Category: Energy

If North Dakota oil wells had a mirror image aboveground…

ND oil in the air
…This is what it would look like — Click to enlarge

More than 11,000 oil wells have been drilled in North Dakota since 2006, covering the state’s agricultural landscape. In all, almost 40,000 miles of well bores have been drilled underground to connect the fracking operations to surface wells. Laid end to end, they would circle the Earth about one and a half times.

On Sunday, The New York Times published a monthslong investigation by Deborah Sontag and Robert Gebeloff into North Dakota’s conflicted relationship with its booming oil industry. In the process of reporting that article, we obtained the locations of every oil drilling line of every well in the state.

The precise depths and directions of these remain out of sight for a very obvious reason: The drilling lines are underground. Here, we change that.

The illustrations shown here are accurate in every respect except one: We changed the vertical direction of each oil well bore to go above ground instead of below it. Otherwise, every bore line is shown precisely how it’s described by North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources.

Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy over lowered gasoline prices we’re all getting to enjoy. Why worry about air pollution when you can get in your car and drive to every sale in every brick-and-mortar store in your county over the weekend?

However – given my personal experience working for some of these profit-hungry creeps now awash in dollars as much as they are in oil – I could drive you into North Dakota blindfolded. And with the windows open in my pickup, you could tell when we were entering that oil field by the smell of what used to be clean air.

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China pledges $2 trillion leading fight against climate change

winter wind
Click to enlarge — Winter wind in Inner Mongolia

Chinese President Xi Jinping agreement last week with President Barack Obama requires a radical environmental and economic makeover. Xi’s commitment to cap carbon emissions by 2030 and turn to renewable sources for 20 percent of the country’s energy comes with a price tag of $2 trillion.

The pledge would require China to produce either 67 times more nuclear energy than the country is forecast to have at the end of 2014, 30 times more solar or nine times more wind power. That almost equals the non-fossil fuel energy of the entire U.S. generating capacity today. China’s program holds the potential of producing vast riches for nuclear, solar and wind companies that get in on the action.

“China is in the midst of a period of transition, and that calls for a revolution in energy production and consumption, which will to a large extent depend on new energy,” Liang Zhipeng, deputy director of the new energy and renewable energy department under the National Energy Administration, said at a conference in Wuxi outside of Shanghai this month. “Our environment is facing pressure and we must develop clean energy…”

By last year, China had already become the world’s largest producer of wind and solar power. Now, with an emerging middle class increasingly outspoken about living in sooty cities reminiscent of Europe’s industrial revolution, China is looking at radical changes in how its economy operates…

Meeting the challenge is anything but assured. China has already run into difficulty managing its renewables. About 11 percent of wind capacity sat unused last year because of grid constraints, with the rate rising to more than 20 percent in the northern provinces of Jilin and Gansu, according to the China Renewable Energy Engineering Institute.

I wonder if paragraphs like this are deliberately constructed to satisfy editorial jingoism or are the product of reporters who know nothing about alternative energy. Grid tie constraints is the single biggest problem – after flat earth politicians – facing all wind and solar installations, invariably built away from existing power transmission grids.

Xi sees no alternative to going big. “Letting children live in a good ecological environment is a very important part of the Chinese dream,” he said last week as he welcomed Asian leaders to a summit in Beijing. His words aren’t just lip service — pressure is building…

The targets Xi announced alongside Obama have been hailed as a boost for negotiations at a United Nations conference beginning Dec. 1 in Lima, Peru. Envoys from more than 190 nations are seeking to craft a global pact that world leaders will sign next year in Paris…

“The fact is the Chinese government know they need to clean things up,” Martijn Wilder, head of the global environmental markets practice at law firm Baker & McKenzie, said by phone from Sydney. “China is a developing country. There are challenges, but those are rapidly being addressed.”

RTFA for the useful bits scattered and there. The article isn’t the sort of State Department puppetry the NY TIMES has been famous for – since the start of the Cold War – but, it’s still a crap shoot which Bloomberg editor ends up providing “guidance”.

There is no mention that Congress will be controlled by dillweeds who not only won’t back up President Obama’s pledge to China and the world – they will actively work to promote the very opposite since they’re uniformly a clot of bought-and-paid-for climate change deniers.

How do you run a bus on poop?

The UK’s first bus powered entirely by human and food waste has gone into service between Bristol and Bath…The 40-seat “Bio-Bus” runs on biomethane gas generated through the treatment of sewage and food waste.

The eco-friendly vehicle can travel up to 300km (186 miles) on one tank of gas, which takes the annual waste of about five people to produce.

It is run by tour operator Bath Bus Company and will shuttle people between Bristol Airport and Bath city centre.

The biomethane gas is generated at Bristol sewage treatment works in Avonmouth, which is run by GENeco, a subsidiary of Wessex Water.

GENeco general manager Mohammed Saddiq said: “Gas-powered vehicles have an important role to play in improving air quality in UK cities but the Bio-Bus goes further than that and is actually powered by people living in the local area, including quite possibly those on the bus itself…”

Har! Hold that thought.

Bath Bus Company’s Collin Field, said: “With so much attention being directed towards improving air quality generally, the public reaction to the appearance of this bus on a service between a world heritage city and an airport will further focus on the potential for this particular fuel…”

Bristol sewage treatment works processes around 75 million cubic metres of sewage waste and 35,000 tonnes of food waste each year.

A total of 17 million cubic metres of biomethane, enough to power 8,300 homes, is generated annually at the plant through a process known as anaerobic digestion.

Yes, it gives me the idea to harass the pols in town – in Santa Fe. The city was the first in the United States to institute buses running on compressed natural gas. Seems to me the easy bit would be conversion to bio-gas. OTOH, the city’s wastewater and sewage treatment facility seems incredibly inefficient. Might be an occasion for doing something bright with the process?

Autoblog’s Technology of the Year is the BMW i8

No one’s pretending this is a car for everyone – even if you can afford one. But, it’s proof of concept that a production vehicle can have dynamic levels of performance in combination with better than average fuel consumption.

i8 small
Click to enlarge

The winner of Autoblog’s 2014 Technology of the Year award was given this year for not just one technology, but for how a suite of technologies worked together to make one impressive vehicle.

The BMW i8 was named the winner Wednesday night at the Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles, just outside the Los Angeles Auto Show. Autoblog’s editorial staff agreed that the i8, which drew crowds of attention during our testing days, represents a future of driving that we can’t wait to see happen…

Ultimately, we picked the car that excited us the most. The BMW i8 has a throaty exhaust note when accelerating. It’s got carbon fiber, and a plug-in hybrid system that uses a small 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine and an electric motor. It has through-the-road all-wheel drive, and in Europe it’ll come with laser beams for headlights.

All that, and it’s a massive eye catcher. People stop and stare when they see this car, for good reason. It’s simply gorgeous. For a more in-depth look at the Car and Driver test, click here.

An engine governor holds top speed down to 155mph. 0-60 times are under 4 seconds. Yet, through the C&D testing cycle and track testing they averaged 24mpg. With an electric-only range of 22 miles, this critter can match the mileage of a Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid IMHO.

Of course, the Ford ain’t $136K.

Fracking fluids not any more toxic than common household products

wyoming-jonah-oil-and-gas
Click to enlarge — The Jonah natural gas field in Wyoming

The chemicals found in fracking fluid collected in five states — including Colorado — were no more toxic than common household substances, according to a newly released study by researchers at the University of Colorado.

The study…found that chemicals in the fracking fluid samples also were found in everyday products such as toothpaste, detergent, ice cream and laxatives.

Michael Thurman…said, “At least so far, we’re finding chemicals that are more friendly to the environment,” Thurman said. “The compounds are not the kinds of things we consider toxic.”

The study examined samples from Colorado, Nevada, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Texas. According to the researchers, fracking fluid is comprised mostly of water and sand, but oil and gas companies add a variety of other chemicals such as anti-bacterial agents, corrosion inhibitors and surfactants — chemicals that reduce the surface tension between water and oil…

There have been concerns about the chemicals used by oil and gas companies in fracking. Recent state and federal regulations require companies to disclose what is being used in their fracking fluids, but companies typically use broad chemical categories to describe the actual ingredients to avoid revealing what they consider proprietary information.

The researchers cautioned that individual well operators might use different chemicals based on location, and said there are still other concerns about fracking, including air pollution, the antimicrobial biocides used in fracking fluids, wastewater disposal triggering earthquakes and the large amount of water used.

But Thurman said water pollution from surfactants in fracking fluid may not be as concerning as some people had thought, with the really toxic surfactants, such as endocrine disruptors, not being used in the wells that were tested.

“Not finding those chemicals is really important,” he said.

Thurman said he plans to continue analyzing the surfactants used in fracking and wants to look at more samples to determine if those he identified in the study are in fact used widely. If they are, he said, they could be used as markers to determine if a well or other groundwater source has been contaminated by fracking fluid.

A pleasant surprise. Well drillers are gunshy because of the number of times they’ve been caught and found guilty of environmental degradation. They’ve actually increased the perception of wrongdoing by their secrecy fetish.

I’ve worried less about the process of fracking than most of my enviro peers because I have at least a minimal comprehensions of geology. Looking at aquifers here in Santa Fe County I get lots of chuckles from panic-stricken water dweebs who don’t know what an aquifer really is, how many we have in the region and how thoroughly they are separated. Plus – I admit – I’m a little smug from living at the dead end of the major Ancha aquifer – watching the water table rise because everyone upstream is diligently working at using less water. :)

The most important points Michael Thurman raises remain – and should guide opposition to more oil well-drilling in general – especially air pollution, wastewater disposal triggering earthquakes and the large amount of water used. Methane is going to continue to work its way into the atmosphere from every kind of oil well/oil field on the planet. Most of the industry’s production is from fields with lower standards than the United States. And you might remember that we’re only 6% of the land mass on the planet.

The fight against fossil fuel has to be planet-wide – and dedicated. Not just this election cycle – not just because the Blue Meanie Republicans are obedient pawns of the Oil Patch Boys.

Thanks, Mike

Collateral damage – from Mike’s research: Sioux Nations oppose Keystone XL pipeline.

Did you ever realize how bad a comet smells?

Researchers describe the scent coming off 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as reminiscent of rotten eggs and a horse stable.

They had outfitted Rosetta with a sort of artificial nose — an instrument called ROSINA — that can analyze gas vapors and replicate smell. Among other trace chemicals, Chury offers a powerful punch of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide.

The strong presence of rotten egg (hydrogen sulfide) and horse stable (ammonia) smells are accented by notes of alcohol (methane) and vinegar (sulfur dioxide). In case that wasn’t gross enough, the hyrdogen cyanide and carbon disulfide offer a hint of sugared almonds.

Researchers say it’s the first time they’ve really gotten a good whiff of a comet.

“We’ve never been that close to a comet,” Kathrin Altwegg, the researcher who manages the ROSINA instrument from a lab at the University of Bern in Switzerland…

The comet — which Rosetta tried to anchor to with the exploratory craft called Philae — is 250 million miles from the sun. But it’s getting closer. And that’s bad news for astronomers with a weak stomach.

“The closer the comet gets to the sun, the more of its ice will evaporate, and the gas emissions will get more intense,” Altwegg explained to Deutsche Welle.

Sounds like the next time Earthlings sneak up on a comet and land on it to research its composition – we might include a little gas-powered engine in addition to solar panels to power the research vehicle. Something that runs on horse farts.

[Adapted from an article published just before Philae landed on 67P]

Unintended consequences — DOE loan program is now profitable

The U.S. Department of Energy, led by Secretary Ernie Moniz, is trying to change how people perceive its loan program, which doled out over $30 billion in loans over the years, funding clean energy projects like huge solar panel farms, but also now-bankrupt solar startup Solyndra. Why? Because the Department has another $40 billion left to hand out in the program, and of course it wants that process to go as smoothly as possible.

Moniz and DOE officials said in interviews Thursday morning that the loan program is now starting to make a small profit ($30 million from interest payments), and eventually the program could bring in between $5 billion and $6 billion over 20 years.

Not that realities of government research and kickstarter programs are anything conservative pundits and politicians will ever admit to being useful.

The program wasn’t designed to make money, and it actually had $10 billion set aside to cover losses. The loss rate on the first $30 billion was only 2.28 percent, or $780 million, of which $535 million was for Solyndra, and some of the rest from Fisker. Abound Solar and Vehicle Production Group were also small losses. Now interest payments have covered all of those losses and brought it into the black…

For example, the DOE loan program funded a number of large solar panel farms that couldn’t get debt financing with its first $30 billion about five years ago, Moniz pointed out last month. But now that solar panel farm development has come down in price substantially, and private funding has become readily available, the private sector has taken over this type of investment and the DOE has moved on. This is the type of model that works for the DOE, said Moniz. But of course bringing newly commercial technologies to market can be risky…

With the…news that the original loan program is actually profitable, it will be interesting to hear from all those critics who used Solyndra as a political talking point, including in the last presidential election. Is the ghost of Solyndra finally dead? If the money’s been covered by interest payments, it seems as if it should be.

I think Katie Fehrenbacher has a cynical streak in her DNA at least as persistent as mine. After all, she earns her living writing about cleantech, clean energy and the struggle to develop national policy based on science and humanity. None of which are topics of interest to Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats or the sort of cretin who hasn’t embraced a new economic or social idea since the designated hitter was allowed in half of baseball.

But, I appreciate her optimism. Even if it presumes courage and understanding I consider scarce.

Denmark on track for 100% renewable energy

Denmark, a tiny country on the northern fringe of Europe, is pursuing the world’s most ambitious policy against climate change. It aims to end the burning of fossil fuels in any form by 2050 — not just in electricity production, as some other countries hope to do, but in transportation as well.

Now a question is coming into focus: Can Denmark keep the lights on as it chases that lofty goal?

Anyone at the TIMES realize what a wonderful context requires a question like this?

Lest anyone consider such a sweeping transition to be impossible in principle, the Danes beg to differ. They essentially invented the modern wind-power industry, and have pursued it more avidly than any country. They are above 40 percent renewable power on their electric grid, aiming toward 50 percent by 2020. The political consensus here to keep pushing is all but unanimous.

The trouble, if it can be called that, is that renewable power sources like wind and solar cost nothing to run, once installed. That is potentially a huge benefit in the long run.

But as more of these types of power sources push their way onto the electric grid, they cause power prices to crash at what used to be the most profitable times of day.

That can render conventional power plants, operating on gas or coal or uranium, uneconomical to run. Yet those plants are needed to supply backup power for times when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining…

The governments have offered short-term subsidies, knowing that if they force companies to operate these plants at a loss, it will be a matter of time before the companies start going bankrupt.

Throughout Europe, governments have come to the realization that electricity markets are going to have to be redesigned for the new age, but they are not pursuing this task with urgency. A bad redesign could itself throw customers into the dark, after all, as happened in California a decade ago…

Amazing. An adult supposedly knowledgeable about power generation, pricing and, yes, price manipulation – who apparently never heard of Enron. The corrupt company with even more corrupt capitalists at the helm who deliberately induced many of California’s so-called power shortages.

The government is…well aware that it needs to find a way out of this box. Environmental groups, for their part, have tended to sneer at the problems the utilities are having, contending that it is their own fault for not getting on the renewables bandwagon years ago…

So the trick now is to get the market redesign right. A modest version of reform would essentially attach a market value, and thus a price, to standby capacity. But Rasmus Helveg Petersen, the Danish climate minister, told me he was tempted by a more ambitious approach. That would involve real-time pricing of electricity for anyone using it — if the wind is blowing vigorously or the sun is shining brightly, prices would fall off a cliff, but in times of shortage they would rise just as sharply.

As Denmark, like other countries, installs more smart meters and smart appliances able to track those prices with no human intervention, one can imagine a system in which demand would adjust smoothly to the available supply. Most people would not care if their water heater were conspiring with other water heaters to decide when to switch on and off, as long as hot water reliably came out of the tap.

Has Mr. Gillis ever traveled, lived among ordinary folks in Europe? First time I ran into tankless hot water heaters was in Switzerland – in 1971. Prices gave been coming down as efficiencies rose – even for electric models instead of gas-fired. We installed an on-demand electric hot water heater in our home this summer for less than $400 for the unit. Our household electric bill is down 20-30%. Payback in one year.

Yet, even if Denmark can figure out a proper design for the electric market, it has another big task to meet its 2050 goal: squeezing the fossil fuels out of transportation…Mr. Petersen told me he still felt electrification of cars was the way to go, but the cars themselves were not really ready.

“We need longer range and lower prices before this becomes a good option,” he said. “Technology needs to save us here.”

Fortunately, there are more than one or two automobile manufacturers dedicated to resolving that portion of the questions asked. Builders ranging from Volkswagen/Audi/Porsche to Mercedes, Nissan/Renault, target less expensive electric cars with ranges extending 250 to 550 miles decades before the 2050 renewable electrification target date.

At the mid-price point and up for big luxury cars Tesla is already there.

An important footnote BTW. Save the arguments about “manageable” small countries vs what is needed to change over the United States. It can be done one state at a time, one region at a time. Denmark is bigger than a number of states. So is the size of that nation’s population.

The important bit is that the citizens and politicians are also smarter, sensible and willing to change. That’s the significant comparison.

Steampunk Stirling cycle engines

When Jos de Vink retired from a career in computer technology in 2002, he began casting about for an engaging project. His neighbor, a passionate model builder, challenged him to design a working hot air engine driven solely by the heat of a tea or wax light.

De Vink produced a trial engine using the principles of the first hot air engine built by Robert Stirling in 1816. He displayed it for his model club and at a model exhibition in the Netherlands and, encouraged by the response, began to build more.

By 2010 he had created about 27 engines and began construction on several Stirling low temperature difference (LTD) engines that can run on the warmth of a human hand.

“De Vink designs his engines from scraps of brass and bronze from a scrap dealer,” writes Art Donovan in The Art of Steampunk. “The machines demonstrate the possibility of moving large objects using little energy and show different drive techniques used by hot air engine builders for the past two centuries.”

Thanks, Ursarodinia