Archive for May, 2010

Because we haven’t made a transition to a new energy future

Regardless of the outcome of BP’s ‘top kill‘ process at stopping the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, this disaster has probably already resulted in the largest spill in U.S. history. I say likely because, unlike an oil spill where a known volume of oil flows out of a tanker, at which point no more oil flows (the ship is empty), the Gulf oil leak is continuous. At a mile under the water’s surface, it is very difficult to calculate exactly how much oil has escaped. What we do know is that it’s A LOT of oil – likely more than any other spill in U.S. history. And we haven’t stopped the flow of oil after more than a month.

Yesterday, President Obama spoke about the need for our country to transition to a new energy future dependent on alternative and renewable fuels. A quote from this speech

“But we also have to face a broader fact. There’s a reason why those folks are out there drilling a mile down in the water, and then when they hit ground a mile down, they have to go another mile down to get oil. That’s an expensive proposition, it’s a dangerous proposition, it’s a risky proposition. Why are we doing it? Well, we’re doing it because we have not made a transition to a new energy future.”


‘Top Kill’ effort begins in the Gulf

BP started it’s ‘top kill’ procedure today as its latest efforts to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosionlast month. This procedure uses mud to slow the flow of oil into the ocean from the oil well and then pumps concrete unto the well, sealing-off the oil’s exit. BP says that they will know in the next few days if the procedure has worked.

Check out a video explaining the ‘top kill’ procedure here.

For those who haven’t seen it yet, below is a video taken by the US Coast Guard of the post-explosion fire on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

Senate Republicans Try to Steal EPA’s Thunder

Yesterday, my blog post was on the EPA’s work in developing a structure under which they can regulate large stationary emitters of greenhouse gases. This work could provide an alternative method of reducing these emissions if congress is unable to pass proposed carbon cap and trade legislation into law. The EPA has recently issued their proposed rule for regulating greenhouse gas emissions and several congressmen are striking back. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is co-sponsoring a resolution with Senator Lindsey Graham (R- South Carolina) that would tie the EPA’s hands (at least for a while) by disapproving their finding that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health and welfare. The resolution is expected to be voted on in 2-3 weeks. The resolution’s co-sponsor is the same Senator Graham who worked with Senators Kerry and Lieberman on developing the Senate’s current energy and climate bill proposal, titled the American Power Act, only to step away from the table just before its reveal. According to Senator Graham, many of the supporters of this resolution believe that we need federal regulations to reduction greenhouse gas emissions. However, they believe that this type of regulation should come from Congress and not from the EPA.

Greenhouse Gases Going Down Under the Clean Air Act

May 23, 2010 1 comment

Federal lawmakers have been working for over a year on the development of energy and climate legislation that would regulate the emission of greenhouse gases. This legislation currently sits in the Senate, where a proposal released last week by Senators Kerry and Lieberman has sparked significant discussion and debate.

But the Obama Administration has not put all its eggs in this legislative basket. The Administration is also pursuing regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under existing legislative authority held by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act, the EPA may regulate greenhouse gases that threaten public health and welfare. On December 7th of last year, the EPA announced its finding regarding current and projected concentrations of six different greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide) in our atmosphere. The finding (in short) acknowledged the negative impact of these gases.

Subsequent to this finding, the EPA has developed a set of guidelines that would govern their actions to regulate emissions from large power plants, factories and oil refineries. Under a rule proposed last Thursday, qualifying facilities would be limited in their ability to emit certain greenhouse gases. These facilities would include those that emit at least 75,000 tons (for existing plants) of greenhouse gases per year or 100,000 tons per year for new facilities. These facilities represent 70 percent of stationary greenhouse emissions in the United States today. Mobile emitters (aka you and me when we’re driving our cars) would not be directly impacted by this rule – though we would certainly feel its indirect impact from regulations on oil refineries.

We should be “leaning forward”

Great post by David Roberts in grist todayWhy the American Power Act is Worth Fighting For

“Right now, policy is being made out of fear: fear by the private sector that decarbonization will be a crushing burden; fear by consumers that their energy prices will skyrocket; fear by politicians that the project will prove electorally unpopular. Campaigners can organize marches, think tanks can put out reports, scientists can issue dire warnings, but ultimately, that fear simply can’t be overcome in advance. The only way to overcome it is through experience.”

Longhorns, Long Wires, and Big Ideas in Green Energy

Check out the guest post I wrote for Discover Magazine’s blog, The Intersection.

As the nation moves toward a green energy future, it has found a leader in Texas. While Washington debates federal clean energy policies, the Lone Star State has taken up the reins in the renewable energy sphere. Should we be surprised that this iconic leader in our nation’s energy history is now uniquely positioned to lead us into our energy future?

As a University of Texas at Austin graduate student and a woman with deep hill countryroots I’m well acquainted with the state’s reputation as the home of big oil and gas. This image has been cultivated over the years through scenes with James Dean (Jett Rink) inGiant and Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing) inDallas. Truth-be-told, much of the economic development in the past 100 years in Texas can trace its roots back to 1901 whenSpindletop came gushing in and the real-world Jetts and J.R.s found their strides.

Today, Texas is the nation’s leader in total energy consumption, using about 12 percent of the country’s total energy. If Texas was a nation, it would rank seventh in the world for carbon dioxide emissions – just ahead of Canada and a smidgeon behind Germany. Texas boasts some of the largest petroleum refineries in the United States and the Houston area, including its aptly namedEnergy Corridor, is home to many oil and gas giants including Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Shell, BP America, and Exxon Mobil. The Lone Star State is undeniably a principal in the traditional energy industry and at the same time is uniquely positioning itself to be the nation’s leader in the green energy movement, particularly green electricity.

Texas is not only rich in oil and gas reservoirs (good ole Texas Tea), but also has expansive renewable energy resources including solar and wind. Over the past decade, the state has cultivated its wind power industry with a set of progressive policies including a statewide renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that have driven Texas to be the nation’s leader in wind power. To date, almost 10 gigawatts (GW) of wind capacity have been installed within the state’s borders – enough to power almost 3 million homes. On February 28, 2010 Texas hit another impressive benchmark when it supplied a jaw-dropping 22% of its total electricity demand using wind energy. In doing so, it demonstrated the state’s ability to be a model for adding renewable electricity to the grid throughout the nation.

Why Texas? What makes Texas unique?

I’d like to offer up what I believe is the main reason – Texas’s electricity grid.

In the continental United States, there are three grids (East, West and Texas) that serve as electricity pipelines to move electricity from power plants to our homes and businesses. The self-contained Texas grid (operated by ERCOT) is unique. It allows for regulation of transmission on a state basis, as intrastate activities are not overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissions (affectionately called FERC).  This means that, if Texans want to test the limits on how much renewable energy they put on the grid or see how a renewable energy technology performs in a grid system, they can do so without Washington’s approval. In other words, Texas is like a 100+ million acre test lab that the entire nation can benefit from.

A shining example of this is seen in the state’s capital. In Austin’s Mueller Development, the Pecan Street Project has taken on the role of America’s clean energy laboratory.  This laboratory spans over 711 acres and is home to approximately 10,000 residents that live in 4,600 single-family, condo, or apartment homes. Twenty-five percent of these homes are reserved for families that qualify for affordable housing programs. Also on the site are Dell Children’s Hospital, a Home Depot, and a town center full of cafes and shops. Not exactly your traditional Bunsen burner and vent hood, but rather a huge outdoor dynamic laboratory for real time feedback and data collection.

The Pecan Street Project is bringing together scientists (engineers, geologists, and chemists), politicians (from rural Republicans to urban Democrats), and Texas residents from all walks of life to see what we can achieve. This community, inspired by the smart grid concept, will test theories and technologies like advanced energy storage, real-time pricing, and an array of efficiency projects that not only target energy, but will also work to decrease water demand in the community. And the best part of this project is that the lessons we learn from this community will be shared with the rest of the nation.

Texas has a rich energy history and appears to have equally high prospects for its energy future. Because of its unique position – with rich resources and independence in its grid – it is able to pursue exciting opportunities in the energy arena that the nation (and the world) will benefit from in the future.

Venezuelan Natural Gas Rig Sinks into Caribbean

Earlier today, a Venezuelan natural gas exploration rig sank in the Caribbean sea. According to Venezuela’s Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez, no gas escaped from the Aban Pearl rig site after the platform disappeared beneath the waves and sank of Venezuela’s northeast coast.

This incident was announced by President Hugo Chavez via Twitter. He stated that all 95 workers on the rig had been safely evacuated before the rig sank and that the rig’s safety valves had all been activated, removing the risk of gas leaks.