Want a job? Go to the Plains.
Advanced drilling techniques have spurred a surge in employment in the energy industry that vastly outpaces other sectors. But the rapid rise in extraction has come with a downside: a rise in work-related fatalities.
Fatalities reached a record in the oil and gas industry last year, according to data released Thursday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So far, though, the rise appears linked to the rapid growth in drilling activity rather than a slide in safety standards.
"I think the industry is making progress on safety," Paul Caplan, president of Rigzone, an oil and gas industry news and job recruitment website, wrote in an e-mail, "but it’s an area where you can always do more – making greater strides to protect its workforce and the public and environment in general."
Oil and gas jobs rose by 162,000 between 2007 and 2012, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). That's a 40 percent increase. Compare that to the total private sector, which grew by only 1 percent during the same period. (Those totals come from Census figures. Using July Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures, the gap looks bigger: oil and gas grew 43.6 percent; the private sector shrank 1 percent since 2007.) ( Continue… )
Ever since undergoing a $10 billion expansion, the Motiva oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, has experienced a long line of incidents, the latest being a fire which has forced it to reduce production output by a half, for at least two weeks.
Only one week ago the 600,000 barrel a day facility, owned by Royal Dutch Shell and Saudi Aramco, suffered from a different fire, which caught in the sulphur recovery unit, forcing a closure and reducing production. The sulphur unit will undergo repairs, and is expected to go back into operation in two or three weeks.
This second fire, which began on Saturday, broke out in a hydrocracker unit next to the refinery`s largest crude distillation unit (CDU), known as the VPS-5. (Related article: Oil Well, Oil Facilities and Pipelines, New Targets in a New War)
RECOMMENDED: US energy in five maps (infographics)
A source with knowledge of the incident told Reuters that the fire damaged communication lines and instrumentation needed to run the 75,000 bpd hydrocracker, but its production sections were unharmed. Whilst the hydrocracker unit is being repaired the 325,000 barrel a day VPS-5 will be on warm circulation (standby).
Kimberly Windon, a spokesperson for Shell, explained that “several units that are integrated to this will run at reduced rates and others are being shut down,” whilst the repairs take place.
Refinery managers admitted that “it was a bad weekend for us. We're all feeling snake-bit. It just seems like we get up and going and then something else goes wrong.”
Even once the hydrocracker is ready to start-up again, the VPS-5 will be kept operating at 75,000 barrels a day below its capacity, due to a vibration affecting a key pipe. Near the end of 2014 it may then be fully shutdown in order to address the problem.
The vibration appeared when the CDU was restarted early in the year after it was shut-down for seven and a half months to repair the damage caused by a chemical leak that occurred just weeks after the initial opening of the refinery, following the five year expansion.
Prices for wholesale gasoline and ultra-low sulphur diesel on the Gulf Coast rose slightly.
RECOMMENDED: US energy in five maps (infographics)
With some of the fastest-growing nations situated in some of the world's hottest climates, the use of air conditioning is expected to skyrocket in coming decades.
It's good news for public health and economic productivity, but there are concerns about the large amount of energy needed to meet that demand, especially in countries that still rely predominantly on the most polluting sources of electricity.
"Should the world eventually adapt the US level of need for cooling, energy demand for air conditioning would be equal to about 50 times the current demand for cooling in the US," said Michael Sivak, a researcher at the University of Michigan and author of a study of global air conditioning use published in the September-October 2013 issue of American Scientist.
In India, for example, only 2 percent of households had air conditioning in 2007, according to the European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. But sales of air-conditioning units in India are growing by about 20 percent a year. If the country of more than 1 billion people eventually adopts American cooling habits, Mr. Sivak estimates India's energy demand for cooling will be 14 times the US demand for cooling.
Nobody knows if the explosive rate of growth seen in places like India and China will continue, and emerging economies still have a long way to go before matching the US. ( Continue… )
To build a car, basically you need a wheel at each corner, after which you can do what you like. Flexibility comes in how you use the vehicle.
For nuclear power, the reverse of that truism applies. There are many, many ways of building a reactor and fueling it. But its purpose is singular: to make electricity. And making electricity is done in the time-honored way, using steam or gas to turn a turbine attached to a generator.
Around the world, some 460 reactors are electricity makers. Even allowing for events like the tsunami which struck Fukushima Daiichi, they are statistically the safest and most reliable electricity makers.
Yet they are large and built one at a time; one-offs, bespoke. They rely predominantly on two variations of a technology called “light water,” originally adapted from the U.S. Navy. This has left no room for other designs, fuels and materials. ( Continue… )
Discharges of contaminated water have plagued the cleanup of the March 2011 disaster at Fukushima, whose cooling systems failed in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami, triggering meltdowns at three reactors. Japan's nuclear watchdog upgraded Wednesday the severity of those leaks.
What happened at Fukushima is a rare occurrence, many in the industry stress, and nuclear remains one of the safest and most reliable ways to generate electricity. Still, the political fallout from Fukushima – and the fumbling recovery in its wake – has delivered another blow to a nuclear industry that a few years ago seemed to have finally shaken the stigma of the Three Mile Island disaster.
Factor in the competition of cheap, abundant natural gas, and the outlook for nuclear isn't so rosy. But a wave of technological innovation offers hope for a fuel that provides about 12 percent of the world's electricity. ( Continue… )
Since Elon Musk released his designs for the Hyperloop transport system, the idea has been all over the internet as most people laud it for its ambition, and potential to truly change transportation around the world. Musk is so determined to make his idea work that he plans to entirely skip the concept phase and immediately build a 350 mile version of the Hyperloop to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco; basically his home to his office.
René Lavanchy, of the Guardian, does not share the enthusiasm for Musk’s designs, worried that there is no chance the Hyperloop will ever be built. “As far-sighted technology evangelism, the Hyperloop is laudable and deserves deeper discussion. As an intellectual idea, or the groundwork for some speculative fiction, it is fascinating. But as a shovel-ready infrastructure project, it is dead on arrival.” (Related article: Looking at the Hyperloop and its Predecessors)
In his article he offered several reasons why the Hyperloop would never work. He explained that in order to create the air cushion that the pods would float on, the air would have to be compressed rapidly, which would create huge amounts of heat inside the pod and the tube. The tight conditions within the Hyperloop do not allow for air conditioning, which means that that the whole systems could suffer from overheating, just like the London Underground, making travel unbearable for passengers. ( Continue… )
[Editor's note: Paragraph eight below has been updated to clarify Russ Rader's comments. The added weight of batteries are an advantage for electric cars in real-world accidents, not in crash tests, as was previously implied.]
The luxury electric sedan earned an overall safety rating of five out of five stars from the federal agency, Tesla announced Tuesday. It also earned at least five stars in every category, a feat that puts it in the top 1 percent of cars tested by NHTSA.
The Tesla crash test is yet another win for a company that cannot seem to lose lately. Tesla Motors' Model S continues to earn glowing reviews, bolstering its stock price, and drawing the envy of an incumbent auto industry that might rather see it fail. Its stock price was up 2 percent to $148.39 in midday trading.
The design flexibility afforded by an electric vehicle may be a key to the Model S's record safety rating, challenging early public perceptions of electric cars as weak vehicles, prone to battery fires and other mechanical failures. ( Continue… )
What would you expect them to say?
That's the question you should ask whenever spokespersons for the oil and gas industry (or fake think tanks funded by the industry or analysts whose bread is buttered by the industry) announce a new find that is going to be a "game-changer" (or bigger than another well-known world-class field or enough to make America energy independent again).
Prepare yourself for another hype cycle in the U.S. oil and gas industry. The industry says it has found a deposit of oil that may turn out to be the largest in the world. The deep tight oil deposit goes by the name Spraberry/Wolfcamp and is located in West Texas. It's no surprise then that the industry is trotting out the America-as-the-new-Saudi-Arabia theme once again, a theme that many including me have shown to be pure bunkum.
And, the chief executive officer of Pioneer Natural Resources Company, which is currently touting its dominant position in the Spraberry/Wolfcamp deposits, added some bunkum of his own when he told The Dallas Morning News, "We’re more like a manufacturing operation than a traditional oil drilling operation.” This is the discredited notion that in tight oil and shale gas deposits, a company can drill anywhere and extract economical volumes of oil and/or natural gas. The idea has been discredited by the record of every tight oil and shale gas deposit drilled to date, deposits which settle down into a pattern of tightly focused "sweet spots" where drillers can make money and vast areas that are not profitable to drill--mainly because the oil and natural gas are too difficult to get out. ( Continue… )
[Editor's note: A previous version of this article misstated the geographical location of Balcombe.]
British energy company Cuadrilla Resources issued an apology last week to the residents of Balcombe, a village in West Sussex, England. Campaigners flocked to the region by the thousands and set up camp to protest against hydraulic fracturing. The company said it suspended its operations as a safety precaution on the advice from local police in light of the protest. British Prime Minister David Cameron came out in favor of fracking, saying the controversial practice was worth the risk. The only problem is that, so far, for all intents and purposes, fracking doesn't exist in Balcombe.
Cuadrilla issued an apology to Balcombe residents for causing a stir. Advocacy group No Dash for Gas set up camp during the weekend near the drilling site to protest the energy company's drilling campaign.
"Cuadrilla acknowledges and regrets the disruption and inconvenience Balcombe villagers will experience as a result of the No Dash for Gas action camp," the company said in a statement.
The company has endured nearly two weeks of campaigns against its operations but pledged local villagers would hardly notice the work. Green groups managed to stop freight trucks from getting to the drilling site, though the company managed to get enough work going to install its rig. Last week, the company said the site was good for exploration but might yet turn into a full production site. ( Continue… )
The outlook at the pump is getting brighter for Labor Day motorists.
Gas prices dropped by roughly a penny from a week ago, according to AAA. It's a slight decline, but it follows a general slide in gas prices over recent months, and some hope the downward trend will continue through Labor Day's travel weekend. But a hurricane, or heightened unrest in the Middle East, could change that.
"If there’s any sort of disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico, it obviously could have a significant impact on gas prices," Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com, said in a telephone interview.
In 2005, hurricane Katrina made landfall in the last week of August, upending gas prices that were approaching $3.00 in many parts of the country. The devastation wreaked on the Gulf region – which accounts for about 23 percent of the nation's oil output – sent gas prices higher by as much as 50 cents. ( Continue… )