THE BURN BLOG: April 24, 2012

The University of Texas is curating this series of blogs to raise important questions about Energy.  This is a unique opportunity for you to join in discussions with some of the world’s brightest energy minds.

 

BP Responds to Tad Patzek on Safety at BP

Daren Beaudo

April 24, 2012
 

Safety is at the heart of everything we do – driven by our leaders and applied through our operating management system. Our safety and risk management approach is built on deep experience in the oil and gas industry. This includes learning from the conclusions of investigations into the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and the Texas City refinery explosion in 2005, as well as operations audits, annual risk reviews, other incident investigations and from industry practice of sharing experience.

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Major Sources of Energy: Their Advantages and Disadvantages

There is no easy answer to what is the best source of energy or electricity. Is the priority reliability, affordability, the economy, international human rights, limiting greenhouse gas emissions, preserving environmental resources, or human health?

 

 

 

 

 

It’s undeniable that today — whether we like it or not — humans worldwide are overwhelmingly dependent on fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas. Everything eaten, worn, lived in, and bought is tied to availability of fossil fuels. Even if 100 percent of politicians were determined to stop using them today, society has neither the electricity grid nor the vehicular and industrial technology to sustain the current American lifestyle on non-fossil sources of energy. Yet.

When comparing sources of energy, it’s easy to forget how universal fossil fuels are. These sources continue to dominate for reasons that are difficult to measure, like political influence, advertising clout, and control over energy infrastructure. Other sources have disadvantages purely because they don’t fit in as well.

Volume brings another difficulty in comparing sources of energy. There is so much more fossil energy, and it’s been used for a long time, so we know a lot more about its hazards and benefits. More modern technologies are harder to quantify. Some are renewable but still pollute (biofuels), some are very clean except in accidents or waste disposal (nuclear). Most electricity sources (renewable or not) use steam turbines, and all the water to make steam has to come from somewhere, but how important should that factor be?

 

 

Clicking the graphic above will give an abbreviated chart comparing sources line by line, but that doesn’t provide anywhere close to the whole story.

 

Each of the following topics compares the major sources of energy  through a different lens. Though environmental and local issues may seem the most important to those of us who don’t own power plants or utility companies, the cost of energy drives which sources are actually in place today and which sources will see investment tomorrow.

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The meaning of combustion

Combustion reactions, or burning, create many different chemical compounds, but the most prevalent one is carbon dioxide. Other compounds produced depend on where the fuel came from and how it was burned. This is especially true for coal-burning power plants, which can emit carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, and nitrous oxides too, all of which have effects on the atmosphere.

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This is the oil business

Sid Jansma at Covenant 17-1, the discovery well.

Sid Jansma at Covenant 17-1, the discovery well.

Nothing actually about oil is a sure thing. Least of all: finding it. Companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars leasing land and drilling wells based on what’s basically some very educated guesswork. The biggies, BP and Chevron and Exxon, go drilling all over the world. But there are hundreds of smaller companies poking around right here in the United States looking for the next big find. Series host Alex Chadwick has this story on one of them.

“This is the oil business” aired on APM Marketplace April 20, 2012:

https://soundcloud.com/burnanenergyjournal/covenant-field

Burn: An Energy Journal has partnered with public radio’s Marketplace to bring you Energy news and stories, as told through the business and economics prism that has made Marketplace one of public radio’s most listened to programs. BURN and Marketplace are both distributed by American Public Media.

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THE BURN BLOG: April 19, 2012

The University of Texas is curating this series of blogs to raise important questions about Energy.  This is a unique opportunity for you to join in discussions with some of the world’s brightest energy minds.

 

The Big Energy Tango: Drilling Safety After Deepwater Horizon

Tadeusz (Tad) Patzek

April 19, 2012
 

As easily recoverable oil is depleted, humans reach to faraway, deep, cold, and wet places that also happen to be fragile and ecologically important to the Earth.  Such is humanity’s understandable and irreversible choice.  The global oil and gas industry, the largest human enterprise ever, is the technological executor of our choice.  We in turn like and utilize the industry’s products, but have zero tolerance for mishaps, accidents, and real or perceived transgressions of their operations.  Thus, we have a serious and growing problem the industry is trying to address: While the severity and scope of operational risks in hydrocarbon production increase, the society’s (and planet’s) ability to absorb possible accidents decreases.  For both partners in this “Big Energy” tango – us and them – the Deepwater Horizon accident was a watershed.  We all realized how unprepared humanity was for such disasters and how disruptive they were for the living Earth.

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The Cost of Gas

Compared to Europe, Americans pay far lower taxes on gasoline, in the range of 15% (see chart below) as compared to more than 50% for some countries.

 

Click here for a chart of how much tax various countries pay.

Click here for more information about the price of gasoline.

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The Hunt for Oil: Risks and Rewards

On the second anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon spill, BURN examines America’s oil industry.

This hour-long special begins on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico where hundreds of offshore rigs cut into the ocean’s bottom in an unabated effort to satisfy the country’s petroleum needs. But as drilling continues, so does debate over the impact of Deepwater Horizon.

Further north, in Utah, sits the Covenant Oil Field – one of the biggest petroleum finds in the US in thirty years.  Host Alex Chadwick talks with Covenant’s owner about the uncertain business of oil exploration.

We also look at the tens of thousands of miles of oil pipeline crisscrossing the US. It’s a vital and cost-effective way to move fuel. But old pipes leak, polluting soil and water. And: the cost of a gallon of gas. Fuel prices are about much more than supply and demand.

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Listen to the BURN Radio Special

Full Broadcast (54:01 minutes in three segments)

 

Segment A: Deepwater Horizon Two Years After

Part 1

Alex visits Port Fourchon, Louisiana, where he discusses the state of the gulf with environmental engineer John Pardue.  We learn about the organic nature of oil, oil eating microbes and the spill’s impact on wildlife and the entire Gulf ecosystem.

Alex talks with environmental engineer John Pardue

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Part 2

Alex and reporter Gwen Thompkins look at food safety in the Gulf area. We hear from Carl Kendall, from the Department of Global Community Health and Behavioral Studies at Tulane University, environmental health scientist Wilma Subra, Food and Drug Administration scientist Bob Dickey and local chef Nathan Richard.

For more on Food Safety in the Gulf
Port Fourchon, LA
Port Fourchon, LA
Oil sample at FDA lab
Oil sample at FDA lab
Gulf Oyster (2012)
Gulf Oyster (2012)
Reporter Gwen Thompkins tours FDA seafood lab
Reporter Gwen Thompkins tours FDA seafood lab
Char-grilled oysters at Felix NOLA
Char-grilled oysters at Felix NOLA
Dry-docked shrimp boats in Galliano, LA
Dry-docked shrimp boats in Galliano, LA
Alex and Port Fourchon Oil Tanks
Alex and Port Fourchon Oil Tanks
FDA biologist Bob Dickey
FDA biologist Bob Dickey
Alex with John Pardue and Vijay Elango at Port Fourchone Beach
Alex with John Pardue and Vijay Elango at Port Fourchone Beach
Gwen Thompkins with environmental scientist Wilma Subra
Gwen Thompkins with environmental scientist Wilma Subra
Oysters Cochon Lafayette
Oysters Cochon Lafayette
New Iberia cane field
New Iberia cane field

All photos by BURN Producer Sean Collins

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BIOS


ADDITIONAL MATERIALS

  • Listen as Alex discusses oil, microbes and the Gulf’s ecosystems with scientist Robert Twilley who says that in order to advance scientific understanding it’s critical to find opportunities in the midst of crises.
  • Watch The Gulf Spill, a video from The National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RESEARCH

LINKS

 RESOURCES

 

Segment B: Utah’s Covenant Oil Field, Roxanna, Illinois and Peak Oil

Part 1

Alex visits Richfield, Utah and speaks with Wolverine Gas and Oil CEO Sid Jansma, Jr.
Wolverine, an independent oil company, owns Utah’s Covenant Oil Field – the largest domestic oil discovery in three decades.

Utah vistas
Utah vistas
Kings Meadow Ranches
Kings Meadow Ranches
Wolverine oil rig
Wolverine oil rig
Wolverine CEO Sid Jansma Jr.
Wolverine CEO Sid Jansma Jr.
Drilling for oil
Drilling for oil

All photos by BURN

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Part 2

BURN contributing writer Scott Carrier visits Roxana, Illinois, an industrial, blue-collar town built around the oil business.

Roxana oil refinery
Roxana oil refinery
Rusted oil pipes
Rusted oil pipes
Water tank in Roxana, Illinois
Water tank in Roxana, Illinois
Trixie Willeford's husband Bud has blood cancer
Trixie Willeford's husband Bud has blood cancer
Chris Cahnovsky from the Illinois EPA
Chris Cahnovsky from the Illinois EPA
High school baseball team
High school baseball team
Roxana H.S. baseball team named after the oil company
Roxana H.S. baseball team named after the oil company
Oil pipes in Roxana
Oil pipes in Roxana
Roxana residents living close to oil tanks
Roxana residents living close to oil tanks

All photos by BURN

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RELATED INFO

 

 

 

Segment C: The Price of Gas and the Future of Oil

Alex and oil expert Richard Sears discuss gas pricing with consumers at a California gas pump and engage in a dialogue about our energy future and the role oil will play in it.

 

Gas station in Menlo Park, California, May 2011

 

 

VIDEO

LINK


 

Next Story >> BURN Radio Special #3: Election Special

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THE BURN BLOG: April 13, 2012

The University of Texas is curating this series of blogs to raise important questions about Energy.  This is a unique opportunity for you to join in discussions with some of the world’s brightest energy minds.

 

Despite Economic Challenges, U.S. Should Keep Nuclear In the Mix

Michael Corradini

April 13, 2012
 

In his February 27 post, Dale Klein paints a persuasive picture of the economic challenges nuclear energy faces in the U.S. thanks to the low price of natural gas, which is projected to be a less costly alternative for electricity production in the next few years. Despite this fact, however, as Klein himself suggests, it would be dangerous for the U.S. to put all of its energy eggs in one basket. We need a diverse and less carbon-intensive energy matrix. These are important reasons for energy policy makers to keep nuclear as a viable option within the total mix.

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Storing Energy: Fuel Cells and Beyond

Fuel input for hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered vehicle. Photo from Siemens PLM in Cypress California.

Storing energy is important for both long-term and short-term uses: to meet changes in energy supply and demand and to iron out irregularities in energy output, whether that’s in a car engine or on the power grid.

Unfortunately, we can only store a tiny fraction  of the electricity we produce in a single day. Instead, power plants have to send their thousands of megawatts of electricity to the right place, at the right time. For more details about electricity transmission, see Power Grid Technology.

Our current electric grid has various quick storage solutions to help make energy delivey smooth, and we use energy storage in cars, phones, and anything else that needs to be moved around. However, batteries and other storing options leave much to be desired.

Devices like capacitors and flywheels can store energy for extremely short periods.  Few technologies exist to store large amounts of energy over time periods ranging to several days: only pumped (water) storage is widely used to store energy on the scale of a power plant.

As energy sources are expanding to include more renewable and intermittent resources like wind and solar onto the electricity grid as we try to both meet growing energy demand and control greenhouse gas emissions. Likewise, there is increased interest in having reliable energy storage for vehicles, instead of gasoline and diesel fuels.

 

BATTERIES

Depending on the type of battery, these devices can store energy on location, like at home or in the car, in a laptop or cell phone. Note that though batteries and fuel cells can help integrate renewable energy sources, most electricity is still generated from fossil fuels. Both charging batteries and making hydrogen for fuel cells  thus produce greenhouse gas through reliance on the prevailing sources of electricity, and using these devices is less efficient than plugging into the wall because there’s always energy loss to byproducts like heat.

Batteries store chemical energy. Chemical reactions in the battery release that energy as needed. Eventually all the starting materials of the reaction are consumed and the battery is dead, or at least unusable until it’s recharged. There are many kinds of batteries, made of a wide array of chemicals. Polysulfide Bromide (PSB), Vanadium Redox (VRB), Zinc Bromine (ZnBr), Hydrogen Bromine (H-Br), and sodium sulfide batteries are some that the electricity industry has interest in.

Electric utilities use lead-acid batteries, which can be recharged, but there is research into other materials for utility and transportation use. Some of the best batteries used today for cars are nickel metal hydride and lithium ion.

 

HYDROGEN FUEL CELLS

Hydrogen fuel cells aren’t the same as batteries, but they can serve a similar purpose. Fuel cells are lumped with batteries because they both function through stored chemical energy. However, in practice, fuel cells are more like engines. They run off hydrogen “fuel” and produce energy and waste products, mostly  water vapor. As long as hydrogen keeps being added, the cell can run, just like a gasoline engine can keep running as long as more gasoline is added. A battery has a finite amount of energy unless it’s recharged with electricity.

For more about how to make hydrogen for fuel cells, see The hydrogen economy, hydrogen sources, and the science behind these.

For a description of different hydrogen fuel cells in development right now, see here.

 

FLYWHEELS

One way to smooth bumps in electricity delivery is through flywheels, which store energy in the form of rotational kinetic energy. A spinning potter’s wheel stores the energy of a good kick to be used moments later to mold a clay pot, and flywheels operate on a similar principle. In automobile engines, flywheels ease the transition between bumpy firing pistons and the drive shaft.

Flywheels can store energy for limited periods of time, from seconds to a few minutes.

 

PUMPED STORAGE

Pumped storage (of water) is the only widely-used method for storing huge amounts of energy for long periods of time. The United States has a capacity of more than 20,000 megawatts of pumped storage, according to the National Hydropower Association.

During times of excess electricity production, that excess energy is used to pump water to a higher altitude, increasing its gravitational potential energy. When extra energy is needed, the water is allowed to flow back down by way of turbines, turning that potential energy back into electricity.

For a figure of pumped storage see the National Hydropower Association

 

OTHER WAYS TO STORE ENERGY

Other technologies are constantly being investigated for energy storage. Compressed air storage is when air is forced into spaces like mines or caves and held at high pressure, using up energy in the process. When the compressed air is let out again, it can turn turbines to generate electricity.

Thermal energy storage exploits the difference in temperature between a system and the environment. In the late 1800s, Americans used thermal energy storage by cutting blocks of lake ice during the winter and storing them underground packed in insulating wood shavings. When the summer rolled around, they retrieved that stored ice to make food cold, exploiting the difference in temperature to force thermal energy out of the food.

Thermal energy storage can also happen in the other direction. Electricity or other forms of energy can be used to heat various materials, which are stored in insulated containers. Later, when the energy is needed, the hot materials can heat water into steam, and that steam can push turbines, which in turn produce electricity.

Thermal energy storage can also be used through ocean energy.

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Wind Science, Energy, and Growing Prevalence

Wind is the kinetic energy of molecules in the air. Wind has powered ships and mills for centuries or longer.

Modern windmills convert the wind into rotational energy by allowing the air molecules to bombard the blades, turning them. The blades are connected to turbines, which generate electricity from that rotational energy.

Wind energy is one of the cleanest forms of energy available because it doesn’t require a fuel or produce greenhouse gas or other bi-products, outside of those from production and maintenance of equipment and transmission.

Wind turbines themselves take up only a small area compared to their generating potential, making it possible to install them on agricultural, forest, or grazing lands.

RAPID GROWTH

In just ten years, wind power in the United States grew more than ten-fold, from just over 2,000 megawatts in 1999 to more than 34,000 megawatts in 2009, when wind accounted for 9 percent of renewable energy produced in the country and more than geothermal and solar combined.

Here’s an animated map of wind development from 2000 to 2010.

Texas, Iowa, and Minnesota had the greatest wind capacity in 2010. Additionally, at least 27 other states used wind to generate electricity that year.

DRAWBACKS TO WIND ENERGY

Wind is an intermittent resource, meaning that the windmills can’t continuously and predictably produce energy. They only work when the wind blows, and they can only work as hard as the wind is blowing at that time.

Research is ongoing into predicting what regions of the country have significant wind resources suitable for wind development, a process that requires computer programming and meteorological knowledge.

Furthermore, public and private researchers are working to produce better models of wind on an hourly, daily, and seasonal basis to make it easier for wind energy producers to forecast their output and sell it ahead of time.

Another major hurdle to wind power is that it is expensive compared with fossil fuel-based electricity. Modern windmills cost a lot to design and build, especially as they have to be strong enough to endure extreme weather, even though they will mostly operate in moderate weather. That makes competing with other energy sources difficult without government intervention.

Some people don’t like the way windmills look, and windmills can also kill bats and birds, though newer designs have slower and less deadly blades. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Ornithology estimated that windmills kill around 440,000 birds every year. However, the same study showed that house cats kill more than 1,000 times that number, as many as 500 billion per year.

SOURCES
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