Posts Tagged ‘Natural Gas’

Facebook: Fueled by Dirty Coal

With so much of the information we use today stored in “the cloud” it can be easy to forget that out there, somewhere, there’s energy being used to power thousands of servers in massive data centers.

Facebook just announced that it’s going to build its first data center in Oregon. And while Google and Microsoft precede them in the state, they take advantage of cheaper and cleaner hydro power, while it looks like Facebook will be using mostly coal power from Idaho.

Yes, every time you update your Facebook status a baby polar bear dies.

OK, maybe it’s not quite that extreme, but Facebook’s decision to go with coal power is drawing some fire. Why aren’t they using hydro? Not that hydro is without environmental consequences, but when it comes to carbon emissions and public health, nothing’s worse than coal.

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Obama Pushes Energy Plan That GOP May Support – AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — Looking for a political and policy victory, President Barack Obama on Wednesday pushed energy proposals designed to attract allies and opponents alike, calling for increased ethanol production and new technology to limit pollution from the use of coal.

Facing a Senate with a newly energized Republican minority, Obama has begun tailoring his energy policy to GOP-supported ideas, starting in his State of the Union address last week with calls for offshore oil drilling opposed by environmentalists and a bigger role for nuclear power.

The first-term president — politically weakened by the loss of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s seat to Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown — also has begun promoting his energy policy as a job-creating boost to the economy.

”Now, there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to work together in a bipartisan way to get this done,” Obama said during a bipartisan meeting with governors in the White House’s State Dining Room. ”It’s good for our national security and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. It’s good for our economy, because it will produce jobs.”

He spoke as the White House released presidential task force recommendations calling on both Washington and the private sector to spend more money on biofuels like ethanol. The group said the nation likely will fall short of goals Congress has set for creating more environmentally friendly energy.

At the same time, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new rule requiring U.S. companies to produce at least 13 billion gallons of renewable fuels this year, up from about 11.1 billion gallons in 2009. Thirteen billion gallons is about 9 percent of overall U.S. fuel consumption. Congress has set a goal of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the new rules would reduce oil dependence by million of barrels a year and ”help bring new economic opportunity to millions of Americans, particularly in rural America.”

In his meeting with the governors, Obama also announced a new task force to study ways to increase the use of coal in meeting the nation’s energy needs without increasing the pollution that contributes to global warming.

”It’s been said that the United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal, and that’s because … it’s one of our most abundant energy resources,” Obama said. ”If we can develop the technology to capture the carbon pollution released by coal, it can create jobs and provide energy well into the future.”

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire said the president told coal-state governors he understood their resistance to change when coal suppliers in their states are making money. She said Obama urged them to be partners in developing clean coal alternatives, a proposal that was embraced by many Republicans in the room.

”There was consensus around, let’s see if we can develop a clean coal strategy of the future,” she said.

The White House meeting comes a day after Obama signaled a willingness to separate a controversial cap-and-trade proposal aimed at limiting carbon pollution from more attractive green energy jobs and energy efficiency proposals. The House approved the anti-pollution measure last year as part of a comprehensive energy bill, but it is unlikely to win Republican support on Capitol Hill.

Energy has been a major part of the president’s domestic agenda since he took office, but it has taken on new urgency in the wake of Brown’s victory in Massachusetts as both the president and his Democratic allies on Congress look ahead to the fall elections.


Associated Press Writer Julie Pace contributed to this report.

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Obama Eyes Biofuels, Clean Coal In New Climate Push

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama laid out new steps on Wednesday to nudge the United States toward energy independence, backing measures to boost production of biofuels and bury pollution from coal.

Using the new initiatives to garner support for a climate and energy bill stalled in the U.S. Senate, Obama met with a handful of state governors to press his policies to fight global warming and wean the nation from imported fossil fuels.

“America can win the race to build a clean energy economy, but we’re going to have to overcome the weight of our own politics,” he said at the meeting, noting China was pushing aggressively to lead in “clean” energy technology.

“We have to focus not so much on those narrow areas where we disagree, but on the broad areas where we agree,” he said.

Agreement on a climate bill is still far from certain, and the legislation faces further obstacles after the election last month in Massachusetts that gave Republicans a Senate seat long held by Democrats, depriving the president’s party of 60 votes that could overcome procedural hurdles.

Obama has acknowledged that a controversial “cap and trade” system could be separated from other parts of the bill, though he is adamant that a market-based mechanism be put in place to make high polluting fuels more expensive for industry than less-polluting, renewable energy sources.

Biofuels represent one renewable energy source the administration wants to promote, and a new interagency report spelled out ways the country would achieve that going forward.

“By 2022, we will more than double the amount of biofuels we produce to 36 billion gallons, which will decrease our dependence on foreign oil by hundreds of millions of barrels per year,” Obama said.

He also announced a new task force to forge a plan for rolling out affordable carbon capture and storage technology in 10 years, including having 10 commercial demonstration projects up and running by 2016.

Carbon capture and storage is meant to capture the emissions from carbon-polluting coal plants and bury them underground rather than spewing them into the atmosphere but the technology is still being researched.


The Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday ethanol and other renewable fuels must account for 8.25 percent of gasoline sales in 2010 to meet Congress’ mandate that nearly 13 billion gallons of renewable fuels be produced this year.

That is lower than last year’s 10.21 percent renewable fuel standard that the EPA announced in November 2008..

The United States is far away from its goal of producing 36 billion gallons (136 billion liters) of biofuels a year by 2022, currently producing 12 billion gallons annually, mostly from corn ethanol.

The report offers solutions that would ease the way for ethanol to get from producers in the U.S. Midwest to consumers near the coasts. Such snags include filling stations that have been slow to adopt pumps to distribute a fuel blend that is mostly ethanol, called E85, and a lack of dedicated pipelines for biofuels.

Loan guarantees for ethanol plants could be targeted more effectively to support new biofuels plants, the report said.

The struggling biofuels industry is concerned the Obama administration will move too quickly away from ethanol to biofuels that derive from more difficult techniques using wood chips and other biomass.

The president’s backing of ethanol, however, could shore up his support in farm states, where ethanol boosts demand for corn.

Environmentalists and some scientists say production of U.S. biofuels from corn and other grains can drive out production of other crops, prompting farmers in other countries to burn down forests and clear land to grow those crops — creating new sources of CO2, the main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming.

(Additional reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Louisiana’s shale gas bonanza – Financial Times

After their father died 15 years ago, Mike Smith’s six siblings wanted nothing to do with the tract of land the old man had gradually acquired from his income as a pipeline welder. The land, 365 acres of it, lay in a quiet and sparsely populated corner of Louisiana: nothing but pine trees for miles around. In a county so poor that about a fifth of the population lives below the poverty line, the bequest wasn’t good for much.

But for Smith, a tall, slim man of 61 with a kindly face, DeSoto parish was home. “That’s where my roots are. I wanted the land,” he says. Smith paid $300 an acre – $109,500 in total – to his siblings. And while he kept his home in Shreveport, 40 miles to the north, he travelled down to DeSoto regularly to walk his acres, or hunt squirrel and deer. His plan was to sell the trees for lumber one day, and use the income to fund his retirement. Until then, he would pass the years frugally, making a living as a property valuer and sharing his 50-year-old house with two dogs and a cat.

All the while, the county seat of Mansfield, home to 5,500 people, withered. With only coal and timber to support it, the parish could not even repair its roads. Across from the courthouse are telltale signs of the desperation that began to claw at the area – the dusty, vacant windows of the hardware shop and cinema, and beyond them the Community Bank of Louisiana. It opened its doors in 1901 but is now so run down that the visitor struggles to make out what colour the wallpaper would once have been. The phones are from another age and an old standard lamp in an upstairs office blinks fitfully into life and then goes dark again.

“When I came in, the town was dead. There was no sign of economic growth here,” remembers Curtis McCoy, mayor for the past seven years.

All that changed in 2008, when oil and gas companies began knocking on doors, offering locals a couple of hundred dollars an acre if they would lease their land for prospecting. Some, like Jim May, executive director of the DeSoto Chamber of Commerce, jumped at the offer and signed a three-year lease on his 100 acres for a total of $25,000. Nobody had shown any interest in the land in decades, he reasoned. Six months later, the goldrush was at its height and prices leapt to $25,000 or even $30,000 an acre. “I lost $2.5m,” says May with a wistful smile.

People went to bed one night and woke up the next morning to find themselves rich,” says McCoy. That included Mike Smith, whose land was so sought after that in May 2008, PetroHawk Energy, a small, independent oil and gas company, handed him a $1.4m signing bonus in return for permission to drill for natural gas on his late father’s property. “It changed my whole life,” he says. “I don’t have to cut my trees any more.”

Smith is sitting behind the wheel of a new gold Cadillac, parked outside this year’s Haynesville Shale Expo in Shreveport, an event that has attracted 5,000 people, most of them landowners who missed the leasing frenzy and are eager to see whether they still have time to cash in. It was Smith’s dream since he was a boy to own a new Cadillac, like the one his father always made sure his mother drove. He paid $52,000 cash for the car. “That was the first investment. It kind of hurt a little bit,” he smiles. A small wooden cross dangles from the rearview mirror.

. . .

The prize that drew companies such as PetroHawk to Smith’s impoverished corner of Louisiana is known as shale gas. Smith’s acres sit on top of the Haynesville Shale, named after the town near which the prospect was discovered – a seam of black rock between 150 and 300ft thick that lies hundreds of feet underground and extends across 3,400 square miles of Louisiana and Texas. Trapped inside this rock are vast quantities of natural gas – estimated at between 112 and 245 trillion cu ft. At the upper end of this range, Haynesville gas could meet the US’s energy needs for about 12 years.

This isn’t the most extensive prospect of its kind in the US; that distinction belongs to the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and neighbouring states, which is reckoned to cover 65,000 square miles, an area larger than Greece. But based on the wells drilled so far, the Haynesville may well turn out to be one of the most productive. “It was the Haynesville that turned the tide on how big shale could be for US supply,” says Jeff Fisher, senior vice-president of production at another US company, Chesapeake Energy.

Indeed, the impact is expected to extend well beyond America’s borders. Industry consultants at PFC Energy in Washington, DC, believe that developing supplies trapped in shale deposits could more than quadruple the world’s known gas reserves. “This is a transformational event,” says its chairman, Robin West. His consultancy puts global reserves of natural gas from “unconventional” sources such as shale beds at 3,250 trillion cu ft, a total based on 1997 geological estimates that he believes will rise as the techniques available to extract the gas improve. By comparison, global reserves of natural gas from “conventional” sources total 620 trillion cu ft. Not all of these shale reserves will ever be tapped, but the technology to do so is available and, for the first time, companies are putting it to use.

To extract gas from shale involves drilling down, sometimes thousands of feet, and then sideways as much as 4,500ft. Once a well has been drilled, water with fine grains of sand is pumped through at high pressure; this fractures the shale and leaves behind the grains of sand, which prop open the fissures in the rock and allow the gas to escape.

Using this technique, Devon Energy, an Oklahoma-based oil and gas independent, sank a well last autumn in the Texas portion of the Haynesville shale (until then thought to be a low point in the “play”) that produced a flow rate of more than 30 million cu ft of gas per day, the highest ever from that area. This result led others to redraw the borders of the gas field, suggesting it was even more extensive than originally believed. “No one, us included, knows how that play is going to evolve,” says Larry Nichols, Devon’s chief executive. “We did not anticipate it would grow this much. Now we realise there are more opportunities for onshore growth than we ever thought would be possible.”

This realisation marks a volte-face for America’s oil and gas companies. By the 1970s, the majors had decided that onshore reserves of oil and gas in the US had been tapped, so they sold much of their acreage in order to focus on offshore and international exploration. This left the independent explorers, which drill 90 per cent of onshore wells in the US, to pursue what was left. “For years we have known that the United States holds vast quantities of so-called tight gas or shale gas – natural gas locked in formations denser than concrete,” Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil’s chief executive, said in October. “But we did not have the technology to extract this so-called tight gas in a cost-effective way. Until now.”

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Obama’s State of the Union’s Energy Pitch – Chicago Tribune

Pitching his energy and climate agenda to a joint session of Congress last February, President Obama warned of the “ravages of climate change” and asked the House and Senate to send him legislation to send me legislation “that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America.”

Tonight, in his State of the Union address, Obama pushed essentially the same energy agenda with language that was decidedly more … aisle-crossing.

He won bipartisan applause by emphasizing plans to build new nuclear plants, develop so-called “clean coal” technology and drill for oil and gas offshore – initiatives favored by many Republicans, and a clear attempt to attract GOP support for a Senate energy and climate bill.

The President didn’t explicitly mention a carbon cap – a key feature of his efforts to lead a global effort to combat climate change, and which many Republicans oppose because they say it would kill American jobs – though he did call for “comprehensive” energy and climate legislation, which, in Washington code, means Obama is still pushing for greenhouse gas emissions limits.

He also acknowledged “those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change.”

In language that echoed his campaign rhetoric of his 2008 opponent, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Obama told those climate skeptics: “Here’s the thing: Even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.”

The language won cheers from Republicans, at least in the drilling and nuke sections. Environmentalists liked it, too; Frances Beinecke, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the speech “a clear and unmistakable call to action” on the climate bill that appears stuck in a legislative queue behind health care, a jobs bill and financial regulation.

Here are the key paragraphs on energy policy:

Next, we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history – an investment … an investment that could lead to the world’s cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched. And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy. You can see the results of last year’s investments in clean energy – in the North Carolina company that will create 1200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put 1,000 people to work making solar panels.

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. (chamber-wide ovation) It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.

I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. And this year, this year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy. I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But … But, here’s the thing: Even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. America must be that nation.

And, for comparison, the similar passages from Obama’s 2009 speech:

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest $15 billion a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But this is America. We don’t do what’s easy. We do what is necessary to move this country forward.

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Climate Change: Humor Me with a Game of Pretend


For the moment, let’s assume that global climate change is real. I know, a lot of you have sent me E-mails and links to the contrary.  And yes, I’m well aware of Climategate and the E-mails from the scientists that popped up on the Internet and every other news site.

But humor me, play along and pretend for a moment that climate change is a truth (for those who believe that climate change is real, I ask no change your mindset).  Now that it’s real (remember, anti-climate change folks, we’re pretending) what does climate change really mean to us?  How does it make us feel  What does it make us do?

First, how does the idea of global warming — the idea that the globe is getting hotter and that catastrophic effects will occur — make us feel?  Primarily, it scares us.  No one wants the globe to heat, especially if it means that terrible things would happen — ice caps melting, Pacific islands disappearing, etc..  So where does that lead us?

This horrendous revelation leads us to an intense need to look at the reasons behind this phenomenon.  And this leads us to explore carbon in the atmosphere as one of the possible culprits.  In the United States, we start to break it down to fuel sources, and coal sticks out as a primary offender.  At this point, we put our heads together and try to find ways to mitigate the carbon problem.  If we can mitigate the carbon problem, then maybe — in this thought game that we are continuing to play — we have a chance to slow down climate change.

Because we are smart, and because we want to stop global warming, we start to look at cleaner fuel sources and start developing new ways to generate energy.  This developing of new energy technology takes time, so we need to buy ourselves a couple of decades.  We look at our available fuel sources and find that natural gas could be a good way to go.  It’s cleaner than coal and more available than oil.  Because we need the time, we start to replace coal with natural gas in electricity generation.  We even consider natural gas as a transportation fuel and build natural gas “filling stations” for truck fleets.  This give us the necessary leeway to build better, more affordable renewable sources of energy.

In the end, we look up (from this imaginary scenario) and realize this fear of global warming has done something really interesting.  It has set us on a path to avoid this doomsday scenario and, in the end, we have advanced civilization to next generation of power creation.  This drive to solve this huge problem has left us in a better place, a place where our air is cleaner, the world isn’t getting AS warm AS fast and we have an amazing shot at a bright energy future.

Now, you can stop pretending.

We’re back to the immediate present, and let’s say that these guys have totally lied about global warming and climate change.  Let’s say this was a huge conspiracy to sell more windmills or an ingenious marketing ploy to get ad rates up for histrionic cable news programs.  What does it really mean that we’ve sweated a phenomenon that we’re not sure about one way or the other?  Is it really that bad that we’re driving hard to create a cleaner and more sustainable energy future?  Is it terrible that we’re angered by coal and are now exploring natural gas and renewables as a major part of the future energy mix?  Because, in the end, from where I’m standing, this game of pretending has done some pretty amazing things.

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