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Archive for April, 2011

Energy At the Movies at SXSW

April 29, 2011 1 comment

During this year’s South By Southwest (SXSW) interactive music and film festival in Austin, TX, an event was held to discuss Energy at the Movies. Hosted by Dr. Michael E. Webber of The University of Texas at Austin, this event focused on energy as it is portrayed in and influenced by the silver screen. After giving a lecture on this topic, Dr. Webber hosted a panel discussion with research scientist and author Sheril Kirshenbaum, film historian and UT film Professor Dr. Charles Ramirez-Berg, screenwriter and director Matthew Chapman, and producer Turk Pipkin. Yesterday, UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering released video of this discussion. If you’d like to check out the lecture that inspired this discussion, you can access the youtube video here.

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Democrats Pounce on Subsidies After Boehner’s Comments

April 26, 2011 1 comment

Yesterday, Speaker of the House John Boehner (Republican – Ohio) said that “we oughta be looking at” ending some federal oil and gas subsidies, stating that oil and gas companies should “pay their fair share in taxes.” The Republican leader’s seemingly casual commentary has caused waves in Washington and online, with former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (Democrat – California) tweeting that is was “nice to see @SpeakerBoehner open to ending billions in taxpayer subsidies for Big Oil.”

Today, in response to Speaker Boehner’s comments, President Obama released a letter calling for immediate action to repeal tax breaks and incentives for big oil and gas. Is this letter, the President urged current House and Senate leadership to:

…take immediate action to eliminate unwarranted tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, and to use those dollars to invest in clean energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

The President went on to discuss the burden of rising gas prices on Americans, and his support of Representative Boehner’s comments in support of evaluating the advisability of existing tax breaks. Citing his Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future (Released March 30, 2011), President Obama reiterated his belief that the United States must work toward cleaner, domestic sources of energy.

Speaker Boehner has already begun his quick retreat from yesterday’s statements – but, it appears to be too late to call a retreat as Democrats and the administration have already pounced on the controversial issue.

Now is the moment – to move away from foreign oil?

April 25, 2011 4 comments

Yale environment 360

According to the last 8 Presidents of the United States, our nation’s dependence on foreign oil is concerning (at best) and threatens our long-term success (at worst?). Each of these Presidents has supported the reduction or elimination of our dependence on foreign oil sources, but none have succeeded. Today, in an article in Yale Environment 360, Professor Michael Graetz discusses the challenges in breaking a 40-year energy policy losing streak. Before the 1970s, the United States met its oil demand with domestic sources – think Texas Tea and Henry Hub oil spot prices – but, as demand has increased, domestic oil production rates have not been able to keep up. Today, we import approximately 3.5 billion barrels of oil each year. And, while the majority comes from Canada and Mexico, we still import 5 million barrels of oil from OPEC countries EVERY DAY. In the face of these staggering numbers, our current President has declared that we must reduce the amount of fuel that we import. On March 30, I wrote a piece about his 4 part plan to reduce US demand of foreign oil.

  1. Increase domestic oil production
  2. Implement new natural gas industry incentives
  3. Develop biofuel resources
  4. Reduce energy consumption with efficiency
But, according to Professor Graetz, this plan could be doomed for failure in the face of 40+ years of energy policy failures. In his opinion, the key to success does not lie in incentives or encouraging domestic production. Instead, it is found in our ability to establish an energy price that reflects the “true cost” of using these energy resources.
In the thousands of pages of energy legislation and regulations enacted since energy policy came to the fore in the 1970s, Congress has never demanded that Americans pay a price that reflects the true price of the energy they consume. For nearly a decade following the oil embargo of 1973, Congress refused even to allow the price of gas at the pump to reflect the worldwide market price of oil. No one now contemplates requiring gasoline prices to include, for example, the costs of keeping oil moving safely from the Persian Gulf into our gas tanks, or insisting that our electricity prices reflect the costs of coal pollution or of nuclear power safety.

The HIVE: How high-tech solutions stopped the Gulf oil spill

April 24, 2011 Leave a comment

bp-oil-spill-macondo-wellFeatured on Scientific American this week is an article discussing how science and technology stopped last summer’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The piece, authored by Scientific American’s David Biello, provides a narrative of how scientific discussion and collaboration resulted in a solution to one of history’s largest environmental disasters.

The article discusses how high-tech solutions were discusses, discarded and improved upon until they could finally be used to stop the stream of oil gushing into the Gulf.

Forty-eight hours into an attempt to muscle a gusher of oil back into the deep-sea well from which it spewed, the flow of petroleum and gas refused to slow. Screen after screen in a special room at BP’s headquarters in Houston showed the oil gushing undiminished, silently witnessed underwater by remotely operated vehicles(ROVs).

The room—called the HIVE, for Highly Immersive Visualization Environment—was hardly the only place at BP buzzing with activity. Earlier, locked in the 10-meter-square “intervention room” on the third floor, scientist fought scientist in the battle over whether to proceed with an established way to plug the leak, the so-called “top kill” operation…

Texas Lawmakers Consider State Energy Council

April 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Senator Troy Fraser photoTexas State Senator Troy Fraser, a Republican from Horseshoe Bay, has proposed that the state create a new energy council under Senate Bill 15. According to a recent article by the Texas Tribune’s Kate Galbraithe, Senator Fraser’s proposal would create a Texas Energy Planning Council tasked with planning the state’s energy  policy. In a hearing last week in the Texas Senate Natural Resource Committee, key language was removed that would have required the new council to identify the electricity fleets highest polluting power plants. This information would enable state planners to modify long-term strategic plans to decrease the environmental impact of the state’s power generation fleet.

ARPA-E: Leaping Ahead in Energy Storage Innovation

April 16, 2011 Leave a comment

The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) works at the heart of high-risk energy innovations. Modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), ARPA-E was established in 2007 to promote and fund energy technology research and development. With an annual budget in the neighborhood of $400 million, this agency supports the development of technologies that result in reductions in imported fuels and energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions, while improving energy efficiency across all sectors.

On Thursday, the agency’s director Arun Majumdar announced that a new technology will be tested on the nation’s electric grid. It is believed that the first company to be tested in this grid environment will be an advanced compressed air energy storage (CAES) technology. This technology could efficiently store energy in the form of compressed air, which can be stored and later released – creating a type of air battery that can be used on the gigawatt (power plant) scale.

DC Budget Cuts Impact Texas Drinking Water

April 15, 2011 Leave a comment

One week ago, Congress narrowly avoided a federal government shutdown with an 11th-hour budget compromise to the tune of $38 billion in budget cuts. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was spared the most extensive fo the proposed budget cuts, its funding was still significantly reduced. In Texas, these cuts will result in a $55 million reduction in federal funding support for clean water projects in the state.

According to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), there are currently more than $700 million worth of drinking water projects currently on the board in Texas. Most of these 160+ projects will be delayed with this cut in funding for the next fiscal year.

California will also face significant reductions in funding, to the tune of $30 million.

Categories: Environment