Monday, December 5, 2011

What Can We Do to Get To The Future?

At least 30 years ago, futurists were telling America to expect the CAR OF THE FUTURE.
It would be small, efficient, well-designed, and safe.  It might drive itself.  It might chain onto other cars for public transport.  It might be rentable a neighborhood stations for an affordable fee.  You would no longer drive a 5,000 pound noisy, smelly gorilla to the grocery store for a loaf of bread and a jug of milk.  It would fit into small parking spaces.  It might even be electric.. . .

Whatever happened to that car, and that dream?

Check out

The Atlantic Meets the Pacific: Exploring Energy

A discussion of how America can meet its energy needs, including automobile fuels, with a lot less oil, a lot more safety, health, and affordability for Americans.  

Because, in the long run, the conflict over the Keystone XL was about using more and more oil with less and less efficiency.  This is silly.  It's fundamentally unAmerican (and unCanadian).  We are the guys with the know-how, the rolled up sleeves and the fix-it history.  Finding great new ways to keep us prosperous, warm, and on the go are just waiting for Americans to demand real solutions for the future, not just more and more of less and less (oil).

Listen to this lively and exciting discussion of what we could do.  Soon.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Nebraska's Senate Helping Out TransCanada, Thanks to Taxpayers

A reminder why Nebraskans should not be allowing their senate to make a "deal" with TransCanada.  The company will undoubtedly get its pipeline, but it shouldn't be doing it on Nebraska's dime.

"TransCanada Corp. could begin construction of a vital segment of its Keystone Xl oil pipeline BEFORE U.S. regulators have signed off on the project as a whole."
"Executives at the company told an investor conference in Toronto Wednesday that the section of pipeline between the energy hub of Cushing, Okla. and the U.S. Gulf Coast could be prioritized, to alleviate a supply GLUT."
"As it stands, millions of barrels of crude oil come into Cushing every day from all across North America, but there isn't enough infrastructure in place at the moment to efficiently move it to refineries and EXPORT ports on the coast. There's a massive bottleneck, which has DEPRESSED PRICES for North American oil versus its European counterpart, Brent Crude."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What is Tar Sands Oil and Why Do I Care?

Here is a little primer on tar sands (or oil sands) and its future in Canada and the U.S.

In 2007 the state legislature of Connecticut, which like most of the northeast relies on oil for residential hearing, wanted information on the future of oil and what it would mean for their state.

The report to the legislature makes it abundantly clear to everyone in Connecticut and in the U.S. that oil is going to be ever more expensive, that Canada will not continue to sell as much to the U.S. as it would like, and that unless the U.S. (and Canada) plan to be very cold in future, it would be very smart to plan for some other fuel source.

Some experts think that much of our energy needs could be provided by wind power.   Other experts believe solar power could save the day. Others count on a wide variety of silver bullets.   Whatever the source(s), very soon they will be as cheap as oil, because today's oil is much different from yesterday's.

From "Peak Oil Production and the Implications to the State of Connecticut.
Report to Legislative Leaders and the Governor.  Addendum:  Tar Sands and Shale Oil"

Tar sands or oil sands are common names for sediments containing bitumen. Bitumen is very viscous black oil that does not flow and can not be pumped without being heated and diluted. Tar sands are a mixture of clay, water, sand and bitumen.  Oil quality is rated on the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) scale and formula. Light oil is rated between 800 and 870 and has a degree range between 45.4 to 31.1. Light oil is free flowing and can be pumped and transported by pipeline; it is generally of greater purity and needs less refining.  Heavy oil ranges from 21.5 to 10 degrees and extra heavy oil from 10 to 0.1 degrees. Bitumen mined in the Athabasca deposit in Alberta Canada, the largest such concentration in the world, is about 8 degrees.

The oil sand product must be heated and diluted, then be upgraded through an energy intensive process that adds hydrocarbons to the bitumen so it can flow. At room temperature bitumen is akin to cold molasses.

When evaluating oil sands and other alternative fuels, it is important to understand that it takes energy to get energy – there is still no free lunch. If you invest a unit of energy to produce energy, a key question is how much do you get back for that effort? The term Energy Returned on Energy Invested captures that concept and is expressed as EROEI. Because oil is so incredibly dense in energy—lots of energy per unit of weight and volume—the historic return on energy invested was very good. This made oil-based energy dirt cheap. Our economy was built on, and relies on today, the inefficient consumption of cheap energy that has a very high EROEI.

Researchers from Boston University state that, during the 1930s, Texas oil had an EROEI of 100 to 1; for every barrel consumed in the extraction process, 100 were returned. By the 1970s, US oil had an EROEI of 30 to 1 and today it is 15 to 1. 

It’s clear that the easy oil was extracted in the early years and that the more difficult oil requiring deeper wells and more energy in harsher environments has lowered the energy returned on energy invested.
Oil sands used to produce bitumen have an EROEI of about 3 to 1. That is, it takes the equivalent of one barrel of oil to produce 3 barrels of oil bitumen from Oil sands.

Canadian oil sands can contain up to 12% oil. This means that 88% of the material excavated must be moved, processed and returned to the pit for land reclamation. It takes approximately 2 tons of material to produce 1 barrel of oil.  Canada currently supplies the United States with about 18% of our oil, making it our largest source of imports.

Using current technologies the Athabasca River has inadequate flows for large scale expansion of oils sands processing. While water recycling is currently used in the processing, one to two barrels of make-up- water is required for each barrel of oil.

One [settlement, or tailing] pond being used by Syncrude is 14 miles in circumference and contains 130 feet of contaminated sediments and water. The waters are highly contaminated with various metals and compounds and will be an environmental liability for generations to come.

Eventually, the expansion of the Canadian oils sands will be limited by natural gas supply [used in oil sands extraction].  Current supplies of natural gas can not provide the energy needed for the planned vast expansion of oil sands exploitation unless Canada cuts back on the 50% of its natural gas production that is presently exported to the US. In fact, Canada’s National Energy Board recently announced that a 30% cut in exports of natural gas to the U.S. will most likely occur between now [2007] and 2015.

Large amounts of diluent are needed to transport bitumen through pipe lines due to its viscous state. Bitumen requires a one-third blend of condensates from natural gas. Since natural gas is declining in production in North America, the future supply of condensate is unknown.  This condensate liquid is light enough to dilute the Bitumen and cause it to flow.  The availability of natural gas condensate for any massive expansion of bitumen from oil sands is highly speculative.

The price of the enormous amounts of material—steel, mega-trucks, excavators, piping, etc.—required by the oil sands projects is shooting up, in part thanks to booming demand for such materials in rapidly-developing China.

Oil sands will play an important role in providing offsets to conventional oil but can not replace the declining conventional oil production. Bitumen production will merely cushion the upcoming energy transition to different energy consumption patterns and infrastructure realities. Additionally, we can expect the cost of production to rise as energy feedstocks contract.

Canada and the US have good relationships. The US is Canada’s largest trading partner and this will likely continue into the foreseeable future. However, Canada has responsibilities to its own citizenry as seen in recent projected cut of natural gas exports. We can not reasonably expect Canada to export ever-increasing fuels to the detriment of its own people.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Comment on Your Official Here

Tell us what your elected official is doing on the Keystone XL Pipeline question.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Taste of Water -- Lessons from the Fracking Scandal

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania environmental regulators said Wednesday they have given permission to a natural-gas driller to stop delivering replacement water to residents whose drinking water wells were tainted with methane.

Residents expressed outrage and threatened to take the matter to court.

Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. has been delivering water to homes in the northeast village of Dimock since January of 2009. The Houston-based energy company asked the Department of Environmental Protection for approval to stop the water deliveries by the end of November, saying Dimock's water is safe to drink.

DEP granted Cabot's request late Tuesday, notifying the company in a letter released Wednesday morning. Scott Perry, the agency's acting deputy secretary for oil and gas management, wrote that since Cabot has satisfied the terms of a December settlement agreement requiring the company to remove methane from the residents' water, DEP "therefore grants Cabot's request to discontinue providing temporary potable water."

Residents who are suing Cabot in federal court say their water is still tainted with unsafe levels of methane and possibly other contaminants from the drilling process. They say DEP had no right to allow Cabot to stop paying for replacement water.

Bill Ely, 60, said the water coming out of his well looks like milk.

"You put your hand down a couple of inches and you can't see your hand, that's how much gas there is in it. And they're telling me it was that way all my life," said Ely, who has lived in the family homestead for nearly 50 years and said his well water was crystal clear until Cabot's arrival three years ago.

If Cabot stops refilling his 550-gallon plastic "water buffalo" that supplies water for bathing and washing clothes, Ely said it will cost him $250 per week to maintain it and another $20,000 to $30,000 to install a permanent system to pipe water from an untainted spring on his land.

Ely and another resident, Victoria Switzer, said their attorneys had promised to seek an injunction in the event that DEP gave Cabot permission to halt deliveries. The attorneys did not immediately return an email and phone call seeking comment.

Regulators previously found that Cabot drilled faulty gas wells that allowed methane to escape into Dimock's aquifer. The company denied responsibility, but has been banned from drilling in a 9-square-mile area of Dimock since April of 2010.

Along with its request to stop paying for deliveries of water, Cabot has asked the department for permission to resume drilling in Dimock, a rural community about 20 miles south of the New York state line where 18 residential water wells were found to be polluted with methane. DEP has yet to rule on that request.

Philip Stalnaker, a Cabot vice president, asserted in a Monday letter to DEP that tests show the residents' water to be safe to drink and use for cooking, bathing, washing dishes and doing laundry. He said any methane that remains in the water is naturally occurring but that Cabot is willing to install mitigation systems at residents' request.

Months' worth of sampling data provided by DEP to The Times-Tribune of Scranton show that methane has spiked repeatedly this year in the water wells of several homes, reaching potentially explosive levels in five, the newspaper reported Wednesday.

Cabot cited data from 2,000 water samples taken before the commencement of drilling in Susquehanna County that show that 80 percent of them already had methane.

"The amount of methane in a water supply is neither fixed nor predictable," and depends on a variety of factors unrelated to drilling, Cabot spokesman George Stark said in an email Wednesday.

Methane is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas commonly found in Pennsylvania groundwater. Sources include swamps, landfills, coal mines and gas wells. Methane is not known to be harmful to ingest, but at high concentrations it's flammable and can lead to asphyxiation.

The December 2010 agreement between DEP and Cabot required the company to offer residential treatment systems that remove methane from the residents' water, and to pay them twice the assessed tax value of their homes. A half-dozen treatment systems have been installed, and Cabot said they are effective at removing the gas.

But residents who filed a federal lawsuit against Cabot are appealing the December settlement. They favor an earlier, scuttled DEP plan that would have forced Cabot to pay nearly $12 million to connect their homes to a municipal water line.

Switzer said it's inappropriate for the state to allow Cabot to stop the water deliveries while the appeal is pending — and while there still are problems with residents' water.

"They keep changing the rules to accommodate this gas company. It's so blatantly corrupt," she said.

DEP spokeswoman Katherine Gresh said the December settlement gave Cabot the right to halt the deliveries once the company funded escrow accounts for the homeowners and is "independent of the water quality results."

Cabot plans to inform each homeowner by Nov. 1 that it will discontinue deliveries of bulk and bottled water by Nov. 30. The company also offered to pay for a plumber to reconnect residents' water wells. Cabot said it will stop delivering replacement water "at its earliest opportunity" to homeowners who refuse to allow testing of their well water.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Citizens -- Voices, Crying in a Wilderness

 The Keystone XL hearings held by the State Department were conducted by Cardno Entrix, which just happens to be employed frequently by TransCanada   Cardno Entrix made sure a large number of construction workers were transported in to the hearings, many from hundreds of miles away, all repeating the same mantra:  this pipeline will give us jobs.
     None of them ever said, we'd like jobs and we also realize that if the pipeline were moved to a safer location, there would be even more jobs.
     None of them ever said, if the pipeline were made of good American steel instead of cheap Indian imports, there would be a lot more jobs.
For a close-up of what it was like to testify at the hearings, read this:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Keystone crude -- for American use?

    How much tar-sands oil will be sold in the U.S. ?  

Arguments that tar-sands oil will reduce American dependency on Middle East oil fail the facts test.  There is now an over-supply of crude sitting in midwestern storage tanks, thereby depressing the cost of oil.   U.S. imports for 2010 were 86% of their all-time high in 2005. The oil companies’ solution is to export the excess, which will drive the price back up.  Tar-sands crude will not help our economy, it will not provide energy independence, nor will it result in less Middle East oil imports because we have already turned away from OPEC and Persian gulf sources, which last year were only 82% and 62% of their respective all-time highs.

For more details, see our post:  U.S. Oil Imports. A Short History. 
Data on U.S. petroleum imports was downloaded from U.S. Energy Information Administration spreadsheets.

The Piper's  file is a concatenation of EIA’s three spreadsheets obtained from the EIA on total imports, Persian Gulf imports, and OPEC imports.  The EIA data sources are noted within the file.    Keystone Piper made the percentage calculations, using the highest import year for each group as 100%.