wouldn’t really turn up any substanial supplies of oil and gas.

If the predictions pan out, the discovery and development of this oilfield could be a game-changer – for both the company, and for the energy industry’s presence in this corner of West Texas.

Apache Corporation Spokesperson Castlen Kennedy joined us for this episode to talk details about the discovery and the company’s plans for the region.

West Texas Talk is broadcast live at 6:30 pm each weekday.
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