Deepwater Horizon

Salon: Since Deepwater Horizon, ‘we have voted to do nothing’

Salon.com’s Andrew O’Hehir has a thought-provoking post on the new documentary “The Great Invisible,” about the 2010 explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig.

O’Hehir makes the point that the film doesn’t demonize BP and other oil companies for the spill, because of our “larger relationship to oil,” as the film’s director, Margaret Brown, put it. She goes on:

“Why don’t we understand our connection to this thing that we use every day, but we never see, as it travels from sometimes miles beneath the surface of the ocean into the tank of our car, and then back out into the atmosphere?” As the oil trader mentioned above observes, we have defined our standard of living by the ability to drive anywhere we want and buy any kind of product, at any hour of the day or night. That simply isn’t possible without a constant, uninterrupted and ever-increasing supply of oil …”

The film also interviews many of the survivors of the accident, in which 11 men were killed. A post by Rachel Guillory of Ocean Conservancy delves into this angle, which includes the many safety lapses associated with the rig:

“There were 26 different mistakes made,” said Keith Jones, father of Gordon Jones—a drilling engineer who died in the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The cement hadn’t cured, he said, there was rubber in the drilling mud and the hydraulics for the blow-out preventer were not working. These stories from staff aboard the Deepwater Horizon support the presidential oil spill commission’s conclusion that the BP oil disaster was caused by a culture of complacency, rather than a culture of safety.

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Energy Quote of the Day: ‘Natural Gas is Often Described as a Bridge Fuel…How Long Should that Bridge Be?’

A new report released by the Canadian Pembina Institute and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions looks at British Columbia’s (B.C.) liquefied natural gas (LNG) strategy to serve the lucrative Asian gas market through the prism of global climate change in a carbon-constrained world. “Natural gas is often described as a bridge fuel. The question is, how long should that bridge be?” says Josha MacNab, B.C. Regional Director for the Pembina Institute.

Read more at: Breaking Energy

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BusinessWeek: Oil prices might have further to fall

A story in BusinessWeek highlights a Goldman Sachs report from this week hinting that U.S. drillers might want to let up a bit, in the face of still-plummeting worldwide prices.

The shale boom in the U.S. isn’t likely to pull back until oil gets so cheap that people can’t make money drilling for it. There are a lot of estimates of the break-even price for U.S. shale producers. Some think it’s around $80 a barrel, others think it’s closer to $60, and it’s obviously not going to be the same for everyone. The number changes depending on where you’re drilling and how good you are.

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Falling oil prices may strengthen U.S. hand in talks with Iran

The United States has been in protracted negotiations with Iran over a settlement that would reduce or eliminate economic sanctions against Iran, in exchange for that country delaying its nuclear program.

With oil prices falling — one expert notes that Iran needs a price of $140 per barrel to balance its national budget — the U.S. position could be strengthened. But as this excellent story by Thomas Erdbrink of The New York Times shows, Iran isn’t likely to give away everything, even if it halts the nationwide economic pain.

“They will remain focused on getting a deal, but not any deal,” said Ali Khorram, a former Iranian ambassador to China who is close to the negotiating team.

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North Dakota taking steps to use more of its natural gas

North Dakota flares more than 25 percent of the natural gas it extracts from the Bakken oil-shale play. Not only is natural gas cheaper (i.e. not as profitable) than the oil that comes out of the same wells, there’s a lack of pipeline and storage capacity in that region. Texas, by comparison, flares only 1 percent of its natural gas.

But the state is taking steps to build the infrastructure to capture and use more natural gas. As Adam Belz of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes:

A quiet transformation is underway, however, as the state bids to turn natural gas into a native business and drive down flaring.

A growing network of pipelines and processing plants has made North Dakota a recent target for billions of dollars of investment toward factories that convert natural gas into other products like fertilizer and plastic.

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Levi: Relaxing U.S. oil exports might not make sense

Michael Levi, senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations, shared his thoughts last week on the U.S. ban on oil exports, saying on API’s Marketplace program that with global prices so low, it might not make sense for American drillers to increase production.

“I don’t think anyone knows what the price of oil will be in a year,” he said. “The big news in the oil markets is not just lower prices — it’s the return of volatility, and volatility works in both directions. … In the worst case, relaxing the ban doesn’t do anything.”

The story on the Marketplace website, by Dan Weissman, leads with the Government Accountability Office report stating that relaxing the 40-year-old export ban could lower domestic gasoline prices. Some experts disagree with that prediction, and in an event, the GAO report was written more than a month ago, before oil prices began to fall sharply on their own.

Breaking Energy’s Jared Anderson added:

“US producers might not want to sell into a bear market, as a sustained period of low oil prices would hurt their profitability and could put the brakes on US oil output growth. So changing the policy on exports might not alter physical balances and the price signals they send.”

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Hey Nebraskans, 1 in 10 of you drives a flex-fuel vehicle

Nebraska is the nation’s third-leading corn producer (behind Iowa and Illinois), and it’s also fertile ground for the ethanol industry.

As the state Department of Agriculture notes, Nebraska has 25 operating ethanol plants that produce more than 1.2 billion gallons of ethanol a year. These operations employ about 3,000 people.

So it’s no surprise that Nebraskans are ahead of much of the nation when it comes to adopting ethanol as a transportation fuel. There are 67 stations in the state where E85 (a blend of up to 85 percent ethanol and the rest traditional gasoline) is available, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center.

About 10 percent of Nebraskans drive a vehicle that is branded flex-fuel, with the tell-tale badge on the rear or a yellow gas cap, meaning it can run any ethanol concentration (including E85) or gasoline or any blend of the two. The benefits of running E85 in a flex-fuel vehicle are numerous: It’s often cheaper than regular gas, even when you account for the roughly 30 percent reduction in fuel economy compared with gas; ethanol produces less toxic pollutants that harm health, and fewer greenhouse-gas emissions that harm the environment. The vehicle’s engine also has more power and better performance on ethanol.

In a story in the Grand Island Independent by Robert Pore this week, Gov. Dave Heineman encouraged Nebraskans who own flex-fuel vehicles to support the state’s ethanol industry, and take advantage of a renewable resource grown locally, by filling up with E85. “E85 continues to gain popularity across our state and country – allowing us to continue to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” Heineman said.

Nebraskans will have the opportunity to learn more about ethanol and other replacement fuels during a free screening of the Fuel Freedom Foundation-produced documentary “PUMP” on Nov. 12 on the University of Nebraska campus in Lincoln. The film will be shown at 7 p.m. at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, 313 N. 13th Street. As this calendar notice on the Lincoln Journal Star website notes, the screening will be hosted by the Nebraska Ethanol Board, the Urban Air Initiative and the Association of Nebraska Ethanol Producers. After the film, Doug Durante, executive director of the Clean Fuels Development Coalition, will lead a brief panel discussion and take questions from the audience.

“PUMP” is playing in theaters in several other cities, including Anchorage and Tucson. Visit PUMPTheMovie.com for more information.