Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spilled oil being burned on open water, EPA monitoring

Oil spill response officials are using controlled burns to eliminate some of the crude oil spilled off Louisiana. They say burning crude oil offshore has been effective elsewhere in the past.

Meanwhile, federal officials are monitoring air quality and testing water samples. Officials say it will take some time to measure the effectiveness of the controlled burns in the Gulf of Mexico.

US Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said a controlled burn off the coast of Newfoundland in 1993 proved very effective at eliminating oil trapped in special containment booms and set on fire.

The majority of the spill on the gulf’s surface is an oil-water mixture called a rainbow sheen with some areas of emulsified oil. The spill is moving closer to the shore and to Louisiana’s wetlands.

The controlled burn eliminates the emulsified oil, leaving a waxy substance that can be picked up by skimming vessels.

“If we don’t secure this well, this could be one of the most significant oil spills in US history,” Landry said during an Apr. 27 news conference. An estimated 5,000 b/d is leaking from a BP PLC well drilled by Transocean Ltd’s Deepwater Horizon.

An Apr. 20 explosion and fire on the semisubmersible left 11 crew members missing and presumed dead. The semi sank on Mississippi Canyon Block 252 on Apr. 22. Efforts continue to stop the leaking oil.

The controlled burn practice does involve tradeoffs in that it creates air pollution, said Charlie Henry, a scientific support coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Meanwhile, other scientists say warm water temperatures, strong sunshine, and microbial action will help the oil degrade and evaporate. The spill involves light, sweet crude so it will degrade faster than did the heavy oil spilled from the Exxon Valdez tanker. An API spokewoman says a controlled burn was used on the Valdez spill and was effective.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

API reaffirms oil and gas industry commitment to safety

While the US Coast Guard searched for workers missing after an explosion and fire on a semisubmersible rig off Louisiana, American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard told reporters in Houston that safety is the oil and gas industry’s top priority.

“Every time an incident happens, we ask ourselves what we can do better,” Gerard said. “We’re working for a zero-injury, zero-fatality effort.” Industry considers workers to be its “most sacred” asset, he added.

April has been marred by accidents, both upstream and downstream. An Apr. 2 explosion in a naphtha hydrotreater within Tesoro Corp.’s 120,000-b/d refinery at Anacortes, Wash., killed six employees. The hydrotreater was undergoing maintenance at the time (OGJ Online, Apr. 5, 2010).

On Apr. 12, the United Steelworkers issued a news release saying the refinery industry fails to learn from past disasters. The union called on refiners to develop and implement policies requiring full safety reviews before all process start-ups and scheduled shutdowns.

Gerard said API devotes much of its staff’s attention to safety, adding that API’s activities involve research, standards development and reviews as well as training efforts and information transfers.

On Apr. 20-21, Gerard was in Houston to speak to the local API chapter and to brief reporters. He told reporters that his thoughts were with the families of 11 missing workers.

An explosion and fire rocked the Transocean Ltd. Deepwater Horizon rig at about 10 p.m. CDT Apr. 20. The semi was drilling for BP Exploration & Production Inc. on Mississippi Canyon Block 252 about 41 miles off Louisiana.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

CleanFuel USA, Ferrellgas to develop propane fueling stations

Propane’s reputation as an economic alternate fuel to gasoline or diesel is likely to get a boost thanks to a recent US Department of Energy grant.

Ferrellgas Partners LP, a propane distributor, and CleanFuel USA plan to develop retail propane refueling stations in 11 cities. DOE awarded CleanFuel USA $13 million through the Clean Start initiative to construct a propane refueling network.

The designated fuel partner, Ferrellgas is helping CleanFuel USA identify locations, submit permits, construct sites, and maintain the systems.

The companies expect to break ground on the first station during the third quarter. They will start in the Dallas area and also plan stations in Austin, Baton Rouge, Chicago, Indianapolis, Lake Charles, New Orleans, Orlando, Phoenix, San Antonio, and St. Louis.

Tony Dale, Ferrellgas national director of engine fuels, said propane is the most widely used fuel after gasoline and diesel.

Raymond James & Associates Inc. analysts suggested in a research memo that the use of propane as a mainstream engine fuel could serve as a long-term growth catalyst for Ferrellgas and the retail propane industry in general.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Students design extremely efficient vehicles

Energy efficiency is garnering widespread publicity lately while US regulators wrestle with energy and environmental issues. Separately, I couldn’t help but hope that energy czars and policymakers of the future emerge from among 400 students who competed in last month’s Shell Eco-marathon Americas.

Extreme energy efficiency was literally tested when student teams competed to design and build vehicles running the farthest distance using the least amount of energy. The eco-marathon kicked off Mar. 27 with Shell Oil Co. President Marvin Odum waving the green start flag as 48 vehicles tested on the course in downtown Houston.

A team from Laval University in Quebec won the grand prize for a second consecutive year. The fuel efficiency of Laval University team’s entry in the Prototype category was 2,487.5 mpg.

For the Prototype category, teams entered futuristic, streamlined prototypes–experimental vehicles focused on maximizing fuel efficiency through innovative design. Prototype entries included 28 vehicles powered by combustion engines, five by fuel cell-hydrogen technology, two by solar power, and two by diesel fuel.

I am impressed by the design skills of these high school and college students. Maybe someday, I will drive a car designed by one of them. Hopefully, some of them will take their efficiency experience and innovative skills into legislative chambers to help draft future energy policy.

Labels: , , , , ,