Nuclear Energy Edge
|Kent Paterson||March 24th 2014|
Serious problems at a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico have caught the eyes of the press and government officials in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
The current round of troubles began February 5 at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico, when six workers were briefly hospitalized for smoke inhalation after a truck caught fire. A Valentine’s Day radiation leak then released plutonium and americium, resulting in exposures to at least 17 workers. An undetermined quantity of toxic chemicals also leaked.
Since February 14, additional radiation releases connected to the original one have been reported, even as more workers are still awaiting test results for possible radiation exposure during the first event.
Although Ciudad Juarez is located nearly 200 miles from WIPP, city officials expect to meet with U.S. government representatives on March 26 or 27 to discuss ongoing issues from the February 14 incident. Read more ..
The Race for Batteries
|Andy Freeberg||March 20th 2014|
Scientists at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have discovered a potential way to make graphene – a single layer of carbon atoms with great promise for future electronics – superconducting, a state in which it would carry electricity with 100 percent efficiency.
Researchers used a beam of intense ultraviolet light to look deep into the electronic structure of a material made of alternating layers of graphene and calcium.
While it's been known for nearly a decade that this combined material is superconducting, the new study offers the first compelling evidence that the graphene layers are instrumental in this process, a discovery that could transform the engineering of materials for nanoscale electronic devices. Read more ..
|Amy Mastand and Diane Swanbrow ||March 19th 2014|
Consumers, on average, believe home energy bills would have to nearly double before forcing them to make lifestyle changes to save on costs, according to a new U-M survey.
Conducted for the first time last fall, the U-M Energy Survey found that consumers anticipate a proportionally greater rise in home energy bills than in the price of gasoline — 30 percent for home energy versus 15 percent for gasoline — over the next five years.
According to federal data, the average U.S. household spent about $2,000 last year on home energy, including electricity and other household fuels, and an average of $2,900 per year on gasoline. Read more ..
The Race for Batteries
|Peter Ruegg||March 18th 2014|
Researchers from ETH Zurich and Empa have succeeded for the first time to produce uniform antimony nanocrystals. Tested as components of laboratory batteries, these are able to store a large number of both lithium and sodium ions. These nanomaterials operate with high rate and may eventually be used as alternative anode materials in future high-energy-density batteries.
TEM image (false coloured) of monodisperse antimony nanocrystals. (Photo: Maksym Kovalenko Group / ETH Zurich)
The hunt is on – for new materials to be used in the next generation of batteries that may one day replace current lithium ion batteries. Today, the latter are commonplace and provide a reliable power source for smartphones, laptops and many other portable electrical devices. Read more ..
The Coal Problem
|Timothy Cama||March 17th 2014|
The Sierra Club on Monday launched a new ad campaign aimed at pressuring the Environmental Protection Agency into adopting strong regulations against dumping coal ash into water.
The ad campaign, dubbed “Thirsty?”, warns that coal ash could pollute drinking water, citing spills in West Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. The ads urge the EPA to protect against such pollution, which they said contains arsenic, mercury and lead.
“Americans deserve water we can drink, not water that makes us sick,” Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said in a statement Monday. “The West Virginia water crisis, the Duke Energy coal ash spill and the [Tennessee Valley Authority] coal ash disaster of 2008 all underscore the inadequacy of current state and federal safeguards. Now is the time to act swiftly in order to protect our health and waterways from coal’s toxic legacy.” Read more ..
The Battle for Ukraine
|David Biello||March 16th 2014|
Ukraine is on its own
, not least when it comes to energy—and that crimps the country's ability to respond to Russia's land grab in the Crimean peninsula. Ukraine relies on Russia for roughly two thirds of its natural gas supplies, suggesting that the current geopolitical impasse will likely continue to fall in Russia’s favor. Even with a few months of natural gas in storage, "they're in a tough spot if those supplies are cut off," notes Jason Bordoff, one-time Obama administration policy advisor and now director of Columbia's Center on Global Energy Policy, who was a speaker on a panel of experts at Columbia University’s School of International and Political Affairs (SIPA) on March 10.
Russia has the leverage to use its energy supplies as a political cudgel in Ukraine or the rest of Europe—the European Union imports one third of its gas from the eastern giant—and has not hesitated to use it in the past, most recently in 2009. Read more ..
|Marie-Helene Thibeault||March 15th 2014|
They're called the Alberta oilsands but most of the sand actually came from the Appalachian region on the eastern side of the North American continent, a new University of Calgary-led study shows.
The oilsands also include sand from the Canadian Shield in northern and east-central Canada and from the Canadian Rockies in western Canada, the study says. This study is the first to determine the age of individual sediment grains in the oilsands and assess their origin.
"The oilsands are looked at as a Western asset," says study lead author Christine Benyon, who is just completing her Master's degree in Geoscience in the Faculty of Science.
"But we wouldn't have oilsands without the sand, and some of that sand owes its origin to the Appalachians and other parts of Canada."
The research, which also involved study sponsor Nexen Energy ULC and the University of Arizona LaserChron Center, was published last week in the Journal of Sedimentary Research. The findings contribute to geologists' fundamental understanding of the oilsands.
They also help oilsands companies better understand the stratigraphy, or layers, of sand and the ancient valleys where sediment was deposited, "and that could lead to better production techniques," Benyon says.
To determine the origin of the sand, the researchers used a relatively new technique called "detrital zircon uranium-lead geochronology." Read more ..
|Laura Barron-Lopez||March 14th 2014|
House Democrats are joining the growing campaign to pressure Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.
A letter sent to Kerry on Friday, signed by 27 House Democrats, details what they said would be the climate impacts of approving the $5.4 billion project, which would run from oil sands in Alberta to Gulf refineries.
"The math doesn't add up. In order to meet our commitment to fight climate change, we need to keep at least 80 percent of carbon reserves below ground," the letter, spearheaded by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Mike Quigley (Ill.), Rush Holt (N.J.) and Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), states.
"If the United States is truly committed to avoiding a 2 degree temperature increase, we have to start by resisting this pipeline. We urge you to reject the pipeline and keep tar sands oil in the ground where it belongs.”
The representatives were joined by the National Wildlife Federation and activist group 350.org on Friday.
Kerry this week said he's a blank slate when it comes to Keystone despite his advocacy for taking action to reduce climate change. Read more ..
The Race for Natural Gas
|Laura Barron-Lopez||March 13th 2014|
Three Republican senators are pushing legislation that fast-tracks permits for natural gas pipelines in an effort to curb gas flaring.
Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.), John Hoeven (N.D.), and Mike Enzi (Wyo.) introduced the bill on Wednesday, which requires the Interior and Agriculture Departments to issues permits for the majority of gas pipelines within 60 days.
"Abundant, low-cost energy shouldn’t have to wait on the federal government for approval,” Enzi said in a statement on Wednesday. “But that’s often what happens when we lose natural gas to flaring on account of delays in permitting infrastructure improvements. American energy is ready to power our country if Washington would just get out of the way. We can do better and our legislation is one step in that direction.” Read more ..
The Race for Natural
|Antoine Blua||March 12th 2014|
With shale gas production in the United States booming, Russia’s intervention in Crimea has given a boost to those calling for the United States to expedite natural gas exports to Europe to help it cut its reliance on Russian energy. But how realistic is this idea?
Why all the talk about the United States exporting natural gas to Europe?
Russia is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas and Moscow has not been shy about using this as a political weapon. With Russia supplying Europe with approximately 40 percent of its energy, and with the main natural gas pipelines running through Ukraine, the potential for new disruptions -- and political blackmail -- are very real.
This has led to calls for Europe to seek alternative sources of energy. And one key source could be across the Atlantic Ocean, in the United States. Thanks to breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing technology, known as fracking, and the subsequent "shale gas revolution," the United States has in recent years become the world's largest natural gas producer. Read more ..
The Race for Nuclear
|Douglas Birch and R. Jeffery Smith||March 10th 2014|
Center for Public Integrity
A generation after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the world is rediscovering the attractions of nuclear power to curb the warming pollution of carbon fuels. And so a new industry focused on plutonium-based nuclear fuel has begun to take shape in the far reaches of Asia, with ambitions to spread elsewhere — and some frightening implications, if Thomas Cochran is correct.
A Washington-based physicist and nuclear contrarian, Cochran helped kill a vast plutonium-based nuclear industrial complex back in the 1970s, and now he’s at it again — lecturing at symposia, standing up at official meetings, and confronting nuclear industry representatives with warnings about how commercializing plutonium will put the public at enormous risk. Where the story ends isn’t clear. But the stakes are large.
The impetus for Cochran’s urgent new campaign — supported by a growing cadre of arms control and proliferation experts — is a seemingly puzzling decision by Japan to ready a new $22 billion plutonium production plant for operation as early as October. Read more ..
|Edward Yeranian||March 9th 2014|
Leaders of eastern Libya's self-declared autonomous region of Barqa declared Saturday that they had begun exporting oil from the port of Sidra and would share revenues with the central government in accordance with a 1951 constitution. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan told journalists later that government authorities have warned a North Korean-flagged oil tanker to leave Libyan waters or face attack.
Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan repeated an official warning to a North Korean-flagged oil tanker Saturday afternoon to “leave Libyan waters” or face attack.
He said that the North Korean tanker, bearing the name Morning Glory, entered the Libyan port of Sidra, breaking international law, and was warned to leave or face attack. He stressed that the ship has said it would like to leave, but is being forced by militiamen to load crude. Read more ..
|Mario Trujillo||March 8th 2014|
Sixty-five percent of people support the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline between the United States and Canada, a new poll finds.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Friday shows only 22 percent are opposed to the project.
The poll shows there has been little movement in support or opposition to the pipeline in the last year. A Pew poll last April found 66 percent backed construction.
Majorities of every political party back the pipeline, with Republicans most in favor. Eighty-two percent of Republicans back the effort, while 65 percent of independents and 51 percent of Democrats feel the same.
In the public’s mind, the economic benefits outweigh concerns about the environmental impact of the pipeline, which is projected to carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day. Eighty-five percent say the pipeline would create a large number of jobs, including 62 percent who believe it “strongly." Another 47 percent think it would pose a significant risk to the environment. Read more ..
The Coal Problem
|Pete Kasperowicz||March 6th 2014|
The House voted Thursday to override a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule limiting carbon emissions from future coal-fired electricity plants.
Members passed the Electricity Security and Affordability Act, H.R. 3826, in a mostly partisan 229-183 vote; 10 Democrats voted for passage.
The bill is a response to a proposed EPA rule Republicans say would require new coal-fired plants to achieve an emission standard that is virtually impossible using today's widely available technology. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the bill's sponsor, says that means the rule will effectively ban new power plants. Read more ..
Russia on Edge
|Pete Kasperowicz||March 5th 2014|
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday called on the Obama administration to allow more exports of natural gas, which he said is a move that would help weaken the influence of Russia.
Boehner said Russia's involvement in Ukraine is "more than a cause for concern, it's a cause for action." He said Congress would work with the White House to counter Russia's move into Ukraine, but said energy policy should also be a part of the U.S. reaction.
He said selling more natural gas abroad would help boost U.S. values overseas, but said so far, President Obama's Energy Department is holding these exports back. "We can supplant Russia's influence, but we won't so long as we have to contend with the Energy Department's achingly slow approval process," Boehner said on the House floor. Read more ..
|Mark J. Perry||March 3rd 2014|
At a time when many people have put off buying a new car until the economy improves, the last thing we need is a stringent government regulation on fuel efficiency that will raise the cost of vehicles and make matters even more difficult for consumers.
The Obama administration has mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards that require automakers to make expensive redesigns on new vehicles.
By 2016, the fuel efficiency of the America's new vehicle fleet will have to average at least 34.1 miles per gallon. By 2025, compared to 2012 models, automakers will have to nearly double fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon.
The administration approved the CAFE standards to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from vehicle tailpipes. It was done without full public discussion and debate, without considering the burden on consumers, or the impact on the automobile industry and working people. Read more ..
The Coal Problem
|Chris Hamby||March 2nd 2014|
Center for Public Integrity
Coal miners sick with black lung disease should receive higher-quality medical reports and have a better chance to win benefits cases following a series of reforms announced Monday by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The initiatives, effective immediately, represent an attempt by the Labor Department to create a more level playing field for coal miners navigating a byzantine federal benefits system that often favors coal companies and the lawyers and doctors they enlist.
The changes come months after the publication of the yearlong Center for Public Integrity investigation Breathless and Burdened, produced in partnership with ABC News, which revealed how doctors and lawyers, working on behalf of coal companies, have helped defeat the claims of miners sick and dying of black lung.
The new measures include a pilot program that would provide some miners with an additional medical report, instructions to government lawyers across the country to intervene in some appeals and increased training for doctors and government officials.
“We really think this is going to create more balance and fairness,” said Gary Steinberg, the acting director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, which oversees the black lung benefits program. “Our goal is that it will result in an increase in the number of awards because of an increased quality in the reports and quality in the decisions.”
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called the Labor Department’s initiatives “a step in the right direction,” and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said they were "a good first step toward leveling the playing field.” Both noted, however, that only some miners qualify for them and called for further action.
Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., said: "While this is certainly an encouraging development, it’s far from what’s needed to ensure these miners and their families receive justice. I’ll continue to push the Department of Labor to make the necessary reforms to get this right.” A spokesman for the National Mining Association declined to comment. Read more ..
The Coal Problem
|Tim Devaney||March 1st 2014|
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy on Friday signaled an intent to work with industry groups on the ageny's proposed standards for coal-fired power plants.
Speaking from North Dakota, McCarthy said the EPA is not interested in what critics have said is a "war on coal" by the Obama administration, aimed at pushing out coal companies to make room for renewable energy.
"Coal is in our energy mix today, and it will be for decades in the future," McCarthy said.
Focus has turned to North Dakota as of late, where the state is in the middle of an energy boom, in large part due to coal-fired power plants. McCarthy traveled there at the request of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) to see what the state's plants are doing firsthand.
The EPA has drawn criticism from industry groups for what they say is the agency's "war on coal." Earlier this year, the EPA proposed tougher standards that would limit carbon emissions from new power plants, which critics say will make it nearly impossible to build new plants. Read more ..
The Race for Solar
|Hilary Heuler||February 28th 2014|
In Uganda, telecom provider MTN and a company called Fenix are gearing up this year for a nationwide rollout of pre-paid electricity, similar to pre-paid airtime, but using solar kits. Uganda has one of the lowest electrification rates in Africa - a continent where some 600 million people are off the power grid.
The village of Kiwumu lies less than 32 kilometers from the Ugandan capital, Kampala. But the bright lights of the city seem worlds away. Like the vast majority of Uganda, Kiwumu is off the electrical grid, and teacher Michael Mugerwa does not expect things to change any time soon.
"I'm not dreaming of having grid power here in the next 15 years, because power distribution is influenced by government, and government seems to have preference elsewhere. So it's not easy to get grid in these residential communities," he said. Read more ..
The Race for Wind and Sun
|Ana Hontz-Ward||February 27th 2014|
Germany is one of the top producers of renewable energy in the world. Since the year 2000 the country’s production of clean electricity jumped from a modest 6 percent to 25 percent last year in an effort to shift the German economy from nuclear power and fossil fuels towards wind and solar energy. Despite the progress, German consumers pay among the highest electricity prices in the European Union.
Lissy Ishang started turning off appliances to save energy when she moved away from home a decade ago. Back then, Lissy’s family was paying half the price Germans pay today for electricity and this year German consumers are expected to pay even more.
Today an average family of four in Germany spends about $107 a month for electricity. This year, their monthly bill will be $129, almost three times more than a family in the United States. Read more ..
|Timothy P. Carney||February 26th 2014|
Should a Canadian corporation be allowed to take land rights from a small Nebraska rancher? Should conservatives side with Big Government and Canadians over private landowners?
A court in Nebraska has put the brakes on the Keystone XL pipeline in a case that started with land rights. The plaintiffs were landowners in Keystone's path who didn't want to sell, and so became victims of eminent domain to benefit Keystone.
The Keystone XL pipeline, being built by TransCanada, has generated dozens of passionate arguments on both sides. Keystone opponents say the pipeline will disrupt habitats. The pipeline has also become a totem for oil, and thus a symbol of so many things hated on the Left: profits, pollution, climate change, and Republicans. Read more ..
|Nicole Casal Moore||February 25th 2014|
About 50 percent more of the greenhouse gas methane has been seeping into the atmosphere than previously thought, according to far-reaching findings that synthesize two decades' worth of methane studies in North America. People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect. Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas.
The study was a broad-based effort led by Stanford University that involved researchers from the University of Michigan, MIT, Harvard University and 11 other institutions and national laboratories. It's the first to integrate studies that looked at both individual ground-based components and continental-scale observations.
"People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect," said Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. Read more ..
The Race for Electric
|Jeff Shu||February 25th 2014|
In the heart of southern California, home of packed freeways and major smog problems, help may be on the way from an unexpected source - China. The Chinese company BYD is trying to make an impact while overcoming new obstacles.
Outside the BYD U.S. headquarters in the heart of Los Angeles, Auto Marketing Manager Lifang Yan agilely moved a 12-meter-long BYD electric-powered bus. “Zero emissions, zero pollution, lower fuel costs, and lower maintenance costs," she said.
BYD, which is short for “Build You Dreams”, is the first Chinese company to manufacture cars in the United States. Its battery-powered buses should be a dream come true for a city with constant traffic jams and serious air pollution like Los Angeles. And so far, the company has three small orders from southern California transit agencies. But now, it needs to convince buyers to make larger orders. Read more ..
|Justin Sink||February 24th 2014|
President Obama told governors gathered at the White House on Monday he expects to make a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline within the next couple of months, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said.
Fallin and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, both Republicans, said they raised the issue in a closed question-and-answer session with the president. "He anticipates an answer one way or another in a couple of months," Fallin said.
If the timeline holds, it means Obama would make a decision on the controversial project before the midterm elections. The pipeline has been championed by Republicans and vulnerable Senate Democrats, including Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Begich (Alaska), who say it would create construction jobs.
White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to comment on the conversation between the president and the governors. "I don't have a timetable to give to you," Carney said. "I'd refer you to the State Department." Read more ..
|Keith Laing||February 23rd 2014|
The Department of Transportation and Association of American Railroads (AAR) announced an agreement Friday to lower the speed limit for freight trains carrying crude oil. They also agreed to inspect tracks more frequently as part of a new safety effort.
The voluntary reforms follow the high-profile December derailment of a train in Casselton, N.D., that resulted in 400,000 gallons of crude oil being spilled and prompted a push for more stringent federal regulation of freight rail shipments involving hazardous materials.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said increasing the safety of freight rail oil shipments was a goal for both the DOT and the freight rail industry. “DOT and the Association of American Railroads (AAR) both recognize that the United States has experienced a significant growth in the quantity of petroleum crude oil being shipped by rail in recent years,” Foxx wrote Friday in a letter to AAR President Ed Hemberger. Read more ..
|David Hasamyer, Ben Wieder and Alan Suderman||February 22nd 2014|
Center for Public Integrity
In January 2011, with air quality worsening in Texas’ booming oil and gas fields and the federal government beginning to take notice, state environmental regulators adopted rules to reduce harmful emissions. The industry rebelled. So did the state legislature.
A few months later, the legislature overwhelmingly approved SB1134, a bill that effectively prevented the new regulations from being applied in the Eagle Ford Shale region of South Texas, the fastest-growing oil shale play in the nation and maybe the world. Since then, more than 2,400 air emissions permits have been issued in the Eagle Ford without additional safeguards that would have reduced the amounts of benzene, hydrogen sulfide, formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals that drift into the air breathed by 1.1 million people. Read more ..
|Laura Barron-Lopez||February 21st 2014|
Green groups say a Nebraska county judge’s ruling this week striking down the Keystone XL pipeline’s route through that state provides an opening for President Obama to delay his decision on the project.
The question, observers say, is whether Obama is interested in another delay during a midterm election year, where delay or rejection of Keystone could hurt Democratic Senate candidates.
Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy’s ruling should put off the State Department’s determination on whether the pipeline is in the national interest, says Melinda Pierce of the Sierra Club.
“I can't imagine State can move forward on the national interest determination when the route is in question,” said Pierce, who added that she can’t envision a scenario where State would move forward until the issues in Nebraska are resolved. Read more ..
|Mark J. Perry||February 20th 2014|
Spurred by rapid growth in crude oil shipments in the last few years, America's freight railroads are gaining a new lease on life.
Small amounts of domestic crude have always been transported by rail, but since the recent shale oil boom, the increase in shipments has been enormous. Last year, about 400,000 carloads of crude oil traveled by rail, up from only 9,500 carloads in 2008, according to the Association of American Railroads. At about 714 barrels of crude oil per railcar, that's more than 782,000 barrels of America's crude oil transported every day last year by rail.
To grasp the revolutionary change in the logistics of crude-oil transit, consider that more than 71 million barrels of crude oil were shipped by rail in just the last quarter of 2013. That's 52% more oil than trains hauled during all of 2011, and more than 10 times the volume of oil shipped in 2008. Read more ..
The Race for Nuclear
|Bernard Shusman||February 19th 2014|
In the midst of the current debate over whether to build the Keystone oil pipeline from Canada into the United States and the efforts to develop solar and wind power, nuclear energy is hardly being discussed. However, the Nuclear Energy Institute - an industry lobbying group -- reports the number of nuclear power plants in the United States is growing.
The big news is new facilities. Four are currently being constructed: two each in South Carolina and Georgia. The Nuclear Energy Institute said there are 12 additional applications to build nuclear power plants. Steve Byrne, of South Carolina Electric and Gas, said that for his company, nuclear was a good option.
“Coal was in disfavor. The price of natural gas relatively high, so nuclear made a lot of sense to us. So we were a company that already operated a nuclear facility, had a tremendous site for adding new nuclear capacity, so we made the decision to go nuclear,” said Byrne. Read more ..
The Global Warming Edge
|Hannah Hickey||February 18th 2014|
University of Washington
Spraying reflective particles into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight and then stopping it could exacerbate the problem of climate change, according to new research by atmospheric scientists at the University of Washington.
Carrying out geoengineering for several decades and then stopping would cause warming at a rate that will greatly exceed that expected due to global warming, according to a study published Feb. 18 in Environmental Research Letters.
“The absolute temperature ends up being roughly the same as what it would have been, but the rate of change is so drastic, that ecosystems and organisms would have very little time to adapt to the changes,” said lead author Kelly McCusker, who did the work for her UW doctoral thesis.
The study looks at solar radiation management, a proposed method of geoengineering by spraying tiny sulfur-based particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight. This is similar to what happens after a major volcanic eruption, and many experts believe the technique is economically and technically feasible. But continuous implementation over years depends on technical functioning, continuous funding, bureaucratic agreement and lack of negative side effects. Read more ..
|Justin Sink and Laura Barron-Lopez||February 17th 2014|
When President Obama heads down to sunny Toluca, Mexico next week, he might feel an unusual chill in the air.
The president is slated to hold economic and trade discussions with Mexican President Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper — the latter of whom is expected to give President Obama an earful over approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
The Canadian government has vocally advocated for the $5.4 billion construction project, with Harper recently calling the extension "inevitable.” That effort has only intensified since the release less than a month ago of the long-awaited State Department's final environmental analysis, which said the pipeline wouldn't significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions. Read more ..
The Race for Nuclear
|R. Jeffrey Smith and Douglas Birch||February 16th 2014|
Center for Public Integrity
A confidential study by the Energy Department has concluded that completing a controversial nuclear fuel factory in South Carolina may cost billions of dollars more than the department has previously promised, according to government officials and industry sources briefed on its results.
The study, conducted for Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, also found that finishing and then operating the factory to help get rid of Cold War-era plutonium as part of a nonproliferation arrangement with Russia would likely cost a total of $25 billion to $30 billion on top of the $4 billion spent on its construction so far, the sources said.
That amount is so high, the officials said, that the Obama administration is leaning towards embracing what one described as “some other option” for dealing with the 34 tons of weapons plutonium that the so-called Mixed Oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel plant at Savannah River was supposed to help eliminate. Read more ..
|Jeff Seldin||February 14th 2014|
Iraq is planning to triple its oil-producing capacity by 2020, hoping to leverage its natural resources in a power arrangement with Iran that could challenge Saudi Arabia’s domination of the world oil market.
So far, most of the talk has come from Iraqi officials who have been expressing confidence the country can again become a major regional player despite an upsurge in violence that killed 1,000 people last month, and nearly 9,000 last year.
In London last week, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani announced that Iraq plans to triple its oil output to nine million barrels per day by the end of the decade. And he hinted that is just part of Iraq’s plans. "Iran has been in touch with us," al-Shahristani told the London Telegraph. "They want to share our contracts model and experience." Read more ..
|Alexandra Jaffe and Laura Barron-Lopez||February 13th 2014|
Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) new powers as chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee could end up being a double-edged sword for her already-difficult reelection chances.
The Bayou Democrat took over the plum post on Wednesday evening, which could allow her to push legislation popular back home that boosts the oil industry, all while distancing herself from an unpopular President Obama.
But it also raises the pressure on her to deliver for home-state constituents. If she falters, her pitch risks ringing hollow as voters questions her ability to deliver. Republicans like Louisiana GOP Chairman Roger Villere are already pledging to make her chairmanship a liability.
“For years she has donated to anti-energy Senators and helped keep Harry Reid and his anti-energy team in control of the Senate,” Villere said in a release to be issued Thursday. “She has consistently put special interests above what’s best for Louisiana’s energy economy,” added Villere, who called Landrieu’s chairmanship “the epitome of hypocrisy.” Read more ..
The Coal Problem
|Laura Barron-Lopez||February 12th 2014|
West Virginia is facing another chemical spill, but this time it's coal slurry.
On Tuesday, coal slurry from a line in the Patriot Coal facilities spilled into Fields Creek -- a tributary of the Kanawha River near Charleston.
The slurry blackened six miles of the creek and inspectors are testing water to determine how much leaked, CNN reports. They believe roughly 100,000 gallons spilled.
Patriot Coal began cleanup and containment immediately, said Janine Orf, a vice president at Patriot Coal.
State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Tom Aluise said the water in eastern Kanawha County is safe to drink. Still, West Virginia American Water released a "do not use" alert for the area for pregnant women for the separate Jan. 9 spill into Elk River from a Freedom Industries' site. Read more ..
|Laura Barron-Lopez||February 11th 2014|
Sen. Mary Landrieu starts her chairmanship on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.
Hours after being notified that she would take the helm, the Louisiana Democrat shared the news with a room full of utility regulators Tuesday morning.
"I was just told I will be head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee at 1 p.m. today," Landrieu said on Tuesday. And the oil-and-gas industry, along with coal advocates, let its excitement be known.
“She has been an outspoken critic of EPA’s misguided carbon regulations, often breaking with party lines in order to voice her concerns about the rules’ devastating economic consequences," the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity said in a statement. Read more ..
The Auto Age
|Bernie DeGroat||February 10th 2014|
Gas mileage of new vehicles sold in the U.S. improved in January 2014, while emissions are now at their best mark ever, say researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
Average fuel economy (window-sticker values) of cars, light trucks, vans and SUVs purchased last month was 24.9 mpg, up 0.1 mpg from December and up 4.8 mpg since October 2007, the first month of monitoring, according to UMTRI's Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle.
In addition to average fuel economy, Sivak and Schoettle issued a monthly update of their national Eco-Driving Index, which estimates the average monthly emissions generated by an individual U.S. driver. The EDI takes into account both the fuel used per distance driven and the amount of driving—the latter relying on data that are published with a two-month lag. Read more ..
The Grid on Edge
|Mark Snowiss||February 9th 2014|
An unsolved sniper attack last year on an electrical power substation in California that knocked out 17 giant transformers has mobilized industry leaders to beef up physical security at these vital installations. The incident also has some experts worried that parts of the U.S. power grid are similarly vulnerable.
On April 16, 2013, attackers cut fiber optic cables in an underground vault and then fired more than 100 rounds from at least two high-powered rifles on Pacific Gas and Electric's Metcalf power transmission station near San Jose, California.
The attack did not cause major power disruptions because officials were able to reroute electricity remotely during the 27 days it took to repair the installation and get it back on line, according to PG&E spokesman Brian Swanson. Read more ..
The Race for Batteries
|Paul Buckley||February 6th 2014|
Researchers at Washington State University have developed a chewing gum-like battery material that is claimed could reduce the fire hazard potential of lithium ion batteries. The development is timely following UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) recent declaration that the huge growth in people carrying lithium batteries on aircraft is posing a growing fire risk. Led by Katie Zhong, Westinghouse Distinguished Professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, the researchers reported on their work in the journal, Advanced Energy Materials.
The biggest potential risk for high performance lithium batteries comes from the electrolyte in the battery, which is made of either a liquid or gel in all commercially available rechargeable lithium batteries. The liquid acid solutions can leak and pose a fire or chemical burn hazard. Read more ..
|Dorian Jones||February 4th 2014|
With oil now flowing from Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey after the two sides signed a groundbreaking agreement late last year, Baghdad is mounting an international legal challenge to the deal.
In a deepening row over control of Iraq’s energy, Baghdad has announced it is employing an international law firm to block the sale of oil piped from semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey. Last year, Ankara signed a wide-ranging energy agreement with the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, and last December, oil from the region started flowing through a newly-constructed pipeline to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.
But Iraq's central government insisted only it had the right to sign agreements on exporting energy. Dr. Emre Iseri, an energy politics expert at Izmir’s Yasar University, said the legal challenge posed a threat to the agreement. "It’s a problem. You are talking about international law, it's about legitimacy. If you act against international law, that means your maneuvering space is limited," he said. Read more ..
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