Thursday, July 30, 2009

NETL experimenting with bees, balloons to trace CO2 leaks

Researchers at the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) believe bees, pollen, and helium-filled balloons possibly can help monitor for carbon dioxide leaks from sequestration sites.

NETL injected chemical tracers at low levels to fingerprint CO2 being sequestered, differentiating it from natural CO2. Researchers will determine if pollen collected by bees contains tracer or if bees bring back tracer from direct contact with foliage in a field near the sequestration site.

In cooperation with bee experts at Montana State University in Bozeman, NETL researchers placed hives about 150 m from a controlled CO2 release source marked with tracers. A third control hive was located some distance from the test plot.

NETL researchers used a large helium-filled balloon to elevate a carousel containing sealed sorbent tubes to determine if atmospheric plume monitoring of tracer will be feasible.

Monitoring consists of exposing sorbent in a small packet of sorbent tubes to the atmosphere. The tubes are heated while helium gas is flowing through them. This desorbs the tracer which is then analyzed, researchers said.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Managing a shift change in Alberta’s oil sands

Companies operating in the Alberta oil sands are trying to figure out how to retain the corporate knowledge base that long-time employees carry in their brains. Many of those employees are expected to retire in coming years.

“What you see in the northern Alberta oil sands is a group who are in their late 40s or 50s, and there are a bunch of young guys who are in their 20s,” said Emon Zaman, vice-president of AVEVA NET Solutions, a division of AVEVA Group PLC.

He spoke recently about management of change during the Oil Sands Heavy Oil Technology Conference in Calgary.

“I think that there will be like a cottage industry of small companies that could provide consulting and training and other things to oil companies to help mitigate that [knowledge] gap,” Zaman said. “We’ve seen a little bit of that start already…the competition for skilled resources is going to be that much greater.”

He sees a need for oil sands operators to get more people—especially younger employees--trained to run the daily operations. Meanwhile, companies are extending contracts to temporarily retain the veteran employees and also are granting them more flexible work schedules in order to keep the corporate knowledge base intact.

Zaman says information resides in many different sources for any company. Software can help integrate that knowledge. AVEVA is an engineering information technology software provider. Zaman believes AVEVA NET software can help “close the gap between what is in an individual’s head versus what is out in the field itself.”

He foresees information availability and accessibility as something that is going to get easier. For instance, some innovations are coming from consumer products, such as applications for handheld devices.

Zaman envisions a time when an employee can take a picture of a pump within a plant using a handheld device. The device then tells the employee all the details of the pump, including whether the company has a spare pump in its inventory or where to buy another pump or where to get parts for that pump.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

MMS outlines its Idle Iron program

It’s hurricane season again. The US Minerals Management Service is completing its review of all hurricane-damaged offshore facilities in the Gulf of Mexico region. A recent tally showed Hurricanes Gustav and Ike destroyed 60 platforms.

In preparation for future tropical storms and hurricanes, MMS is monitoring platforms and offshore structures that have a surface location on expired or terminated leases.

Lars Herbst, MMS regional director of the Gulf of Mexico region, spoke about the MMS Idle Iron program while addressing the Offshore Operators Committee on June 3.

Herbst said MMS enforces regulations calling for the plugging and abandonment of inactive wells and wells considered no longer useful for lease operations. MMS reports 515 such wells.

MMS is meeting with operators to discuss their schedules to complete well abandonment work.

“A schedule needs to be in place and followed,” Herbst said in his presentation. “The delay for platform removal will not be allowed to extend indefinitely.”

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Could African solar energy provide European electricity?

A German consortium, Desertec, is contemplating harnessing the sun’s energy in the North African desert to provide up to 15% of Europe’s electricity with little or no carbon dioxide emissions.

Insurance company Munich Re, wants companies like Siemens, Deutsche Bank, E.On and others to become involved. The idea is to establish solar farms in Tunisia and then send electricity to Europe.

“Over 90% of the world’s population could be supplied with clean power from deserts by using technologies that are available today,” said a Red Paper available on the Desertec Foundation web site, which is

The idea for solar power on a grand sale is nothing new, but cheap oil prices have discouraged its development previously. Germany’s Environment Ministry commissioned Hans Muller-Steinhagen to investigate the feasibility of Desertec, which is estimated to cost $555 billion.

Muller-Steinhagen says the technology already is available, and he tentatively believes such a project might be possible. He says no other energy source can achieve the massive energy density as sunshine.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Marathon and partners recognized for malaria control

Marathon Oil Corp. and its partners announced dramatic results of a malaria control project on Bioko Island in Equatorial Guinea.

The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene reports Marathon, Noble Energy Inc., GEPetrol (the national oil company of Equatorial Guinea), and Sociedad Nacional de Gas GE (Sonagas), cooperated with the government of Equatorial Guinea in a private-public malaria control partnership.

The project resulted in a 64% reduction in deaths among children younger than 5, a 57% decline in the prevalence of malaria infections in children ages 2-5, and an 86% decline in anemia in children ages 2-5. All these statistics involve Bioko Island.

Marathon Chief Executive Officer and Pres. Clarence Cazalot said the oil company was extremely pleased with the results, which surpassed goals already set by the United Nations.

“When Marathon began business operations in Equatorial Guinea, we quickly identified malaria as a key issue facing both employees and the local communities on Bioko Island,” Cazalot said.

Malaria kills more than 1 million people every year, and most of the deaths involve children younger than 5 years. The UN Millennium Development Goals call for a 66% reduction in mortality among children under 5 by 2015.

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