Energy News


Wonderfuel: Welcome to the age of unconventional gas

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FORGET coal, it’s too dirty. Forget nuclear power, it’s too expensive and controversial. Forget renewables, they’re too unpredictable. To meet our energy needs and cut carbon emissions we need an abundant source of clean, cheap energy, available night and day and in all weathers.

We may be in luck. Natural gas is such a fuel, and it’s sitting right under our noses in abundance. Predominantly methane, it’s the cleanest-burning of all fossil fuels (see chart), so using gas rather than coal to generate electricity could halve greenhouse gas emissions from traditional coal-fired power plants.

But hang on a minute: aren’t natural gas reserves depleting just as quickly as oil? And aren’t most reserves found in countries that might not want to share their riches with the rest of the world? Back in 2006, a political spat in Europe led Russia to temporarily cut off its supply of gas to Ukraine. All of a sudden, gas seemed to have just as many problems as other fossil fuels.

While that may have been the case four years ago, things are changing fast. New technology to extract natural gas from what’s euphemistically called “unconventional” deposits means previously gas-poor countries in the Americas, Asia and western Europe could have enough cheap gas to last for another 100 years at present rates of consumption (see diagram).

Unconventional gas tends to be trapped in impermeable hard rock or sandstone, contained within coal seams, or – most promisingly for gas producers – in shale deposits. For Vello Kuuskraa, president of Advanced Resources International, an energy industry consultancy based in Washington DC, unconventional gas “has the potential for changing the long-term outlook for natural gas in a very dramatic way”.

The world consumes around 3 trillion cubic metres of natural gas each year, and the European Union says reserves from proven and conventional sources will run out in 2068. Unconventional reserves could buy us at least an extra 60 years at current rates of consumption. According to research in the late 1990s by Hans-Holger Rogner at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, there could be 900 trillion cubic metres of unconventional gas worldwide, half of which is shale gas. Of this, the International Energy Agency estimates 180 trillion cubic metres will be recoverable.

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Oil by the numbers – Houston Chronicle Editorial

While waiting and hoping for an end to the spill, let’s address our insatiable demand

The oil spill has left the central Gulf of Mexico awash in goo and the nervously watching American public buried in a blizzard of numbers: 20,000 barrels per day gushing into Gulf waters; 20,000 workers striving around the clock to plug the spill; nearly 1,400 vessels mobilized for the effort; millions of feet of boom to corral the oil; a million or so gallons of dispersant to break it up. And much more of everything in prospect as the effort continues to plug the runaway well and stop the mess from widening.

We’ll offer one number that hasn’t received the attention it deserves: 20 million. That’s roughly the number of barrels of oil consumed each day by this country’s cars, trucks, heavy equipment — everything.

It’s a big number. To put things in perspective, if the BP spill is flowing at 20,000 barrels per day, that makes for an environmental catastrophe, but it amounts to a statistical rounding error when compared with daily U.S. oil consumption. It’s roughly one-tenth of 1 percent of what we use daily.

We bring this up to call attention to the obvious: If this country is serious about reducing our oil dependency and, by inference, the amount of drilling at great depths offshore, we’ll have to make some major inroads on the demand side. Short of that, shutting down drilling and production for any length of time in the Gulf of Mexico is a nonstarter. Gulf production provides us with 30 percent of the oil we produce domestically. Take it away without cutting consumption and you get only one thing: increased dependency on foreign oil, much of it controlled by countries that don’t like us.

The Gulf spill has turned into a vexation for the Obama administration, framed curtly by the president’s frustration-filled plea to White House aides to “plug the damn hole.”

We share Obama’s pain. But that plug may not come for a while yet. Let’s make the best use of the interim, Mr. President: Put it to use marshaling public opinion in the cause of cutting the nation’s demand.

Here’s another number that might help: 700 billion barrels of oil equivalent. That’s a rough estimate of how much natural gas this country has, mostly trapped in shale formations from Texas to Colorado and in the West Virginia-Pennsylvania-New York region. It’s accessible without drilling through deep waters and the product is twice as clean as coal.

Maybe now is the time, Mr. President, to have a look at the energy independence plan put forward by the wildcatter T. Boone Pickens — especially his proposal to convert our nation’s fleet of 8 million 18-wheeler trucks from imported diesel to domestically produced natural gas.

That would take time, and it wouldn’t be cheap. A new infrastructure would have to be put in place. But it would make better use of a fuel that this country has in abundance, and which is more accessible than deepwater oil.

Focusing on future options (including nuclear power) beats the alternative of simply wringing your hands and wagging fingers at the oil companies, Mr. President. There’ll be time enough for blaming after the Deepwater Horizon well is plugged and the Gulf’s cleanup is under way.

Now is the time to point the way forward with cleaner alternatives that help build that bridge to a sustainable energy future we all want.

We believe the American people are primed for a mission that makes us more secure and creates good jobs while cleaning up the environment. It’s your moment to lead, Mr. President. Take full advantage of it.

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“Haynesville” expert Bill McKibben speaks out against Gulf Oil Spill Disaster – NPR.org

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With anger building over the BP oil spill, environmentalists are wondering if President Obama will stand up to Big Energy and get to work on climate change. Melissa Block talks to Bill McKibben, one such person waiting for a more forceful message from the White House. He wrote an op-ed in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, in which he writes: “Obama’s barely broken a sweat on climate change … We need someone to stand up and tell it the way it is, and in language so compelling and dramatic it sets us on a new path.”

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

As anger builds over the BP spill, environmentalists are hoping to hear more forceful message from President Obama on climate change. They say this could provide the transformative moment for the country to commit to clean energy.

Bill McKibben has been writing along these lines. His most recent book is “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.”

Bill McKibben, welcome to the program.

Mr. BILL McKIBBEN (Author, “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet”): Good to be with you, Melissa.

BLOCK: You have written that President Obama has barely broken a sweat on climate change. And I’m wondering what it is exactly you have been waiting to hear him say.

Mr. McKIBBEN: We’ve been waiting for him, I think, to go stand there with his back against the Gulf and say: Look, as ugly as that is – that black mess that BP has left us in the Gulf – even if that oil had gotten safely ashore and been refined and put in the gas tanks of your cars and burned, it would have been an environmental disaster then too. It would have driven the even larger problem that we’re facing, this runaway global warming that’s really the largest challenge that he or any other president has ever come up against.

BLOCK: And on these three trips that he’s made now to the Gulf, you’re hearing something falling short of that.

Mr. McKIBBEN: Well, he’s beginning to make some noises about working towards clean energy transition and things, and that’s good. But if there was ever an opportunity to take this debate and change it once and for all, to do what John Kennedy did when he got us going to the moon, you know, this is that moment.

BLOCK: You use that example of President Kennedy’s 10-year timetable to land a man on the moon. But there’s a huge difference here, and that is that there are very powerful, entrenched interests that have huge economic stakes in this…

Mr. McKIBBEN: That’s right.

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EOG Well in Pennsylvania Had ‘Blowout,’ State Says

June 4 (Bloomberg) — A Pennsylvania natural-gas well operated by EOG Resources Inc. had a “blowout” last night, sending natural gas and drilling fluids onto the ground and 75 feet (23 meters) into the air, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection said.

EOG said in a separate statement the well had a “control issue” at about 8 p.m. New York time yesterday and was secured by 12:15 p.m. today. No injuries were reported, the company said.

A “blowout,” the industry’s term for a surge of pressurized oil or gas that causes an eruption at a well, is what caused an explosion and fire at BP Plc’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico April 20, resulting in the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.

Environmentalists were quick to compare the two blowouts and call for tighter regulation of the growing use of hydraulic fracturing to extract gas from shale formations. Drillers using the process inject a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to crack open shale and unlock gas deposits.

“We see a lot of parallels,” said Amy Mall, senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York- based advocacy group. “This is a very complex process with a lot of risks and involves a lot of complicated technology. The strongest standards need to be in place.”

There is a need for federal regulation of drilling in shale formations so there is a “minimum standard”, Mall said. Pennsylvania is in the processing of revising its rules on fracturing, “but not every state is,” Mall said.

Regulation to Rise?

ClearView Energy Partners LLC, a Washington-based policy analysis firm, said it expects members of Congress who are critical of hydraulic fracturing to use the EOG accident as grounds for greater regulation.

“Odds for explicit regulation have now increased,” Kevin Book, managing director at ClearView Energy wrote today in a research note.

The well is located in the Marcellus Shale gas formation in Clearfield County, about 11 miles from Penfield, Pennsylvania, EOG said. Buffalo, New York-based National Fuel Gas Co. said today one of its subsidiaries is an equal partner with EOG in the well.

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The Oil Spill Eclipses the Valdez Tragedy – NYTImes.com

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HOUSTON — BP on Thursday night restarted its most ambitious effort yet to plug the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, trying to revive hopes that it might cap the well with a “top kill” technique that involved pumping heavy drilling liquids to counteract the pressure of the gushing oil.

BP officials, who along with government officials created the impression early in the day that the strategy was working, disclosed later that they had stopped pumping the night before when engineers saw that too much of the drilling fluid was escaping along with the oil.

It was the latest setback in the effort to shut off the leaking oil, which federal officials said was pouring into the gulf at a far higher rate than original estimates suggested.

If the new estimates are accurate, the spill would be far bigger than the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 and the worst in United States history.

Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer for exploration and production, struggled to offer guidance on whether the latest effort was likely to succeed.

“It’s quite a roller-coaster,” Mr. Suttles said. “It’s difficult to be optimistic or pessimistic. We have not stopped the flow.”

President Obama, who planned to visit the gulf on Friday, ordered a suspension of virtually all current and new offshore oil drilling activity pending a comprehensive safety review, acknowledging that oversight until now had been seriously deficient.

His action halted planned exploratory wells in the Arctic due to be drilled this summer and planned lease sales off the coast of Virginia and in the Gulf of Mexico. It also halts work on 33 exploratory wells now being drilled in the gulf.

Mr. Obama said at a news conference in Washington that he was angry and frustrated about the catastrophe, and he shouldered much of the responsibility for the continuing crisis.

“Those who think we were either slow on the response or lacked urgency, don’t know the facts,” Mr. Obama said. “This has been our highest priority.”

But he also blamed BP, which owns the stricken well, and the Bush administration, which he said had fostered a “cozy and sometimes corrupt” relationship between oil companies and regulators at the Minerals Management Service.

The chief of that agency for the past 11 months, S. Elizabeth Birnbaum, resigned on Thursday, less than a week after her boss, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, announced a broad restructuring of the office.

“I’m hopeful that the reforms that the secretary and the administration are undertaking will resolve the flaws in the current system that I inherited,” she said in a statement.

Mr. Obama plans on Friday to inspect the efforts in Louisiana to stop the leak and clean up after it, his second trip to the region since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20. He will also visit with people affected by the spreading slick that has washed ashore over scores of miles of beaches and wetlands.

Even as Mr. Obama acknowledged that his efforts to improve regulation of offshore drilling had fallen short, he said that oil and gas from beneath the gulf, now about 30 percent of total domestic production, would be a part of the nation’s energy supply for years to come.

“It has to be part of an overall energy strategy,” Mr. Obama said. “I mean, we’re still years off and some technological breakthroughs away from being able to operate on purely a clean-energy grid. During that time, we’re going to be using oil. And to the extent that we’re using oil, it makes sense for us to develop our oil and natural gas resources here in the United States and not simply rely on imports.”

In the top kill maneuver, a 30,000-horsepower engine aboard a ship injected heavy drill liquids through two narrow flow lines into the stack of pipes and other equipment above the well to push the escaping oil and gas back down below the sea floor.

As hour after hour passed after the top kill began early Wednesday afternoon, technicians along with millions of television and Internet viewers watched live video images showing that the dark oil escaping into the gulf waters was giving way to a mud-colored plume.

That seemed to be an indication that the heavy liquids known as “drilling mud” were filling the chambers of the blowout preventer, replacing the escaping oil.

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A Coal Site that Needs to be Mined

This site got sent to us yesterday.  It’s a must-visit for anyone who believes that coal is the best path for our energy future.

Check this out:

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE CLEANLINESS OF COAL

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Despite Moratorium, Drilling Projects Move Ahead – New York Times

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WASHINGTON — In the days since President Obama announced a moratorium on permits for drilling new offshore oil wells and a halt to a controversial type of environmental waiver that was given to the Deepwater Horizon rig, at least seven new permits for various types of drilling and five environmental waivers have been granted, according to records.

The records also indicate that since the April 20 explosion on the rig, federal regulators have granted at least 19 environmental waivers for gulf drilling projects and at least 17 drilling permits, most of which were for types of work like that on the Deepwater Horizon shortly before it exploded, pouring a ceaseless current of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Asked about the permits and waivers, officials at the Department of the Interior and the Minerals Management Service, which regulates drilling, pointed to public statements by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, reiterating that the agency had no intention of stopping all new oil and gas production in the gulf.

Department of the Interior officials said in a statement that the moratorium was meant only to halt permits for the drilling of new wells. It was not meant to stop permits for new work on existing drilling projects like the Deepwater Horizon.

But critics say the moratorium has been violated or too narrowly defined to prevent another disaster.

With crude oil still pouring into the gulf and washing up on beaches and in wetlands, President Obama is sending Mr. Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano back to the region on Monday.

In a toughly worded warning to BP on Sunday, Mr. Salazar said at a news conference outside the company’s headquarters in Houston, “If we find they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we’ll push them out of the way appropriately.”

Mr. Salazar’s position conflicted with one laid out several hours earlier, by the commandant of the United States Coast Guard, Adm. Thad W. Allen, who said that the oil conglomerate’s access to the mile-deep well site meant that the government could not take over the lead in efforts to stop the leak.

“They have the eyes and ears that are down there,” the admiral said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “They are necessarily the modality by which this is going to get solved.”

Since the explosion, federal regulators have been harshly criticized for giving BP’s Deepwater Horizon and hundreds of other drilling projects waivers from full environmental review and for failing to provide rigorous oversight of these projects.

In voicing his frustration with these regulators and vowing to change how they operate, Mr. Obama announced on May 14 a moratorium on drilling new wells and the granting of environmental waivers.

“It seems as if permits were too often issued based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil companies,” Mr. Obama said. “That cannot and will not happen anymore.”

“We’re also closing the loophole that has allowed some oil companies to bypass some critical environmental reviews,” he added in reference to the environmental waivers.

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CNN Reports Heavy Oil in Louisiana Marshland – Impending Eco Disaster

New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) — Louisiana’s governor announced that thick, heavy oil has begun polluting the state’s wetlands and estuaries.

But Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana says BP cleanup efforts haven’t stopped oil from reaching his state’s coastline. Thicker, heavier oil than seen in previous days has blanketed some of the state’s precious interior wetlands, he said, and he called for the Army Corps of Engineers to approve an emergency permit to dredge sand from barrier islands to create sand booms as another line of defense.

“These are not tar balls, this is not sheen, this is heavy oil that we are seeing in our wetlands,” Jindal said.

See the CNN story about the devestation…

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Shale Gas Will Rock the World – by Amy Jaffe

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There’s an energy revolution brewing right under our feet.

Over the past decade, a wave of drilling around the world has uncovered giant supplies of natural gas in shale rock. By some estimates, there’s 1,000 trillion cubic feet recoverable in North America alone—enough to supply the nation’s natural-gas needs for the next 45 years. Europe may have nearly 200 trillion cubic feet of its own.

We’ve always known the potential of shale; we just didn’t have the technology to get to it at a low enough cost. Now new techniques have driven down the price tag—and set the stage for shale gas to become what will be the game-changing resource of the decade.

I have been studying the energy markets for 30 years, and I am convinced that shale gas will revolutionize the industry—and change the world—in the coming decades. It will prevent the rise of any new cartels. It will alter geopolitics. And it will slow the transition to renewable energy.

To understand why, you have to consider that even before the shale discoveries, natural gas was destined to play a big role in our future. As environmental concerns have grown, nations have leaned more heavily on the fuel, which gives off just half the carbon dioxide of coal. But the rise of gas power seemed likely to doom the world’s consumers to a repeat of OPEC, with gas producers like Russia, Iran and Venezuela coming together in a cartel and dictating terms to the rest of the world.

The advent of abundant, low-cost gas will throw all that out the window—so long as the recent drilling catastrophe doesn’t curtail offshore oil and gas activity and push up the price of oil and eventually other forms of energy. Not only will the shale discoveries prevent a cartel from forming, but the petro-states will lose lots of the muscle they now have in world affairs, as customers over time cut them loose and turn to cheap fuel produced closer to home.

The shale boom also is likely to upend the economics of renewable energy. It may be a lot harder to persuade people to adopt green power that needs heavy subsidies when there’s a cheap, plentiful fuel out there that’s a lot cleaner than coal, even if gas isn’t as politically popular as wind or solar.

But that’s not the end of the story: I also believe this offers a tremendous new longer-term opportunity for alternative fuels. Since there’s no longer an urgent need to make them competitive immediately through subsidies, since we can use natural gas now, we can pour that money into R&D—so renewables will be ready to compete without lots of help when shale supplies run low, decades from now.

To be sure, plenty of people (including Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and many Wall Street energy analysts) aren’t convinced that shale gas has the potential to be such a game changer. Their arguments revolve around two main points: that shale-gas exploration is too expensive and that it carries environmental risks.

I’d argue they are wrong on both counts.

Take costs first. Over the past decade, new techniques have been developed that drastically cut the price tag of production. The Haynesville shale, which extends from Texas into Louisiana, is seeing costs as low as $3 per million British thermal units, down from $5 or more in the Barnett shale in the 1990s. And more cost-cutting developments are likely on the way as major oil companies get into the game. If they need to do shale for $2, I am willing to bet they can, in the next five years.

When it comes to environmental risks, critics do have a point: They say drilling for shale gas runs a risk to ground water, even though shale is generally found thousands of feet below the water table. If a well casing fails, they argue, drilling fluids can seep into aquifers.

They’re overplaying the danger of such a failure. For drilling on land, where most shale-gas deposits are, the casings have been around for decades with a good track record. But water pollution can occur if drilling fluids are disposed of improperly. So, regulations and enforcement must be tightened to ensure safety. More rules will raise costs—but, given the abundance of supply, producers can likely absorb the hit. Already, some are moving to nontoxic drilling fluids, even without imposed bans.

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The Oil Spill’s Impact Hits Home: Local Businesses Hit Hard – NPR.org

The Gulf Coast is filled with people who were just getting back on their feet, nearly five years after Hurricane Katrina. Now, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is placing their recovery at risk, along with thousands of other families.

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