Monday, July 30, 2012

Is the Natural Gas Fracking Industry Paying Off Scientists?

Last week the University of Texas provost announced he would re-examine a report by a UT professor that said fracking was safe for groundwater after the revelation that the professor pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Texas natural gas developer. It’s the latest fusillade in the ongoing battle over the basic facts of fracking in America.

Texans aren’t the only ones having their fracking conversations shaped by industry-funded research. Ohioans got their first taste last week of the latest public-relations campaign by the energy policy wing of the US Chamber of Commerce. It’s called “Shale Works for US,” and it aims to spend millions on advertising and public events to sell Ohioans on the idea that fracking is a surefire way to yank the state out of recession.

The campaign is loaded with rosy employment statistics, which trace to an April report authored by professors at three major Ohio universities and funded by, you guessed it, the natural gas industry. The report paints a bright future for fracking in Ohio as a job-creator.

One co-author of the study, Robert Chase, is poised at such a high-traffic crossroads of that state’s natural gas universe that his case was recently taken up by the Ohio Ethics Commission, whose chairman called him “more than a passing participant in the operations of the Ohio oil and gas industry,” and questioned his potential conflicts of interest. As landowners in a suite of natural gas-rich states like Texas and Ohio struggle to to decipher conflicting reports about the safety of fracking, Chase is a piece in what environmental and academic watchdogs call a growing puzzle of industry-funded fracking research with poor disclosure and dubious objectivity.

“It’s hard to find someone who’s truly independant and doesn’t have at least one iron in the fire,” said Ohio oil and gas lease attorney Mark F. Okey. “It’s a good ol’ boys network and they like to take care of their own.” More




Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Peak Oil Crisis: Middle Eastern Chaos - Tom Whipple

In surveying the multiple, uprisings, insurgencies, insurrections, confrontations and what have you currently going on in the Middle East, it is hard to believe that all this turmoil will not eventually find its way to our local gas pumps.

In the last week the overall situation clearly has taken a turn for the worse with large numbers of Syrian insurgents infiltrating Damascus and Aleppo for the first time accompanied by the spectacular bombing of a security meeting that killed four of the regime's top leaders. As the 16 month uprising, that to date has killed some 20,000 people, grinds towards a bloody conclusion, the Assad government has pulled out one of its last cards which is the large stockpile of chemical and biological weapons that it has accumulated with the help of the Russians as a deterrent against the Israelis.

There is no other term for all this than "a can of worms." It is going to be a long hot summer in the region with the likelihood that things will get a lot worse before fall comes.

Now such weapons are virtually useless in fighting urban insurgents, but the threat of turning some of them over to any of the numerous jihadist groups running around the Middle East carries a lot of weight. Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a national government against which it is easy to retaliate is one thing, in the hands of stateless militants in a self-martyring frame of mind is something entirely different. The Middle East and much of the world would never be the same should nerve gas canisters rather than bombs become the weapon of choice to express dissatisfaction or score political points.

Until now the US and other western powers have been reluctant to become militarily involved in yet another Middle Eastern conflict. Should it appear, however, that the Assad government is losing control of its chemical and biological weapons, intervention, at least by Israel and likely a wider circle of Western powers, would be inevitable. The ramifications of such a foreign military intervention into the Syrian situation would be widespread.

The next ominous development was the recent bombing of a bus filled with Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. Although the Bulgarians are withholding judgment as to the sponsor of the plot until the investigation is complete, the Israelis were quick to blame Iran and their Palestinian associates, Hezbollah. If Iranian sponsorship is established, the bus bombing indicates that after the failure of a string of plots to assassinate Israeli diplomats, Tehran has turned to attacking soft targets such as Israeli tourists on the way to a Bulgarian beach. More


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Reducing CO2: Research Shows Chemical and Economic Feasibility for Capturing Carbon Dioxide Directly from Air

ScienceDaily (July 23, 2012) — With a series of papers published in chemistry and chemical engineering journals, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have advanced the case for extracting carbon dioxide directly from the air using newly-developed adsorbent materials.

The technique might initially be used to supply carbon dioxide for such industrial applications as fuel production from algae or enhanced oil recovery. But the method could later be used to supplement the capture of CO2 from power plant flue gases as part of efforts to reduce concentrations of the atmospheric warming chemical.

In a detailed economic feasibility study, the researchers projected that a CO2 removal unit the size of an ocean shipping container could extract approximately a thousand tons of the gas per year with operating costs of approximately $100 per ton. The researchers also reported on advances in adsorbent materials for selectively capturing carbon dioxide.

"Even if we removed CO2 from all the flue gas, we'd still only get a portion of the carbon dioxide emitted each year," noted David Sholl, a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering. "If we want to make deep cuts in emissions, we'll have to do more -- and air capture is one option for doing that."

The Georgia Tech research into air capture techniques was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Papers describing the economic analysis and new adsorbent materials were published in the journals ChemSusChem, Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research, the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters and the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Carbon dioxide from large sources such as coal-burning power plants or chemical facilities account for less than half the worldwide emissions of the gas, noted Christopher Jones, also a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering. Much of the remaining emissions come from mobile sources such as buses, cars, planes and ships, where capture would be much more costly per ton. More


Branson, Gates, Bezos: Ultra-Rich Visions for Nuclear Power

Nuclear power is a complicated issue these days. Protests are expanding in Japan as reactors come back online, while countries around the world stake out spots on the "for" and "against" bandwagons. It seems, though, that a net worth with lots of zeroes at the end might influence one's opinion. That is, at least if we take three of the world's most visible entrepreneurs as a representative sample. Here are the nuclear ambitions of a triumvirate with a collective worth of $83.6 billion.

Richard Branson

The Virgin Group chairman is known for some extravagant investments, perhaps most notably Virgin Galactic and its desire to send you—yes, you—into space. Branson recently sent a letter to President Obama asking for a meeting and urging him to reopen government research into integral fast reactors (IFR), though he apparently has not yet thrown any money into the idea. IFRs can burn uranium and plutonium generated as waste by standard fission reactors, thus solving the ongoing nuclear waste question and reducing the chances of nuclear weapons proliferation. Still, there is plenty of controversy surrounding these reactors—enough that Obama declined the requested meeting.

Bill Gates

The world's second richest person actually is spending some dough on nuclear power, as a significant investor in a company called TerraPower. TerraPower is working on a design called a traveling wave reactor (TWR). These reactors need a small amount of enriched uranium to start up, but once working they can sustain the reactions using spent uranium from standard reactors. TWRs use a slow-moving wave where neutrons convert adjacent waste products like uranium-238 into fissile isotopes; this would theoretically use far less fuel and require less refueling and maintenance than traditional reactors. TerraPower says there are 700 000 metric tons of spent fuel in the U.S. alone, and one 8-ton canister could power 2.5 million homes for a year. Gates' investment is reportedly in the tens of millions of dollars.

Jeff Bezos

Amazon's founder is throwing his money farther into the reaches of science fiction than his co-billionaires. His investment company Bezos Expeditions contributed some unknown portion of $19.5 million to a company called General Fusion in 2011. As the name suggests, General Fusion is going for the sun-in-a-bottle approach to nuclear power instead of using fission, focusing on a technique known as magnetized target fusion. This involves creating fusion reactions; to do so, the company first confines "plasma in a magnetic field, and then compress[es] the confined plasma to thermonuclear conditions." It may seem pie-in-the-sky, but... well, it probably is. More


Monday, July 23, 2012

Energy & Water are Closely Related

While we are always reminded in the media about the questions of energy security, water resources are equally important and increasingly linked to energy in what became known as the energy water nexus, or how much of each is needed to make the other available.

For the greater part of energy production water comes in as a very important input. It is necessary for oil fields development not only for drilling but to maintain production later and more is needed when enhanced oil recovery is practised. The World Energy Council (WEC) estimates an average of 40 barrels of water needed for the production of one barrel of oil. In today’s increasingly practised shale oil and gas development and oil extraction from tar sands or what is known as unconventional oil and gas, WEC estimates 90 to 150 barrels of water for each barrel of oil. The list goes on as four cubic metres of water are needed for every tonne of coal produced and in biofuel production the ratio is staggering at 1,100 litres of water for a litre of ethanol.

In electricity generation, thermal power stations in the US use 143 billion gallons of water every day, three times more than that used in public water supply and even more than irrigation use. Even hydroelectric power plants “consume” water due to the evaporation in the reservoirs that feed them. Therefore a shortage of water can inhibit the production of electricity or more energy is needed to bring water from far away sources. More


Monday, July 16, 2012

Scary Oil - Nouriel Roubini

NEW YORK – Today’s fragile global economy faces many risks: the risk of another flare-up of the eurozone crisis; the risk of a worse-than-expected slowdown in China; and the risk that economic recovery in the United States will fizzle (yet again). But no risk is more serious than that posed by a further spike in oil prices.

The price of a barrel of Brent crude, which was well below $100 in 2011, recently peaked at $125. Gasoline prices in the US are approaching $4 a gallon, a damaging threshold for consumer confidence, and will increase further during the high-demand summer season.

CommentsThe reason is fear. Not only are oil supplies plentiful, but demand in the US and Europe has been lower, owing to decreasing car use in the last few years and weak or negative GDP growth in the US and the eurozone. Simply put, increasing worry about a military conflict between Israel and Iran has created a “fear premium.”

CommentsThe last three global recessions (prior to 2008) were each caused by a geopolitical shock in the Middle East that led to a sharp spike in oil prices. The 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and the Arab states led to global stagflation (recession and inflation) in 1974-1975. The Iranian revolution in 1979 led to global stagflation in 1980-1982. And Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990 led to the global recession of 1990-1991.

CommentsEven the recent global recession, though triggered by a financial crisis, was exacerbated by spiking oil prices in 2008. With the barrel price reaching $145 in July of that year, oil-importing advanced economies and emerging markets alike faced a recessionary tipping point.

CommentsThe risk that Israel’s threat to attack Iran’s nuclear installations will, in fact, lead to an outright military conflict may still be low, but it is growing. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to the US demonstrated that Israel’s fuse is much shorter than the Americans’. The current war of words is escalating, as is the covert war that Israel and the US are allegedly engaging in with Iran (including killings of nuclear scientists and use of cyber-warfare to damage nuclear facilities).

CommentsIran, with its back to the wall as sanctions bite harder (especially the recent SWIFT and central bank restrictions, and Europe’s decision to stop importing Iranian oil), could react by increasing tensions in the Gulf. Eventually, it could easily sink a few ships to block the Strait of Hormuz, or unleash its proxies in the region, which include pro-Iranian Shia forces in Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. More


Friday, July 6, 2012

Power-Generating Windows Offer New Horizons for Office Energy Efficiency

For solar enthusiasts on limited budgets, rooftop panels are no longer the only way to produce clean electricity. Try all of the south-facing windows, instead.

According to a recent article in Science Daily, “New Insights Into Power-Generating Windows,” Jan Willem Wiegman will graduate from TU Delft with with an Applied Physics Masters and his research into power-generating windows. As a student, he calculated how much electricity can be generated using luminescent solar concentrators. Importantly, these are not costly new windows he’s talking about, just windows that are fitted with a thin film of material, which absorbs sunlight, then directs it to narrow solar cells at the perimeter of the window. Wiegman shows the relationship between the colour of the material used and the maximum amount of power that can be generated.

Such power-generating windows might offer remarkable potential as an inexpensive source of solar energy that can attract many new renewable energy champions whose budgets have previously been restrictive in converting to solar energy.

For those wishing to dig deeper into the technology, Wiegman’s research article, written with his supervisor at TU Delft, Erik van der Kolk, has been published in the journal Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells.

Urban office towers may be likely candidates for this energy generating application, as the majority of them feature more window square footage than what’s on the roof. More (


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Strait History And Iran 's Options

George Santayana wisely said: “" Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it ." Oblivious to history and its lessons, America and its Western allies are repeating their actions of the 1950's -- that of imposing an oil embargo on Iran . The American-led alliance has forgotten the past.

Iran remembers

When under the leadership of the nationalist Dr. Mossadegh, Iran opted to nationalize its oil industry, the British Royal Navy blocked Iran 's oil exports to forcefully prevent if from nationalizing its oil. In retaliation to Iran 's nationalistic ambitions, and to punish Iran for pursuing its national interests, the British instigated a worldwide boycott of Iranian oil.

In the 1950's, Iran did not have the military might to retaliate to the oil embargo and the naval blockade was aimed at crushing the economy in order to bring about regime change. The subsequent events is described in The New York Times [i] article as a “lesson in the heavy cost that must be paid” when an oil-rich Third World nation “goes berserk with fanatical nationalism.” Iran learnt that sovereignty and nationalism necessitate tactical/military strength and determination.

Not heeding the aftermath of the 1950's, the American-led Western allies have once again imposed an oil embargo on Iran . In retaliation, Iran has drafted a bill to stop the flow of oil through its territorial waters – the Strait of Hormuz , to countries which have imposed sanctions against it. This bill is not without merit and contrary to the previous oil embargo, it would appear that Tehran has the upper hand and the heavy cost associated with the embargo will not be borne by Iran alone.

Iran's Legal Standing

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea stipulates that vessels can exercise the right of innocent passage, and coastal states should not impede their passage. Although Iran has signed the Treaty, the Treaty was not ratified, as such, it has no legal standing. However, even if one overlooks the non-binding signature, under UNCLOS framework of international law, a coastal state can block ships from entering its territorial waters if the passage of the ships harms “peace, good order or security” of said state, as the passage of such ships would no longer be deemed “innocent” [ii] .

Even if Iran simply chooses to merely delay the passage of tankers by exercising its right to inspect every oil-tanker that passes through the Strait of Hormuz , these inspections and subsequent delays would maintain or contribute to higher oil prices. While higher oil prices would benefit Iran and other oil-producing countries, they would further destabilize the European economy which is already in crisis. More


The End of Growth Update Part 2

The social dimensions of the end of growth are coming into clearer focus with each passing month—from last year’s Occupy uprisings, to the recent NATO demonstrations in Chicago, to mass demonstrations in Spain, and on and on. Also clearer is the desperate strategy of the powerful, which consists primarily of the militarization of the police and the criminalization of dissent.

Yet what else besides unrest and revolt is to be expected from soaring youth unemployment rates, falling living standards, and still-increasing levels of economic inequality?


By now it is also becoming clearer that the social impacts of contraction serve as a reinforcing feedback to the economy, worsening the debt crisis. A revealing phrase is being used to describe Europe’s financial mess: “the street has taken control.” As people express fears about the future of the euro by taking their money out of banks, the banks weaken and demand more backstops from governments, which have to run even bigger deficits in order to provide bailouts. Further, as people lose faith that government can address economic problems, they stop paying taxes—as is happening in Greece—thus making government even less effective.


Lack of social cohesion is itself a cost to the economy. It’s hard to make a formal economy work at top speed if it is being sabotaged, or if a significant proportion of its output has to go toward keeping people from deserting it in favor of a growing informal economy of black markets, subsistence, and barter.


War is a timeworn solution to economic problems. Surplus young males are kept off the streets; idle manufacturing capacity is engaged; dissent can be ruthlessly swept aside. But in our current global circumstances war is itself becoming increasingly costly, and the US (which is typically at the center of any international conflict du jour) is extremely war-weary. Apart from threats and counter-threats over Iran’s nuclear program, there are few signs yet that strategies of desperation are about to be deployed on a broad scale. But with economic tensions nearing the breaking point geopolitical rivalries could escalate very quickly.

The social consequences of economic contraction are discussed in more detail in my recent essay “The Fight of the Century.”

The economy needs fuel . . . and more of it all the time

To most commentators, the current economic dilemma appears to have emerged solely from problems within the global financial system. But, as I argued inThe End of Growth, there are deeper and—in the long run—much more important factors at work. The economy requires ever-widening streams of resources in order to grow, and many key resources are becoming more expensive to produce. This is particularly true with regard to energy resources, especially oil.

The 2011 [disaster] total was undoubtedly much higher due to the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns, which by themselves caused roughly $1 trillion in damage

Blowing in the wind
In The End of Growth I argued that the direct financial costs of environmental disasters (principally, droughts and floods, together with large-scale industrial accidents) are rising to the point where they will soon overwhelm economies and make growth impossible. I cited the Haitian earthquake, the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, extensive wildfires in Russia, and deadly floods in Pakistan, all occurring in 2010; the monetary costs to the global economy that year (as figured by the insurance industry) totaled $250 billion. The 2011 total was undoubtedly much higher due to the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns, which by themselves caused roughly $1 trillion in damage (I have yet to see a final figure that takes into account other catastrophic events last year). More