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… )
Nuclear energy: climate change solution? Former opponents say yes. (Sponsor content)
Ultimately, the movie Pandora’s Promise asks one question: Are you passionate enough about saving the environment to consider nuclear energy?
The documentary-styled movie chronicles five anti-nuclear-energy environmentalists who struggled deeply with that question—and answered, “Yes.”
Since the movie’s debut last month, numerous environmentally conscious Americans have seen the film and spoken about their appreciation for its content, facts, and insights. But some activists have blindly refused to see the movie, and stridently complained about what they think is in it.
See Pandora’s Promise for yourself in a theater near you, and develop your own informed opinion—as reviewers did at these publications:
- Time magazine: Radioactive Green: Pandora’s Promise Rethinks Nuclear Power
- New York Times: A Rebel Filmmaker Tilts Conservative
- The New Yorker: Time to go Nuclear
- NYT Dot Earth: ‘Pandora’s Promise’ Director and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Debate Nuclear Options
- EnergyCollective: Pandora’s Promise, Nuclear Energy Documentary, Asks: What Are You Wrong About?
Many more Pandora’s Promise movie reviews here.
The Canadian government said it was committed to a safe rail transit network following a weekend derailment in a Quebec town near the border with Maine. At least five people were killed Saturday when a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota slipped the track and exploded in Lac-Megantic. The federal government said it was in charge of the investigation, though it was unclear what initially led to the incident. Oil deliveries by rail have increased along with North American crude oil production. In a tit-for-tat season of pipeline and rail incidents, it's becoming clear there are no clear-cut winners for crude oil transit.
MMA reported Sunday the fires associated with the weekend derailment were mostly extinguished. Provincial and federal authorities are in charge of the investigation, though the rail company said it believed the air brakes holding the freight in place were released. Canadian Transportation Minister Denis Lebel said the agency wouldn't hesitate to take appropriate action to highlight the government's commitment to safety.
"Safety is our top priority, day-in and day-out," he said. (Related article: Nabucco is Dealt Another Blow as Azeri Gas to Use TAP Pipeline)
The MMA line was carrying about 50,000 barrels of oil from the Bakken shale play in North Dakota to an oil refinery in New Brunswick at the time of the accident. Oil deliveries by rail have increased steadily in North America because pipeline capacity can't keep pace with production gains. The American Association of Railroads reported rail deliveries for petroleum and petroleum products increased 26.6 percent in the last week of June year-on-year. Overall freight transit by rail was down, however, including in Canada, highlighting the increase in oil-by-rail shipments. Maine railways alone hosted30,000 barrels of oil per day, an increase from the 2,000 bpd reported last year. ( Continue… )
Repsol SA has had to delay plans to begin drilling for shale gas in the north of Spain after a local government banned all hydraulic fracturing operations.
Spain’s richest shale gas reserves have been determined to exist in the northern region of Cantabria, but back in April the local Cantabrian government implemented the country’s first fracking ban, worried that such activities may pollute the local sources of drinking water. (Related article: Duke University Study Links Fracking to Ground Water Contamination)
Repsol had planned to begin seismic studies, with a view to drilling, in July, but the Cantabrian fracking ban, which prevents all hydraulic fracturing activities within the region’s borders, has put a hold on plans. In truth, it is not fully understood how the ban will affect Repsol, whose Luena project covers 290 square miles, and stretches from Cantabria down to Castille & Leon. Normally when a project extends across two regions or more it is regulated by the national Industry Ministry, not local governments. ( Continue… )
Keystone XL’s Insignificant Contribution to Climate
Last month President Obama unveiled a new plan to combat climate change in a speech at Georgetown University. While there is generally broad consensus that his comments further threaten the already battered US coal industry, his comments on TransCanada’s (TSX: TRP, NYSE: TRP) Keystone XL pipeline project had pundits guessing at his meaning. Here is what the President said in his speech about Keystone XL:
Now, I know there’s been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline, the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. And the State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That’s how it’s always been done. But I do want to be clear: Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.
The reason that there have been widely differing views on the President’s intentions boils down to his use of the phrase “only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” The State Department’s Draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS)for the Keystone XL Pipeline project already concluded that approval of the project would have little impact on global carbon dioxide emissions or on the development of the oil sands because of their view that the oil will get to market one way or another. More on that below.
My own position is that it doesn’t matter whether the pipeline is built, because I also think — for reasons I detail below — that the project will make no measurable contribution one way or another to the global climate. In my opinion, after digging through the data I believe that the pipeline is irrelevant as far as the global climate is concerned. In fact, I will demonstrate below why I believe that this is so. The only reason I care at all about this issue — as I explained in Protesting Keystone XL While Rome Burns — is that I think it is a misallocation of resources when we don’t have time to misallocate resources. It also conveys a false impression of the most important drivers of global carbon emissions.
Let’s first use a bit of science and data to see what the numbers imply about the significance of Keystone XL — even for a worst case scenario. Here’s a 3-step exercise that anyone can do to estimate the impact based on specific sets of assumptions: ( Continue… )
The trend in solar cell research at the moment is aimed at increasing the conversion efficiency, resulting in most solar cells now able to convert 15 -20 percent of the solar energy they receive into electricity, and the most efficient modules operating at 30 percent efficiency.
Researchers at MIT, however, have been taking a different route in their research. They have been working on making the solar cells far thinner, and with fewer materials. In a paper titled “Extraordinary Sunlight Absorption and 1 nm-Thick Photovoltaics using Two-Dimensional Monolayer Materials” they described how they have managed to develop a technique for creating solar cells that are only two molecules thick (the thinnest solar cells possible).
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Jeffrey Grossman, the Carl Richard Soderberg Associate Professor of Power Engineering at MIT, who authored the paper along with Marco Bernardi, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Materials Science, and Maurizia Palummo, a senior researcher visiting MIT from the University of Rome, explained that they used nanotechnology to place a one-molecule thick layer of grapheme on top of a one-molecule thick layer of molybdenum disulphide, creating a solar cell that is just one nanometre thick. Admittedly the resulting solar cell can only offer a conversion efficiency of 1-2 percent, but by placing multiple cells one on top of the other the overall generation capacity can be far greater than conventional cells; as much as 1,000 times more energy per pound than normal.(Related Article: The Evolving Efficiency of Photovoltaic Solar Panels) ( Continue… )
The U.S. natural gas market may be on the verge of a big swing.
And it’s not about the talk of the town, Liquid Natural Gas (LNG).
It's about an unexpected source of natural gas demand:
Mexican imports of U.S. gas have skyrocketed 92% since 2008. And with export capacity projected to grow to over 7 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), Mexico could start taking 10% of U.S. production—in a very short time frame, with very low capital costs compared to the LNG boom unfolding.
There is a lot less risk, and a lot less cost in getting huge natural gas exports to Mexico, compared to LNG—and the volumes may be enough to move margins in the North American market. ( Continue… )
America's oil boom is generating talk of something unthinkable five years ago: energy independence. But true energy independence means more than the United States supplying all its own oil.
It means that the price of America's oil is no longer set by countries in some of the most unstable regions of the world. It means that the consumer and the Department of Defense are no longer at the mercy of energy price spikes. And it means that we are able to protect our national security interests and our environmental health.
The good news is that, given present trends, we can achieve all that in the next few years. The challenge is that we can't do it by relying on oil alone.
For the average US consumer, the idea that the gas she pumps comes from Texas or North Dakota may be heartening on a theoretical level, but as a practical matter she measures her energy independence by the impact of energy prices on her wallet. There, the trends aren't heartening. In 2012, the average US household spent $257 more to fuel the family car than the year before, even while using far fewer gallons. As Americans take off for the July 4 holiday, they will drive 0.8 percent less than last year, according to the AAA, because their finances are squeezed. ( Continue… )