Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Using time reversal to detect pipeline cracks

The agenda for an upcoming meeting of the Acoustical Society of America includes a session on a potential new technology to detect cracks in natural gas pipelines. The meeting is scheduled for May 18-22 in Portland.

Nicholas O’Donoughue of Carnegie Mellon University is researching how to monitor buried pipelines using embedded, ultrasonic detectors according to ScienceDaily, which based its story upon material from the American Institute of Physics.

His talk is entitled “Detection of structural faults in pipelines with time reversal.”
Time reversal involves patterns created by dispersion of sound waves that can be analyzed to detect changes in a material.

O’Donoughe’s idea is to send an ultrasonic signal from one detector through the walls of the pipeline to another detector. Ideally, the signal would retrace its route and bounce back to the first detector.

He believes a crack or corrosion would keep the sound waves from retracing their path. Any structural imperfections in a pipeline are expected to disturb the forward and backward waves.

The ScienceDaily story can be found at

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mayors making energy news

As an Oil & Gas Journal writer, I generally don’t report on city politics. However, this week, a couple of mayors deserve mention when it comes to energy-related news—Houston for taking on air emissions and San Diego for its renewable financing initiatives.

Houston Mayor Bill White received a favorable response from the US Environmental Protection Agency regarding his request for EPA to revamp the system that is used to calculate air emissions from petrochemical plants and refineries.

In July 2008, White filed a formal Request for Correction under the EPA’s Information Quality Guidelines. White long has questioned the level of toxic pollutants in Houston’s air, particularly benzene emissions. The EPA recently agreed to develop a comprehensive protocol from emission inventions.

In San Diego, Mayor Jerry Sanders is working to make solar panels more affordable for residents. The San Diego Clean Generation Program was announced in December and becomes effective July 1.

The city of San Diego pays the up-front installation costs for solar panels, and then homeowners and business repay the city over 20 years.

Sanders emphasizes the financing is tied to the property rather than an individual. Residents who install solar panels only pay for it while they own the property. Once they sell the house having these solar panels, the remaining cost passes onto the new owner.

While the general public might not understand most operating logistics of the oil and gas industry, people tend to notice efforts by their local politicians toward achieving cleaner air and providing green-financing initiatives.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Should Clean Air Act regulate carbon dioxide?

Should the US government regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions? If so, how? These questions and related issues are drawing much attention among lawmakers this year.

The Obama administration issued a notice Apr. 14 saying the Environmental Protection Agency will review whether CO2 emissions should fall under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The EPA already was reviewing whether CO2 should be regulated under the Clean Air Act (CAA).

The Obama administration’s notice about the CWA stems from a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, which wants to protect ocean water from ocean acidification.

The EPA is contemplating mandatory reporting of GHG emissions. In April 2007, the US Supreme Court ordered the Bush administration to reconsider whether GHG emissions are pollutants subject to regulation under the CAA.

H. Sterling Burnett, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, questions the CAA approach. He argues that if it must be undertaken at all, then Congress should pass a law directly addressing CO2.

“The regulation of CO2 should not be done through bureaucratic bootstrapping current clean air laws,” Burnett said. “Since this will affect the economy as a whole, it should be undertaken by those directly accountable to the voters or the nation as a whole.”

It will be interesting to see whether others, particularly Congress, adopt his philosophy.

Meanwhile, US House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) suggests the committee’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee will discuss energy and climate legislation on Earth Day, Apr. 22.

Waxman and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the committee’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee, introduced proposed legislation, the 2009 American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES).

Waxman expects that the full committee will complete consideration of the legislation by Memorial Day.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

OU working on bio oil

University of Oklahoma researchers believe fuels produced from biomass could create an alternate energy source and alleviate dependence on foreign oil.

Lance Lobban, director of the School of Chemical, Biological, and Materials Engineering, said researchers want to use catalysts and chemical reactors to convert cellulosic biomass into new fuels.

“The idea is to use a series of catalytic and separation steps to create the desired fuel molecules,” says Lobban who envisions fuels that can closely duplicate gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. “We have to design processes to convert biomass so the product works with the current system.”

OU’s chemical engineers are using molecular engineering to identify fuel molecules, and then researchers will develop the catalysts to produce those molecules from biomass.

The goal is to create what Lobban calls bio oil, which would be made by pyrolyzing biomass. Pyrolysis converts the solid biomass to liquids through a high-temperature, non-combustion process that breaks large, solid molecules into smaller liquid ones.

Bio oil’s composition is very different from either petroleum or synthetic oil, and bio oil would be an intermediate step in Lobban’s overall goal of producing “green” gasoline and diesel fuels.

“Bio oil is a mix of lots of compounds (alcohols, esters, aldehydes, organic acids, and more) and isn’t suitable to use directly as a transportation fuel,” Lobban said. “But we believe we can develop processes to refine it to produce gasoline and diesel that are completely fungible, i.e., which are completely compatible with every component of the present transportation fuel infrastructure.”

The same catalysts that refineries already use cannot be used to convert bio oil to fuel, he said. Bio oil will contain a high percentage of water, possibly 25-30%, and oxygen-containing compounds.

Because of its water content, bio oil could not be transported in existing pipelines. The goal is to make bio oil compatible with gasoline or diesel so retail fueling stations could use existing pumps.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Syncrude improves waterfowl protection

Unexpected weather and the timing of the 2008 spring bird migration around Calgary resulted in the deaths of 1,600 birds on an oil sands tailings pond about 1 year ago.

Consequently, Syncrude Canada upgraded its waterfowl protection system in advance of this spring’s migration. A joint venture of several oil companies, Syncrude faces charges from the Canadian federal and provincial governments for the waterfowl deaths.

Syncrude Chief Executive Officer Tom Katinas said waterfowl landed on Syncrude’s Aurora settling basin and drowned after getting coated in residual bitumen floating on the water.

A couple of factors set up that scenario. A snowstorm delayed the use of sound cannons that deter birds from landing. The 2008 migration started while natural water bodies remained frozen, making the Aurora settling basin more attractive to landing ducks.

“Everyone at Syncrude understands that our stakeholders expect the very best from us when it comes to protection of wildife,” Katinas said. “We regret what happened last year and recognize that it was completely unacceptable.”

He said the upgraded waterfowl protection system includes a new radar monitoring system for birds and the use of more deterrents.

Syncrude is a joint venture owned by Canadian Oil Sands Ltd., ConocoPhillips Oilsands Partnership II, Imperial Oil Resources, Mocal Energy Ltd., Murphy Oil Co. Ltd., Nexen Oil Sands Partnership, and Petro-Canada Oil & Gas.

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