oil field

Photo Credit: Connor Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

The stars in West Texas are now competing with the glow from oil drilling rigs and gas flares in the Permian Basin, the largest oil field in the state.

UT’s McDonald Observatory teamed up with Pioneer Energy Services to address the issue of light pollution interfering with the observatory’s research abilities. Last September, the two groups published a report on good light practices, including shielding light fixtures so that the glare does not face skyward.

Oil rigs line the northeast horizon of the observatory, and light fixtures illuminate their activity 24/7. High oil and gas prices initiated the increased construction of oil rigs in West Texas’ Permian Basin during the early part of the 2010s, said Stacy Locke, CEO of Pioneer Energy Services.

“If you go look at the price of oil and the rig count in the U.S., the Permian Basin had explosive growth starting from 2010 and then into 2012 to 2014 because the worldwide demand for oil really increased, which caused oil prices to shoot up,” Locke said. “As the oil price rose, the rig count rose with it.”

Observatory spokesman Bill Wren said he began noticing the additional light clouding the observatory in 2010.

“We have data going back to 2009 that shows the sky brightening before you could really see it visually,” Wren said. “It corresponds to the boom in oil and gas exploration around the Permian Basin. For decades, the brightest artificial source of light we could see was the combined lights of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez — 160 miles off west. Now it’s safe to say our northeast horizon [is the brightest].”

The oil companies are willing to help with reducing light pollution, Locke said.

“Once we proved we could make a drilling rig dark-sky compliant, we went out with Bill Wren, and I introduced him to a number of our oil and gas clients and explained to them this concern,” Locke said. “Once they became aware of the issues, they were willing and wanting to help fix the problem.”

The observatory is in the process of a $30 million upgrade to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope to study dark energy — an unknown force accelerating the expansion of the universe — but light pollution might thwart its efforts. Astronomy senior research scientist Matthew Shetrone said despite the telescope upgrade, light pollution might inhibit astronomers’ ability to study dark energy. 

“In order to study dark energy, we need to be able to detect galaxies so faint they can not be detected from imaging from the ground,” Shetrone said. “We will be using spectrography. There may be 30 photons we detect from that very, very distant galaxy, maybe 30 billion light years away. … So if we have a brighter sky because of light pollution, that adds noise to the 30 photons we want to collect from a distant galaxy and can get washed out.”

An oil field that caught on fire in Heglig, Sudan on Sunday. An official says Sudanese jets bombed three areas in South Sudan's Unity State, including a major oil field. Antonov bombers accompanied by MiG 29 jets bombed the town of Abiemnom in Unity State and the Unity State oil field.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

RUBKONA, South Sudan — Sudanese warplanes bombed a market and an oil field in South Sudan on Monday, killing at least two people after Sudanese ground forces had reportedly crossed into South Sudan with tanks and artillery, elevating the risk of all-out war between the two old enemies.

The international community urged Sudan and South Sudan to talk out their disputes, which include arguments over where the border lies and over ownership of oil resources.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the Sudanese bombings and called on the government in Khartoum “to cease all hostilities immediately,” U.N. deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said.

Ban stressed again that the dispute cannot be solved militarily and urged Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir “to stop the slide towards further confrontation and ... return to dialogue as a matter of urgency,” the spokesman said.

But al-Bashir vowed Monday to press ahead with his military campaign until all southern troops or affiliated forces are chased out of the north.

The bombs fell from two MiG 29 jets onto Rubkona’s market with a whistling sound, turning stalls where food and other household items are sold into fiery heaps of twisted metal.

The burned body of the boy lay flat on his back near the center of the blast site, his hand clutching at the sky.

South Sudan military spokesman Col. Philip Aguer said two were killed in that attack and nine wounded.

Aguer said Antonov bombers accompanied by MiG 29 jets also bombed Abiemnom in Unity State and the Unity State oil field. He said Abiemnom is a two-hour drive from Rubkona. Amid poor communications, the extent of damage at the oil field was not immediately known, nor whether there were casualties. Fighting between ground troops, which started Sunday, was still ongoing in Panakuac, Laloba and Teshwin, Aguer said.

In Rubkona, trucks packed with South Sudanese troops sped off in the direction where the bombs landed as the soldiers fired at the Sudanese jets.

“The bombing amounts to a declaration of war,” said Maj.

Gen. Mac Paul, the Deputy Director of Military Intelligence for South Sudan.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday the U.S. strongly condemns Sudan’s military incursion into South Sudan, and called for the immediate halt of aerial and artillery bombardment in South Sudan.

“We recognize the right of South Sudan to self-defense and urge South Sudan to exercise restraint in its reaction to Sudan’s attack in Unity State,” she said.

Sudanese armed forces launched an attack Sunday more than six miles inside South Sudan’s border, even though the south announced on Friday it was pulling its troops from the disputed oil town of Heglig to avoid an all-out war. South Sudan had invaded Heglig earlier this month, saying it belonged to the south.

South Sudan broke away from Sudan in July last year after an independence vote, the culmination of a 2005 peace treaty that ended decades of war that killed more than 2 million people.d