In the very crowded field of unintended outcomes of EU energy policy, what is happening in Germany this year would be hilarious if it wasn't so tragic:
Coal-fired power plants contributed 52% of Germany's first-half electricity demand as output from natural gas-fired power plants and wind turbines fell, research organization Fraunhofer Institute (ISE) said.
Coal plants increased production by about 5% to 130.3 TWh in the first six months of 2013 as output from gas-fired power plants fell 17% to 21.9 TWh, said ISE, which collated data from Germany's statistical office and the EEX transparency platform.
It get's worse. Germany is not only building new coal plants, but they use lignite, a soft brown coal halfway between coal and peat with an even higher CO2 and ash content than hard coal. Germany is the largest lignite producer on earth - and get it from strip mining. So much for romantic vision Germans have of themselves as nature friends which they have managed to con the rest of the world into thinking too, as Robert Wilson at Carbon Counter notes:
It is one of the finest achievements in public relations in history. Germany has managed to be praised by environmentalists more than any other developed nation and yet is building more coal plants than more or less any other developed country. If China is watching on they should take note. The easy way to receive the adulation of Western Greens is to put up a stack of solar panels, and to just keeping building coal plants as before. Just think of the headlines: “China gets 50% of its electricity from solar power.” The green adulation will be remarkable, yet the carbon emissions will keep soaring.
If you like me you'll love Robert by the way, and he's an actual scientist to boot, he deserves more readers. ( Continue… )
U.S. gasoline prices are expected to remain volatile for the month because of geopolitical fallout in the Middle East. Concerns over the global oil supply are fading away from the minds of most consumers and few people care even less about the unrest in Egypt. A weekend survey said gasoline prices were in decline, though that did little to ease the minds of American commuters scratching their heads at the pump during the first major heat wave of the season. A year ago, American consumers were paying substantially less for gasoline. While U.S. oil production gains mean fewer imports, there appear to be few guarantees for energy security, and lower gasoline prices, in the near term.
Motor group AAA reports an average Monday price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline of $3.61. That's more than 4 percent higher than last week, which translates to a 2 cent increase every day since July 8. A weekend assessment from Lundberg Survey said gasoline prices declined by less than 1 percent compared to last month. The U.S. Energy Department said it expects gasoline prices for the season to level off at around $3.50 or so, though that's still higher than the $3.39 average reported year-on-year. (Related article: BP to the Rescue for Midwest Drivers)
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Former House Speaker and presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich said a then-struggling U.S. economy can't afford to spend billions of dollars overseas to buy foreign oil when there was plenty of that Texas tea at home in the United States. Gasoline prices, he said, could drop to $2.00 per gallon if drilling activity increased dramatically in the United States. A year later, nearly 90 million barrels of oil was produced worldwide and almost half of that came from new drilling operations in the United States. Gasoline is still nowhere near $2.00 per gallon even though the United States is mentioned in the same breath as Saudi Arabia. ( Continue… )
Shunichi Tanaka, the head of the Nuclear Regulation Authority in Japan, and the country’s chief nuclear regulator announced on Wednesday, that the nuclear power plant at Fukushima, has been leaking contaminated water into the ocean for the two years since the accident that saw three of the plants six reactors suffer a meltdown.
The problem stems from the fact that ground water is leaking into the basement of the damaged reactors, and becoming contaminated, and whilst that water is being pumped out and stored in huge tanks on site, the inflow has not yet been stopped, meaning that ever more ground water enters the basement and becomes contaminated.
Tanaka explains that neither his staff, nor those working for the plant’s operator have discovered where the leaks are coming from, and therefore have not been able to stop them. (Related article: Chernobyl at Sea? Russia Building Floating Nuclear Power Plants)
Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the power plants operator, has constantly denied that any of that water has been leaking into the Ocean, but in the last few days it has switched its position and finally admitted that it can’t actually say for sure that the water is not leaking into the sea. ( Continue… )
Recycling and Reusing Becoming an Imperative
There is no greater example of the water-energy nexus than the juncture where water meets the hydraulic fracturing process, or fracking, of natural gas and oil. This nexus has created a public-private crossroads, with both sides attempting to further their goals. For legislating and rulemaking bodies, their goals revolve around protecting public safety and natural resources needed by society.
For energy firms, producing energy to meet demand in a profitable way is the target. Non-governmental organizations play a public advocacy role as well, sometimes positively and constructively and sometimes losing sight of their mission. Increasingly, the challenge is about producing energy in the most environmentally-friendly manner, using less water more efficiently and responsibly, and utilizing natural resources as if a sustainable imperative were upon us. It may well be.
Many believe that the effects of climate change will be felt through water — extremes of floods and droughts, rising sea levels, and warming oceans, to name a few challenges. Whether viewing the water-energy nexus through the lens of climate change or resource sustainability, the impact of energy development on water resources has reached an inflection point. ( Continue… )
Which Oil Price to Watch?
Some economists and consumers are bracing for a sharp uptick in gasoline prices, because the price of crude oil has shot up by $10 per barrel in the last month. Except that it hasn’t, at least not if we’re talking about the global price of crude oil that’s factored into the price of the petroleum products sold in much of the US, especially along the coasts.
The global oil market, reflected in the price of UK Brent crude, is only up about $5 per barrel this month, mainly due to the situation in Egypt. A big part of the jump in domestic oil prices reflects the closing of a historically anomalous gap as US oil moves back into line with the rest of the world.
Such an increase in oil prices does not automatically herald a rise in gasoline prices, especially if it mainly erases a discount that benefited refiners in one region of the country. Moreover, gasoline and crude oil as commodities move in separate markets, linked but not in lock-step. Over the medium-to-longer term they must clearly be connected, but in the short term each responds to distinct forces of supply, demand, inventories and expectations. ( Continue… )
Canadian oil production is expected to be in a boom cycle for the next 20 years or so, fed largely by oil sands production in Alberta. Smaller players in the vast oil sands region are already making a splash with new operations while majors like TransCanada and Enbridge are quickly getting back to work following last month's flooding. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said parts of Quebec look like a "war zone" following last weekend's train wreck. With a fight on his hands to counter the dirty oil narrative, his administration, and those invested in the energy sector, may face more combat in the future if the oil sands engine runs out of track.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers expects national oil production to hit 6.7 million barrels per day by 2030, more than double the production level from last year. North American oil production is so strong that it's too much for existing pipeline capacity to handle. Canadian energy company Enbridge just got its pipeline services back on stream following devastating floods in oil-rich Alberta. It aims to build the mega Northern Gateway pipeline to British Columbia for energy-hungry Asian markets. On the other side of the country, Harper was forced to deal with the "war zone" left over when an oil train derailed in a Quebec town near Maine, refueling the oil debate on both sides of the border. (Related article: China’s Oil Demand Set to Fall as Environment Finally comes before Economy)
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CAPP said oil production from Alberta is expected to make up about 75 percent of the production gains through 2030. While no secret to those in the industry, oil sands production has been in the public's eye for the past few years because of thedebate surrounding TransCanada's planned Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta through the United States. In the shadow of giants like Enbridge and TransCanada are juniors like Aroway Energy, which said Wednesday it got the nod from the Alberta Energy Regulator to increase production from its Kirkpatrick Lake operations in the province. CEO Chris Cooper said the approval "could not have come at a better time" because oil prices are at all-time highs for the year. The boom from Alberta is such that even OPEC stood up and took notice in reporting this year. ( Continue… )
So much for the lessons of Fukushima. Never mind oil spills, the Russian Federation is preparing an energy initiative that, if it has problems, will inject nuclear material into the maritime environment.
Speaking to reporters at the 6th International Naval Show in St. Petersburg, Baltiskii Zavod shipyard general director Aleksandr Voznesenskii said that the Russian Federation’s first floating nuclear power plant “should be operational by 2016.”
Baltiysky Zavod is Russia’s biggest shipbuilding complex. According to Voznesenskii, the "Academician Lomonosov" FNPP will be the first vessel belonging to the new line of floating nuclear power plants that can provide energy, heat and water to remote and arid areas of the country, with mass production scheduled for the near future.
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The "Academician Lomonosov’s" technology is based on the USSR’s construction of nuclear-powered icebreakers. The Russian media is speculating that the FNPPS will first be used in remote areas of the northeastern Arctic Russia and the Far East, as these regions currently suffer from a lack of energy, slowing their development. Each 21,000 ton vessel will have two “modified KLT-40 naval propulsion reactors” that will provide up to 70 megawatts of electricity or 300 megawatts of heat, sufficient for a city with a population of 200,000 people. Additionally, the floating NPPs can provide water desalination services capable of supplying up to 240,000 cubic meters of fresh water per day. ( Continue… )
A nuclear plant shuts down when high temperatures overheat its reactor. A drought-stricken city bans the use of its increasingly scarce water in hydraulic fracturing. More than 8 million customers lose power when winds topple utility poles and a storm surge floods transformers and underground power lines.
That's not exactly breaking news to anyone who's ever suffered through a blackout in the midst of a storm, but the government report details the extent of energy's vulnerability to weather, from the light bulbs in your kitchen all the way to rigs drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. It's part of a growing recognition among local, state, and federal officials for a need to plan for and adapt to the planet's changing climate.
"When you think about any individual circumstance, it's not a surprise," Jonathan Pershing, who led the development of the DOE report, said in a phone interview. "What was a surprise was putting it all together and seeing how large and pervasive the damage is."
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Higher air and water temperatures, scarcer water resources, and more intense and frequent storms routinely disrupt modern energy infrastructure, according to the report. That includes high-profile failures like the outages in the wake of superstorm Sandy, but the report also points to less-visible, more pervasive ways in which energy is vulnerable to extreme weather and climate change. ( Continue… )
Touring a “Fracking” Site in Pennsylvania
It’s easy to talk about the shale gas revolution in the abstract and forget that it is the cumulative result of thousands of operations in locations across the country. It combines the technological marvel of precisely planned and executed drilling more than a mile below ground with the efforts of teams of skilled workers on the surface, and affects the surrounding community in many ways. Last month I had my first opportunity to visit one of these sites, near Williamsport in north-central Pennsylvania. I also saw several nearby sites in different stages of development. Although I was consistently impressed, I also tried to observe with the concerns of shale gas critics in mind.
The Anadarko Petroleum well “pad” I toured is located in Cogan House Township in rural Lycoming County, atop the Marcellus shale formation. This site visit for bloggers and other media was arranged by API, which also paid for accommodations in Williamsport. Anadarko provided experts from its local engineering and public affairs staffs and hosted a dinner with members of the community the evening before the site tour.
A Tightly Run Ship
I’m no stranger to industrial sites or oil fields, and I’ve invested countless hours researching and discussing shale drilling and hydraulic fracturing. When it comes to complex technical subjects like this, however, no amount of reading or Youtube videos can substitute for seeing the real thing and being able to talk to the people actually doing the job about how it all works. ( Continue… )
It turns out that both US and Canadian regulators have been warning for years that the type of rail car involved in the fatal derailment and explosion in Quebec on 6th July is far more prone to rupturing in accidents than other models available.
The rail car, known as the DOT-111, is produced by several manufacturers, and very popular, carrying most of the hazardous waste that is transported around North America by rail. Unfortunately the rail industry has persistently opposed any plans proposed by rail safety agencies to force retrofits on all the cars in order to make reduce the risk of leaks and fires during accidents.
Deborah Hersman, the chairman of the NTSB, said that “during a number of accident investigations over a period of years, the NTSB has noted that DOT-111 tank cars have a high incidence of tank failures during accidents.”
In June 2009 the NTSB led an investigation into a derailment in Illinois that killed one person, and concluded that inherent flaws in the design of the DOT-111 had probably worsened the spill, and that other rail tanks car models are designed to carry high pressure cargo and have thicker shells, and more protection in order to reduce the risk of leaks. (Related article: Rail v. Pipelines: No Safe Bet for Oil) ( Continue… )