The Coal Hazard
|Kristen Lombardi||November 29th 2010|
Center for Public Integrity
Stand before the pond known here in southwestern Pennsylvania as Little Blue Run, and you’ll see nothing that resembles its bucolic-sounding name.
The one-time stream is now an industrial pond, filled with arsenic-laced waste from a coal-fired power plant. The pond spans nearly 1,000 acres of rolling, rural landscape in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, along the Ohio River. Millions of tons of coal ash have landed in the 35-year-old dump, looming over some 50,000 people in southeastern Ohio, held back by a 400-foot-tall dam, that federal regulators have deemed a “high hazard” to human life if it ever let loose.
Here in tiny Greene Township, where the pond consumes more than 10 percent of the total land, Little Blue Run seems a wasteland. Read more ..
|Simon Henderson||November 29th 2010|
|Saudi Royal Family (Credit: Ammar Abd Rabbo)|
On November 17, in the middle of the Eid al-Adha holiday, the Saudi Press Agency announced that Prince Badr, the long-serving deputy commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), had asked to be relieved from that role due to ill health. Minutes later, the agency announced that Badr’s request had been accepted and that King Abdullah’s son, Mitab, had been named SANG commander as well as a minister of state and a member of the Council of Ministers. Unstated was that King Abdullah, who had served as SANG commander since 1962, had given up the position. Read more ..
The Metal’s Edge
|Cindy Hurst||November 22nd 2010|
Cutting Edge Energy Writer
This is the final article in the three-part series on rare earth elements. The first focused on the role of rare earth elements in energy security; the second, on the environmental implications of rare earth mining and production.
Rare earth elements (REE) play a key role in developing technology today, yet few people have ever heard of them or truly understand their significance. REEs were first discovered in 1787 by Lieutenant Carl Axel Arrhenius, a Swedish army officer. Since then there has been a great deal of interest in their chemical properties and potential uses. If it were not for REEs, technology would be vastly different. REEs have diverse chemical, nuclear, metallurgical, magnetic, optical, and electrical properties that have led scientists to pursue an ever increasing variety of applications for them. They are vital to hundreds of high tech applications including green technologies and critical military technologies. Read more ..
The Metal’s Edge
|Cindy Hurst||November 15th 2010|
Cutting Edge Energy Writer
Last week, the Cutting Edge News published the first article of a three-part series about rare earth elements, which focused on their role in energy security. This is the second of three articles, focusing on some of the environmental implications of rare earth elements.
The topic of rare earth elements (REE) has been drawing a lot of attention from the international media and at the Congressional level. China currently has an iron grip on the REE industry, supplying over 95 percent of the world’s needs. This is significant because REEs are used in hundreds of high tech applications, including cellular telephones, laptop computers, iPods, critical military applications, and green technologies. Read more ..
The Ancient Edge
|Kent Patterson||November 15th 2010|
|Adobe house in Brazil|
Are people who move because of climate change and/or extreme weather events migrants or refugees? Do older methods of farming and home-building hold key answers to the environmental challenges of the 21st century? These were among the questions addressed by international delegates meeting at the 4th Global Forum on Migration and Development in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on November 10-11, 2010. Signaling U.S. interest in the debate, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Eric P. Schwartz represented the Obama administration at the event.
As part of the forum, representatives of non-governmental organizations spent two days strategizing solutions to the myriad problems confronting the world's more than 200 million international migrants. At a session on climate change and migration, delegates from Asia, Africa, Latin America and other parts of the world described how deforestation, extreme weather events, greenhouse gas emissions from the developed world, free trade, unequal development, and the erosion of public services all are combining to influence population movements in the 21st Century. Read more ..
The EV Edge
|Paul Scott||November 8th 2010|
|Honda EV Prototype|
Many people new to the EV world may not understand the importance of Honda’s announcement about the inevitability of EVs. Honda’s new CEO, Takanobu Ito, stated in an interview with Reuters, “It’s starting to look like there will be a market for electric vehicles. We can’t keep shooting down their potential, and we can’t say there’s no business case for it.” The story needs some context.
Back when the big six car makers—GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, and Honda—were told by California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) that they would have to build zero emission vehicles if they wanted to do business in California, there were howls of protest, ultimately resulting in most of these companies pursuing fuel cell technology as the end game for zero emissions. Read more ..
The Rail's Edge
|Jennifer Brookland||November 8th 2010|
|Train Derailment Aftermath in Graniteville, SC|
Graniteville, S.C.—a tiny mill town—has a before, and it has an after. The two were split as crudely as the live oak tree on Main Street when the hot metal of a derailed locomotive severed it. Before that 2005 train wreck, Graniteville was dotted with azaleas and sweet gum trees. Horse Creek was full of channel catfish and redear sunfish, bluegill, and black crappies.
In the early morning hours of Jan. 6, a Norfolk Southern freight train traveling at about 47 mph approached the sleeping town. Read more ..
The Metal’s Edge
|Cindy Hurst||November 8th 2010|
Cutting Edge Energy Writer
|Scandium, one of the rare earths|
This is the first of a three-part series about rare earth elements.
In a quest to reduce dependence on foreign imported oil and natural gas, many countries are turning to green technologies. In July 2010, former CIA Director James Woolsey told a group of over 250 people at Temple Beth Jacob in Los Angeles that if the U.S. could undermine oil’s monopoly on transportation, then Americans can free themselves from having to kowtow to “dictators and autocratic kingdoms,” such as Saudi Arabia and other members of OPEC. Read more ..
The Edge of Safety
|Alexander Bolton||November 1st 2010|
The rescue of 33 Chilean miners captured the world’s attention and reminded the public of the dangers of mining, but mine safety legislation sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has little prospect of passing.
The bill would give whistle-blower protection to non-union miners, increase criminal penalties for mine operators who tamper with safety equipment, require swift remedy of hazardous conditions, and expand the power for federal mine safety investigators to issue subpoenas. Democrats thought this summer the legislation had a good chance of passing but talks broke down in mid-September. Read more ..
|John Chapin||October 27th 2010|
Scientific and political disputes over drilling in the Marcellus shale formation and elsewhere in the United States for natural gas have focused primarily on the environmental effects of pumping millions of gallons of water and chemicals deep underground to blast through rocks to release the natural gas.
But researchers at the University of Buffalo in New York State have now found that that process—called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”—also causes uranium that is naturally trapped inside Marcellus shale to be released, raising additional environmental concerns.
Marcellus shale is a massive rock formation that stretches from New York through Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, and which is often described as the nation's largest source of natural gas. “Marcellus shale naturally traps metals such as uranium and at levels higher than usually found naturally, but lower than manmade contamination levels,” says Tracy Bank, PhD, assistant professor of geology in UB's College of Arts and Sciences and lead researcher. Read more ..
Mining on the Edge
|Jim Morris and Chris Hamby||October 18th 2010|
Center for Public Integrity
A long-delayed government epidemiological study of possible ties between diesel exhaust and lung cancer in miners may finally be published this fall— but only after a mining industry group, represented by the Washington lobbying powerhouse Patton Boggs, finishes a pre-publication review of the study’s drafts.
Eighteen years in the making and eagerly awaited by public health officials, the cancer study evaluates more than 12,000 current and former workers from eight mines that produce commodities other than coal. Read more ..
Edge on Petroleum
|Diego DiGhero||October 11th 2010|
Scientists in Australia have developed a revolutionary technique for the rapid on-site detection and quantification of petroleum hydrocarbons (commonly derived from crude oil) in soil, silt, sediment, or rock. Researchers at the continent's leading scientific institution, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, in collaboration with Ziltek Pty Ltd. - a company specializing in waste technology - developed a technique that can quantify the presence of petroleum hydrocarbons by simply by using a hand-held infrared spectrometer to take readings at the site of interest, without the need to take samples or perform any kind of processing. Read more ..
Edge on Solar Power
|Karin Kloosterman||October 4th 2010|
The Israeli-founded solar energy company, BrightSource, is building in California the largest solar-powered steam turbine generator ever built in the world. It hasn’t been without its struggles: environmentalists showed how the original build site for the solar panels interfered with wildlife such as coyotes. The company has responded, for instance, by making plans to relocate a native species of tortoise.
Now it looks like it is full steam ahead for BrightSource. The Israeli business newspaper Globes reports that BrightSource has just raised an additional $30 million, bringing its investment total to $300 million.
According to Globes, BrightSource has also $10 million from the Russian government venture capital fund and private investors. While founded only 4 years ago, BrightSource Energy is the parent company of BrightSource Industries Ltd. BSII has been pioneering solar thermal energy for nearly three decades. Read more ..
|Aaron Mehta||September 27th 2010|
Center for Public Integrity
|Oil spill victim Denise Green testifies before Congress|
Phyllis Nelson defied her doctors’ predictions by surviving chronic lung disease for the last seven years, and until late July she had her symptoms under control with just a single puff a day from her inhaler.
Then came the oil spill on July 25 — more than 800,000 gallons of crude from a broken pipeline spewing into the waterways near the trailer home park where she lives in Battle Creek, Mich. The spill forced Nelson and her neighbors to evacuate. Read more ..
Natural gas on the Edge
|Andrea Cornejo||September 20th 2010|
Council on Hemispheric Affairs
Between 2004 and 2009, approximately $1.13 billion in revenue generated by the Camisea natural gas project was transferred to local governments in Camisea’s sphere of influence. However, more than five years after the start of operations, critical gaps in meeting the basic needs of local citizens remain.”
The natural gas industry in Peru has boomed since mid-2004, when natural gas from the Camisea Project, located in the Urubamba Basin in the southeastern Peruvian Amazon, began to flow. At approximately $1.7 billion, Peru’s Camisea Project represents the largest investment in the country’s history. Since the project’s 2004 launch, according to an Oxfam report published in July of 2010, Camisea has been satisfying part of the external market demand for natural gas, albeit at alarmingly low prices dictated by the existing contract. These low prices, along with the sub-par royalties awarded to Peru in comparison to other gas-exporting Latin American countries, have become a liability for the Peruvian economy. Indeed, in terms of natural gas exports, Peru is currently not getting a fair deal. Read more ..
Edge on Petro-Politics
|Dan Levin||September 13th 2010|
The government of southern Sudan says it has resolved a dispute with the north over oil payments, months before a vote on independence.
Officials from the south’s finance ministry said on September 10 the north has agreed to resume paying the southern share of oil revenues in foreign currency, after switching to the Sudanese pound earlier this year. David Deng Athorbei, the finance minister for the south, to accuse the Muslim-dominated Khartoum of trying to undermine the southern economy. Sudan’s central bank in the north denied the accusation. The southern Sudanese government funds 98 percent of its budget with oil revenues. Read more ..
After the Spill
|Erika Niedowski and Ben Geman ||September 6th 2010|
An explosion on a Gulf of Mexico oil platform thrust the politics of offshore drilling back in the spotlight, as critics immediately seized on the accident to highlight what they called the industry’s inherent dangers.
The explosion and fire happened during the morning hours of September 2 at a production platform at Vermilion Block 380, about 100 miles off the Louisiana coast, according to its owner, Houston-based Mariner Energy, Inc. That’s west of where the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April, killing 11 workers, setting off one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history and leading to protracted debate on Capitol Hill over the merits and safety of offshore drilling. Read more ..
After the Spill
Cutting Edge Energy Analyst
The three-month oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been a stark reminder of one of the intangible costs of the transportation sector's near total dependence on oil. But if there was some hope that from this disaster would emerge policies that aim at strengthening America's energy security now it is clear that nothing close to that is going to happen. To the contrary, official response to the spill has only weakened our energy security. An impulsive moratorium banning exploratory drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, home to about 30 percent of U.S. domestic output, was announced, and two drilling rigs have already set sail, heading to foreign waters where busy drilling schedule is already awaiting them. Drilling rigs are in great demand and once they leave the Gulf of Mexico they are not likely to be back for years.
In response to the spill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced a bill comprised of a mishmash of policies that mostly have nothing to do with oil. A few days after its introduction, Senator Reid pulled the bill in the face of strong opposition and Congress broke for recess. Reid's pledge to continue the fight in September should not get us overly excited. In the weeks running up to the elections our elected officials will be busy undermining their political opponents, not OPEC. Read more ..
The Obama Edge
|Darren Goode ||August 23rd 2010|
|Barack Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu|
The Energy Department’s internal watchdog has mixed reviews of the department’s distribution and use of economic stimulus dollars, even as the White House touts the massive spending bill in the run-up to midterms.
President Obama’s planned tour on August 23 of ZBB Energy Corp.’s facilities in Menomonee Falls, Wis., is the latest in a series of stops this election season to highlight what the administration calls the effectiveness of federal clean energy stimulus investments. But recent reports by DOE’s Inspector General (IG) have cited problems with the department’s distribution of the stimulus dollars and recipients’ use of them. The IG reported on August 18 that DOE has given out about $2.7 billion of $3.2 billion in energy and conservation block grants provided in last year’s stimulus. Read more ..
Edge on Batteries
|Mary Beckman||August 16th 2010|
A little wax and soap can help build electrodes for cheaper lithium ion batteries, according to a recent study. The one-step method will allow battery developers to explore lower-priced alternatives to the lithium ion-metal oxide batteries currently on the market.
"Paraffin provides a medium in which to grow good electrode materials," said material scientist Daiwon Choi of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "This method will help researchers investigate cathode materials based on cheaper transition metals such as manganese or iron."
Consumers use long-lasting rechargeable lithium ion batteries in everything from cell phones to the latest portable gadget. Some carmakers want to use them in vehicles. Most lithium ion batteries available today are designed with an oxide of metal such as cobalt, nickel, or manganese. Choi and colleagues at PNNL and State University of New York at Binghamton wanted to explore both cheaper metals and the more stable phosphate in place of oxide.
The Recharge Tale
These rechargeable batteries work because lithium is selfish and wants its own electron. Positively charged lithium ions normally hang out in metal oxide, the stable, positive electrode in batteries. Metal oxide generously shares its electrons with the lithium ions. Read more ..
|Matt Khoury ||August 9th 2010|
It’s where the ancient biblical story of Jonah and the Whale took place. Now SDE Energy builds tidal energy plant in Jaffa, which should expand to 50 MW. The ancient port city of Jaffa, today a part of Tel Aviv, has added one more attraction to its historical harbor as a new sea wave power plant is completed. The Israeli tidal wave energy firm SDE have completed the construction of its first large scale sea wave power plant capable of producing 60 KWh. The new plant only has one buoy and is fully automated with only 10 percent of it in the water so to minimize the risk of damage to the system by storms and other natural disasters. The company already has business in China, India, and in Africa. The plant which is the ninth completed by the firm is the initial part of a plan the will lead to a 50 MW plant in the breakwaters of Jaffa, when finished to new plant will not only provide cost efficient renewable electricity to the port but also prevent the erosion of the breakwater usually caused by high wave. The firm has come to an agreement with Israel’s Electric Company to sell the electricity from the news plant at of 12 cents per KW. Read more ..
After the BP Spill
|Aaron Mehta and John Solomon||August 2nd 2010|
Center for Public Integrity
The Coast Guard has gathered evidence that it failed to follow its own firefighting policy during the Deepwater Horizon disaster and is investigating whether the chaotic spraying of tons of salt water by private boats contributed to sinking the ill-fated oil rig, according to interviews and documents.
Coast Guard officials reported that the service does not have the expertise to fight an oil rig fire and that its response to the April 20 explosion may have broken the service’s own rules by failing to ensure a firefighting expert supervised the half-dozen private boats that answered the Deepwater Horizon’s distress call to fight the blaze.
An official maritime investigation led by Coast Guard Capt. Hung M. Nguyen in New Orleans is examining whether the salt water that was sprayed across the burning platform overran the ballast system that kept the rig upright, changing its weight distribution, and causing it to list. “The joint investigation is absolutely looking into that, and whether it contributed to the sinking,” Capt. Ronald A. LaBrec, the Coast Guard’s chief spokesman, said.
The joint investigation by the Coast Guard and the Interior Department is one of 10 formal inquiries since the offshore oil well blew out, killing 11 workers and unleashing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in the worst spill in U.S. history. The disaster entered its 100th day on Wednesday.
While investigators have zeroed in on a series of missteps and ignored safety warnings aboard the rig that preceded the fiery explosion on April 20, the question of what caused the platform to collapse into the Gulf two days later remains unanswered and could prove vital to ongoing legal proceedings and congressional investigations. Read more ..
Public Transit on the Edge
|Jordy Yager||July 26th 2010|
Congress began ramping up its oversight of Metro as Washington, D.C. mass transit riders braced for a possible fare hike and transit officials embarked on making long overdue safety changes while fighting a multi-million dollar budget shortfall.
President Barack Obama has requested $150 million in the 2011 fiscal year budget to continue bailing out the aged Metro system, with most of the money going to buy new rail cars, modernize existing equipment, and improve the system’s safety features.
But the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development, and related agencies is reluctant to hand over a blank check to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) without closely scrutinizing the steps it’s taking, especially in the wake of a scathing audit by the Federal Transportation Agency (FTA) that recently found Metro to have persistent and systemic problems. Read more ..
After the BP Spill
|Juda Engelmayer||July 19th 2010|
Cutting Edge contributor
Just as the news for British Petroleum was getting brighter, with stocks soaring 6 percent higher after the temporary cap fell into place and sealed the leak into the Gulf of Mexico, news sources reported on a possible deal between the oil giant and the Libyan government that could end up in Libya’s owning a considerable stake in the oil company.
However, the story became even stickier for BP as the week ended. While its prices were at their disaster mode low, wealthy Libyan oil moguls were vying for a controlling stake in BP. Shokri Ghanem, chairman of Libya’s Nation Oil Co., with which BP is now doing business with, told Dow Jones Newswires that he will recommend investing in BP to the country’s sovereign wealth fund. Ghanem said in an interview, “BP is interesting now with the price lower by half and I still have trust in BP, I will recommend it to the [Libyan Investment Authority] … It’s a good opportunity for bargain hunters.” BP shares jumped 5 percent on the news out of Libya.
In addition, news on the street is that BP is now seeking increased Middle East investment as it guards against takeovers. European newspapers have reported that BP and the Kuwaiti Investment Authority are discussing increasing the Kuwaits’ existing 1.77 percent share in the company. BP CEO Tony Hayward recently flew to Abu Dhabi to meet Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Sheikh Mohammed is also the chairman of Mubadala Development, a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi government. Read more ..
After the BP Spill
|Kevin Bogardus||July 19th 2010|
A half-dozen offshore drilling and oil services companies have formed a coalition to push back against the Obama administration’s drilling moratorium.
The Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition has hired lawyers, lobbyists and PR specialists at several K Street shops. Though shallow-water drilling has not been suspended by the White House—only deepwater operations have—the group believes the Interior Department is damaging its business by stalling drilling permits of all kinds.
The coalition is one of several new faces showing up on lobbyists’ row since the explosion that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon oilrig on April 20. There have been at least a dozen new lobbying registrations for companies reacting to new legislation and regulations stemming from the disaster, according to a review of disclosure records.
It’s not just oil companies, though, turning to K Street to defend themselves against the oil spill’s legislative aftermath. Firms that service oil wells and those that can help with the massive cleanup operations have all hired lobbyists either to keep an eye on new, tough safety regulations or to help win cleanup contracts. Read more ..
EVs on the Edge
|Juda Engelmayer||July 12th 2010|
Cutting Edge Contributor
Well, it is finally here, kind of. The answer to oil consumption , the cure for crude, the break from a dependency that has arguably guided the United State’s foreign policy for decades; Chevrolet announced that its electric vehicle for the everyman, the Volt, will be put into proto-production late this year, and many become for sale in 2011. The immediate outlook, however, is not as clear as the emissions the Volt will produce. Chevrolet will only have ten thousand produced for sale in 2011 in just a few states and coast-to-coast demand has for years been vastly greater. In other words, the Volt will be a vehicle of token production until at least 2012, betraying years of promises to unleash abundant production for a market that already enjoys more than 53,000 advance waiting list names. The vehicle is years late. Read more ..
Edge of Wind
|Karin Kloosterman||July 5th 2010|
|Flag-decorated Israeli Wind Turbine|
Despite the latest tensions, two companies - one Palestinian and one Israeli - are integrating wind turbines together in the West Bank and beyond.
A path toward peace may be blowing in the wind, if a new wind energy project between a Palestinian and an Israeli company succeeds. The two companies, Israel Wind Power based in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv and Brothers Engineering Group from Bethlehem in the West Bank, have just announced their intention to cooperate in the building and selling of wind turbines in the West Bank region and beyond.
Most significant, they are undeterred by the latest tensions between Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and world powers in the wake of the recent Turkish-led flotilla incident that occurred near Gaza. Read more ..
The BP Spill
|Aaron Mehta and Josh Israel||June 28th 2010|
Center for Public Policy
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and at least three other federal lawmakers have sold their holdings in companies tied to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, it has been learned ahead the June 16 disclosure of 2009 personal financial records by all members of Congress.
According to an analysis, 20 members of Congress disclosed owning at least $1,001 worth of shares in BP or Transocean Ltd in their 2008 financial forms filed one year ago.
Kerry has sold his Transocean stock since the 2008 filing but still owns between $1,001 and $15,000 worth of stock in BP, his spokeswoman confirmed. The annual disclosure forms require members of the Senate and House to specify only a general range of asset values, not specific dollar amounts.
Despite his financial interest in the company, the Massachusetts Democrat has taken a hard line on BP in public statements. “I think we can finally get that oil leak plugged if we stuff it with the BP executives’ bonus money,” Kerry, the lead sponsor of a climate bill, said in a speech the previous week. Read more ..
The BP Spill
The Hill correspondent
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) plans to unveil legislation next week that would overhaul federal oversight of offshore oil-and-gas drilling and impose new safety standards.
Bingaman is readying the bill ahead of plans by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring wide-ranging energy legislation to the floor as soon as July.
Bingaman spokesman Bill Wicker declined on June 18 to provide details about Bingaman’s bill, but suggested it will be expansive. “It will address all the things which are in the scope of our committee's jurisdiction,” Wicker said.
He said it would be released some time ahead of a June 25 hearing that will explore several pieces of legislation in response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Read more ..
Edge of Energy
Cutting Edge energy and security analyst
|Leviathan natural gas field rig|
A door has been closed. But amid the roar, the creak of an opening window was faintly audible. This window, a gigantic deposit of natural gas called Leviathan, 6.5 times the size of Tel Aviv, was found, roughly 100 nautical miles from where the flotilla fiasco took place and well within Israel's extended territorial waters.
An old adage says that when God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window. To most people, last week's events off the coast of Gaza marked a sharp decline in Israel's strategic posture. The Mavi Marmara incident sparked international condemnation and delivered what may have been a death blow to Jerusalem's already precarious relations with Turkey. For decades that country was Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world, but since the election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it is increasingly in the thrall of fundamentalist Islam.
A door has been closed. But amid the roar, the creak of an opening window was faintly audible. This window, a gigantic deposit of natural gas called Leviathan, 6.5 times the size of Tel Aviv, was found, roughly 100 nautical miles from where the flotilla fiasco took place and well within Israel's extended territorial waters. This discovery may provide Israel with security in terms of its supply of electricity, turn it into an important natural gas exporter and provide a shot in the arm of some $300 billion over the life of the field - one-and-a-half times the national GDP - to the Israeli economy, already one of the most resilient in the world. Read more ..
Cutting Edge Energy and Security Analyst
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been spending a lot of time with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lately, to the consternation of the former's supporters at home and friends elsewhere in the West. Brazil, currently a member of the U.N. Security Council, has been unapologetic about its newfound relationship with Iran, which produced a dubious nuclear fuel-swap deal last month; it defends Iran's right to enrich uranium and rejects any idea of tough economic sanctions. The budding friendship has baffled Washington: Why would this Latin American country, otherwise a U.S. ally, insist on cozying up to Iran to the detriment of its relations closer to home?
There are several possible explanations. Brazil has long harbored its own nuclear aspirations, and increasingly seeks to define its own foreign policy and emerge as an independent global power. But Lula's motives may be less complicated than all that: There are also $10 billion in Brazilian-Iranian trade deals to be had. Perhaps the most intriguing, and strategic, aspect of those trade relations has to do with sugar.
Brazil is the world's largest sugar grower. This year it experienced a bumper crop, with output growing 16 percent from a year earlier. But due to a global glut, sugar prices have plunged 57 percent since February. Because sugar cane is a perishable crop that cannot be stored, the best way for Brazil to generate value from its undervalued surplus is by converting it into ethanol, of which Brazil is already the second-largest producer (after the United States) and a major consumer (for years Brazilians have driven mostly flex-fuel cars, which can run on any combination of gasoline and ethanol). The country's ethanol production is expected to rise 19 percent to 8 billion gallons this year. Read more ..
The BP Spill
|Ben Geman and Vicki Needham||May 31st 2010|
The Hill Correspondents
A top White House official and a senior Democrat on Sunday attacked BP for downplaying the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, accusing the oil giant of protecting its financial interests in low-balling the gusher’s size. The tough line with the company comes a day after BP and federal officials abandoned the “top kill” effort to block the damaged well.
“It is important to understand that BP has a financial interest in what those flow rates are. They will ultimately pay a fine based on those rates,” said Carol Browner, the White House climate and energy adviser, on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“It is important for people to understand [that] BP has a vested financial interest in downplaying the size of this,” Browner later added. “We are on top of it. We have the best minds looking at it.” Read more ..
The BP Spill
The Hill correspondent
A group of Senate Democrats is pressing the Obama administration to escalate its probe of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill by launching a criminal investigation of BP. Eight members of the Environment and Public Works Committee in a letter Monday to Attorney General Eric Holder asked him to explore whether BP made “false and misleading statements to the federal government regarding its ability to respond to oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico.” The letter points to an exploration plan that BP provided Interior Department regulators in February of 2009 that addresses the company’s ability to respond to a spill. Read more ..
The BP Spill
|John Solomon and Aaron Mehta ||May 17th 2010|
Center for Public Integrity
Over the last eight years, the U.S. government has conducted four major drills to prepare for a massive oil spill, the results of which foreshadowed many of the weaknesses in coordination, communication, expertise, and technology that have plagued the federal response to the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to interviews and after-action reports, the training exercises conducted in 2002, 2004, 2007, and just this past March caused federal officials to express concern about a host of issues. Most prominent among them:
- coordination and communication between the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security, especially involving the process for naming a National Incident Commander (NIC) to take charge of the crisis;
- a slow or inaccurate flow of information from the industry, particularly caused by companies' desire to protect proprietary information and officials' tendency to exclude industry representatives from the government's command center; and
- a lack of expertise and modern technology for closing a spewing oil well leak and containing a slick through controlled burns and dispersants.
Since then, the government has faced questions about why it took so long to declare the spill an emergency, why it didn’t use Pentagon planes sooner to spray dispersants and why it lacked a ready supply of specialized booms to contain and burn the growing oil slick. Read more ..
The Edge of Oil
|Jim Morris and M.B. Pell||May 17th 2010|
Center for Public Integrity
|BP's Renegade Refinery after Explosion|
Two refineries owned by oil giant BP account for 97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the refining industry by government safety inspectors over the past three years, a Center for Public Integrity analysis shows. Most of BP’s citations were classified as “egregious willful” by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and reflect alleged violations of a rule designed to prevent catastrophic events at refineries.
BP is battling a massive oil well spill in the Gulf of Mexico after an April 20 platform blast that killed 11 workers. But the firm has been under intense OSHA scrutiny since its refinery in Texas City, Texas, exploded in March 2005, killing 15 workers. While continuing its probe in Texas City, OSHA launched a nationwide refinery inspection program in June 2007 in response to a series of fires, explosions, and chemical releases throughout the industry. Read more ..
Edge of Oil
This continuing coverage of America’s oil crisis arises from the The Plan: How to Save America When the Oil Stops—or the Day Before (Dialog Press). Buy it here.
Environmental damage caused by the petroleum industry and its consumers is earth-shattering, literally. The world focus is now on BP’s massive, out-of-control underwater gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. Estimates of that oil pollution telescope across the numbers. Many sources estimate as much as 5,000 barrels per day are escaping into the Gulf. Other experts say the true number is closer to 1.1 million gallons—approximately 26,500 barrels— per day. A barrel of crude equals about 42 gallons. It is all evolving guesswork based on a cascade of satellite images and thickness estimates derived from visual descriptions of the slick. At press time, at least 4 million gallons—or as many as 21 million gallons—have thus far spilled, and the spill clock is rapidly racing forward.
Thus far, the media is comparing this current disaster to the Exxon Valdez event. The Exxon Valdez spilled 10.8 million gallons into Alaska’s Prince William Sound in March 1989, devastating the shore along with the area’s sea life, birds, and furry animals. Oil spills such as that of the Exxon Valdez inflict severe local ecological disasters where they occur. The Exxon Valdez incident is famous, but is hardly the largest spill in recent years.
Saddam Hussein’s intentional destruction of Kuwaiti oil wells caused 24 million to 60 million gallons of crude to gush into the Persian Gulf. But the largest spill on record is from Pemex’s Ixtoc I. From June 3, 1979, until it was capped forty-two weeks later, Ixtoc I dumped an estimated 151.2 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, most of which floated toward the Texas coastline. Read more ..
Edge on Energy
A comprehensive assessment of global fossil-fuel subsidies has found that governments are spending $500 billion annually on policies that undermine energy security and worsen the environment.
The study, titled "The Politics of Fossil-Fuel Subsidies" by David Victor, a professor of political science with UC San Diego's School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS), was one of five released by the Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI) of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).
GSI's goal is to reform, reduce and ultimately eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies, which are highest in Iran, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, India and Venezuela. The reform effort received a boost September 2009 when President Obama and other world leaders met in Pittsburgh, Pa., for the Group of 20 Summit. They agreed in a non-binding resolution to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies, but the measure didn't attempt to resolve difficult political issues such as how governments would actually achieve a phaseout. Victor's study addresses the political challenges. Read more ..
|Paul Goble||April 26th 2010|
Window on Eurasia
|Russian Black Sea Fleet|
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich stands to gain from “the gas for fleet” agreement under which he agreed to allow Russia’s Black Sea Fleet to remain in Sevastopol until 2042 in exchange for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s reduction of gas prices for Ukrainian customers, even if the the Ukranian Parliament, the Verhovna Rada, refuses to ratify it.
That is because, Vladimir Pribylovsky of Moscow’s Panorama Center says, “Yanukovich needs to strengthen the opinion of voters about himself, to build up his image which he offered in the recent presidential elections,” all the more so because there may soon be elections for the Rada “and [he] needs to retain these voters.” Read more ..
The Edge of Coal
|Jim Snyder||April 19th 2010|
The Hill Correspondent
House Democrats on Wednesday pressured coal company executives to drop opposition to climate legislation at a hearing that also briefly touched on safety issues following the explosion last week that killed 29 miners.
Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, urged executives from Peabody Energy, Arch Coal and Rio Tinto to “cease efforts to deny the science of global warming” and stop “misleading the public as to the true science behind climate change.”
The focus of the committee’s hearing was the future of coal, but Markey also asked the executives if the number of safety violations reported at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia prior to the blast was unusually high.
Markey said the mine had received more than 1,300 citations for safety violations from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration since 2005.
The executives said the citations at the mine seemed high, but added the type of mining done there posed hazards different from those of other mines. The executives all said the safety of miners was a priority for the industry. Officials from Massey Energy, which owns the Upper Big Branch mine, did not attend Wednesday’s hearing. Read more ..
The Edge of Wind
|Andrea Boyle||April 12th 2010|
The energy needs of the entire human population could potentially be met by converting wind energy to electricity. While offshore wind power resources are abundant, wind turbines are currently unable to provide steady power due to natural fluctuations in wind direction and strength. Steady is the key word.
Offshore wind power output can be made more consistent by choosing project development locations that take advantage of regional weather patterns and by connecting wind power generators with a shared power line, according to a paper by researchers from the University of Delaware and Stony Brook University published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Making wind-generated electricity more steady will enable wind power to become a much larger fraction of our electric sources,” said the paper's lead author Willett Kempton, University of Delaware professor of marine policy in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment and director of its Center for Carbon-free Power Integration.
The researchers analyzed five years of wind observations from 11 monitoring stations along the U.S. east coast from Florida to Maine. Based on wind speeds at each location, they estimated electrical power output from a hypothetical five-megawatt offshore turbine. After analyzing the patterns of wind energy among the stations along the coast, the team explored the seasonal effects on power output. Read more ..
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