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Category Archives: ‘Fossil Fuels & Nuclear’
By John Upton
A major spill of toxic oil waste has wiped out trees and vegetation across a 104-acre swath of Alberta, Canada. The apparent cause of the spill: The rupture of a five-year-old pipeline that was designed to last at least 30 years.
The pipeline spilled 2.5 million gallons of a waste mixture of oil and water, which the company responsible, Houston-based Apache Corp., downplayed as “salty water” with “trace amounts of oil.”
Whatever you call it, it’s nasty stuff. “Every plant and tree died” in the area touched by the spill, says the chief of the nearby Dene Tha First Nation, while The Globe and Mail reports that “aerial photos show a broad strip of trees that have turned brown.”
It’s unclear when the pipeline started spilling. Judging by the damaged trees in the area, the Dene Tha say the leak might have been sprung in the winter. But the spill was only revealed publicly this week by the province’s energy regulators following media reports.Share This Post
by Chris Clarke
on June 17, 2013 3:38 PM
The head of the safety division of California's ratepayer protection agency has blasted Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) over the utility's reaction to a proposed $2.25 billon penalty stemming from a 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people. In a reply to PG&E's calling the proposed penalty "excessive," the California Public Utilities Commission's (CPUC) Emory J. (Jack) Hagan repeatedly referred to the utility's "lack of remorse," saying "It's time to throw the book at PG&E."
The September 9, 2010, explosion, which destroyed 38 homes and damaged 108 more in the San Francisco suburb, was traced to an aging, insufficiently maintained 30-inch buried gas pipeline. The explosion left a 30-foot crater, and flames lept 1,000 feet into the sky during the course of the resulting fire, which was worsened due to a 90-minute delay in getting gas turned off to the ruptured pipeline. In the end, 58 people were seriously injured, and 8 killed -- including Jacqueline Greig, a veteran CPUC staffer who worked as a natural gas utility expert in the Commission's Ratepayer Advocates office, as well as Greig's daughter.
Since the disaster, PG&E has admitted it had no idea the ailing section of pipeline was there, and the utility has said to regulators that it can't guarantee there aren't other similarly neglected and forgotten gas mains elsewhere in the company's service territory. The CPUC's Safety and Enforcement Division pointed to decades of flawed or nonexistent record keeping on ailing pipelines as part of the reason for its recommendation that PG&E pay the record $2.25 billion penalty, which it would be forbidden from recouping from ratepayers. Rather than go into state coffers, the Safety and Enforcement Division's recommendation is that PG&E be forced to spend the sum on immediate improvements to its infrastructure to help prevent a future San Bruno.Share This Post
As effects of the nuclear plant's shutdown are evaluated, officials examine how to to satisfy region
By Morgan Lee2:47 p.m.June 16, 2013
A future without nuclear energy has been on the drawing board for Southern California since a radiation leak shut down San Onofre in January 2012.
With the recent announcement of the facility’s permanent retirement, diverse architects of the state’s power grid are acting on those plans.
Utility executives last week resubmitted a previously spurned application for a major new natural-gas plant on the southern outskirts of San Diego, as engineers look to shore up power supplies across an area larger than the state of Maryland.
Any solutions will have to navigate increasing technological challenges and a complex landscape of environmental and clean-energy mandates in California.
The cost implications are unclear for ratepayers, who already are underwriting the state’s aggressive green-energy makeover. Utility engineers in San Diego County and the Los Angeles Basin are studying how to make up for San Onofre, which generated enough electricity to power 1.4 million homes.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/jun/16/power-of-uncertainty/Share This Post
By Juliet Eilperin, Published: June 14
A pair of fundraisers just 90 minutes apart in the San Francisco Bay Area last week laid bare the competing forces of politics and policy that President Obama is grappling with as he prepares to unveil a slate of major initiatives on global warming in late June or in July.
In public comments at the beginning of the first session, Obama made it clear that he considered climate change “one of the most important decisions we make as a nation,” according to a transcript released by the White House.
But during the second event, according to several people familiar with his private remarks at the home of clean-tech entrepreneur Vinod Khosla, Obama expressed concerns about the political pain involved, saying that “dial testing” of his State of the Union speech showed that the favorability ratings “plummeted” when he vowed to act on climate change if Congress refused to do so.
The two comments highlight the White House’s quandary as it prepares to take more aggressive steps on the environment. Activists and some of Obama’s most loyal supporters are demanding strong efforts to curb greenhouse gas buildup before it’s too late to prevent catastrophic drought, sea-level rise and ocean acidification. But the public remains more concerned with the economy, and Obama is committed to developing North American energy supplies, which may mean disappointing his most ardent backers on a signature environmental issue: whether to permit construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
As his second term takes shape, the president has fallen back from the broad clean-energy agenda he envisioned when he first took office and now faces tough political choices on how to achieve some of what remains a top administration priority.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/as-obama-moves-forward-on-climate-he-faces-a-tough-political-task/2013/06/14/050ab062-d4fc-11e2-8cbe-1bcbee06f8f8_story.html?wprss=rss_campaignsShare This Post
Published: June 14, 2013
The Maine Yankee nuclear plant in Wiscasset, Me., which began operation in 1972, was shut in 1997 and imploded in 2004.
The nuclear industry is wrestling with that question as it tries to determine whether problems at reactors, all designed in the 1960s and 1970s, are middle-aged aches and pains or end-of-life crises.
This year, utilities have announced the retirement of four reactors, bringing the number remaining in the United States to 100. Three had expensive mechanical problems but one, Kewaunee in Wisconsin, was running well, and its owner, Dominion, had secured permission to run it an additional 20 years. But it was losing money, because of the low wholesale price of electricity.
“That’s the one that’s probably most ominous,” said Peter A. Bradford, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a former head of the Public Service Commission in New York. “It’s as much a function of the cost of the alternatives as it is the reactor itself.”Share This Post
Ken Silverstein | Jun 13, 2013
The headwinds that nuclear energy has faced are blowing once again. It’s not just about the latest plant closures. It’s also about the announced delays and potentially higher costs associated with two separate nuclear projects now underway. Despite all that, the industry is pushing back and making headway.Share This Post
By Dan Walters
Published: Sunday, Jun. 16, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
The managers of California's electric power system quickly issued public assurances about avoiding summer blackouts when Southern California Edison announced this month that it would permanently close its troubled San Onofre nuclear plant.
It was an easy call because they already knew that San Onofre, which has generated about 5 percent of the state's electric power, wouldn't be available this summer and had made plans to purchase power from other sources.
Even so, the state's supply margins will be tighter this summer than usual as air conditioner-driven consumption approaches 50,000 megawatts on hottest days.
A "summer assessment" from the Independent System Operator, the Folsom-based organization that manages the state's electric grid, says the reserve margin could dip to about 10 percent under extreme circumstances, leaving little room for an unanticipated loss of generation.
The situation is exacerbated by an improving economy that has raised power demand and by shortages in hydropower due to drought.
The more important question, however, is what happens after this summer. California's electrical supply picture is supposed to change as it implements the state's decree that by 2020, 33 percent of its power must come from "renewable sources" – mostly solar panels, windmills and geothermal wells – as a contribution to fighting global warming.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/06/16/5500147/dan-walters-californias-big-power.htmlShare This Post
Published: June 14, 2013
CROW AGENCY, Mont. — Every few hours trains packed with coal pass through the sagebrush-covered landscape here in southern Montana, some on their way north to Canadian ports for shipment to Japan and South Korea. If the mining company Cloud Peak Energy has its way, many more trains will cross the prairie to far larger proposed export terminals in Washington State.
It’s part of a push by the nation’s coal industry, hobbled by plummeting demand as Americans turn to cleaner natural gas, to vastly expand what it sends to Asia and Europe. But the aggressive effort to rescue the $40 billion industry is running into fierce opposition from environmental groups, who say pollution caused by burning coal should not be exported.
The two sides have engaged in an increasingly pitched battle, in regulatory arenas and on the airwaves, scaring off some investors and raising concerns about the fate of the industry, which is seen as a key to economic growth in Western states like Montana and Wyoming.
“The future of the U.S. coal industry is at stake,” said Richard Morse, managing director at SuperCritical Capital, an energy consultancy. “Their future domestically is dim and demand growth internationally is very robust, so it is fair to say that a resuscitation of the industry has to come overseas.”Share This Post
In October, Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, the biggest U.S. pipeline operator, announced plans to build a 740-mile pipeline from the oil fields of West Texas to a refining hub outside Los Angeles.
Dubbed the Freedom Pipeline, the $2 billion project would deliver 277,000 barrels a day of cheap Texas crude to West Coast refineries that had long relied on expensive oil shipped from Alaska's North Slope or even foreign markets. All Kinder Morgan needed was to get regulatory approval and long-term contracts with large California refiners, including Valero Energy and Tesoro.
In April, Kinder Morgan began negotiating agreements with refiners, who normally commit to buy predetermined amounts of oil for as long as 10 years. On May 31, however, Kinder Morgan announced it was canceling the project after Valero and Tesoro said they weren't interested in buying the pipe's oil on a long-term basis.
They'd found a better way to get their hands on domestic crude: railroads.
America's energy boom has left the middle of the country awash in cheap oil. But as pipeline companies scramble to spend billions of dollars to build new pipes to tap these hot new fields, they're discovering that railroads have beaten them to the punch.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/Railroads-are-beating-pipelines-in-crude-transport-4601948.phpShare This Post
In his first congressional testimony as Energy secretary, Ernest Moniz said Thursday he would move 'expeditiously' to decide on applications to export liquefied natural gas.
By David J. Unger, Correspondent / June 13, 2013
By the end of the year, newly appointed Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will tackle one of America's most pressing energy issues: How much liquefied natural gas (LNG) the United States will export to other nations.
Why It Matters
Energy: Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will ultimately decide how much of the US natural gas glut should reach global markets.
Environment: Natural gas offers a low-carbon alternative to coal but still contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
"[W]e will expeditiously work through the remaining applications [to build LNG export terminals], reviewing each one on a case-by-case basis to ensure that all approvals are in the public interest," Mr. Moniz said Thursday in prepared remarks for his first congressional testimony as head of the Department of Energy.
When a member of the House Energy and Power Subcommittee asked the secretary whether he would make decisions on export applications this year, he responded: "Yes, absolutely," but declined to be more specific.Share This Post
Neal J. Riley, Kristen V. Brown and Vivian Ho
Updated 11:56 pm, Friday, June 14, 2013
Vice President Joe Biden swung by San Francisco on Friday to raise thousands of dollars for the Democratic Party and was greeted by many of the same protesters who gave President Obama an earful during his Bay Area visit last week.
Opponents of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project, which would carry tar sands fuel from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast, gathered near the private fundraiser in San Francisco's Sea Cliff neighborhood. Environmentalists have been pressuring the Obama administration to reject the pipeline, while project supporters say it will create jobs.
About 50 protesters gathered outside the home of Dawn Ross and Doug Hickey, who were hosting the fundraiser. That number was a significant drop from the 350 clamoring outside Obama's Silicon Valley events last week, but many were from the same activist organizations, such as Credo Mobile, 350.org and the Sierra Club.
"Joe Biden, yes you can, drop the dirty pipeline plan," the protesters chanted, flashing red-white-and-blue signs at passing cars.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Pipeline-protesters-return-for-Biden-visit-4602031.phpShare This Post
By Joshua Melvin
Posted: 06/15/2013 06:30:10 AM PDT
Updated: 06/15/2013 06:30:16 AM PDT
SAN FRANCISCO -- Disputing a previous official explanation, a top regulatory attorney said Friday that he and two colleagues never asked to be taken off a legal team working to determine PG&E's role in the deadly 2010 San Bruno explosion.
In an email sent Friday, Harvey Morris, an assistant general counsel at the California Public Utilities Commission, asked the commission's lead attorney to "stop mischaracterizing the events." He goes on to say "anyone who knows me would question your statement that we voluntarily left."
Morris and three other attorneys were reassigned last week after they refused to sign a legal brief which argued the utility should spend money to fix its system instead of paying a fine as punishment for the explosion. The turmoil comes as administrative law judges weigh the issue.Share This Post
Jaxon Van Derbeken
Updated 9:25 pm, Friday, June 14, 2013
(06-14) 21:24 PDT SAN FRANCISCO --
A top lawyer with the California Public Utilities Commission on Friday angrily rejected his bosses' assertions that he and his team asked to be reassigned from pursuing Pacific and Electric Co. for regulatory violations in the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion.
The commission's head of safety, Jack Hagan, and its general counsel, Frank Lindh, said last week that four members of the attorney team had asked to be reassigned, just days before the agency was to file its case for penalties against PG&E for the 2010 disaster that killed eight people.
Harvey Morris and other members of the team he supervised objected on legal and ethical grounds to Hagan's proposal to count the $2.25 billion that PG&E says it is spending on natural-gas system improvements as its penalty.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Infighting-over-PG-amp-E-penalty-goes-public-4601817.phpShare This Post
Posted: 06/14/2013 3:16 pm
President, Seligman Consulting
If you were to look only at top headlines these days you would be convinced that hydraulic fracking is the cutting-edge technology. It will safely and quickly unlock a century's worth of American energy, creating millions of new jobs and billions of state revenue.
This would also seem to be the point of view of many in the Golden State right now, who have gone so far as to opine that not only is fracking good public policy, it's nothing less than a second California Gold Rush.
But you know the old adage: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Fracking is a petroleum extraction procedure during which a mix of water, sand and different chemicals are injected at extremely high speeds underground to crack open rock formations so that oil and natural gas can be removed. This is not a simple practice.
While fracking has been done in California for many years, new advances in the technology of horizontal drilling have opened up sizable energy deposits in many parts of the nation, most notably in North Dakota's Bakken Shale and Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale.
With all due respect to the great Peace Garden and Keystone States, California isn't South Dakota or Pennsylvania.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/naomi-seligman/not-so-fracking-fast_b_3437313.htmlShare This Post
By Morgan Lee2:36 p.m.June 14, 2013
The San Diego-based utility holding company Sempra Energy has tapped Kathleen Brown, sister of Gov. Jerry Brown, to join its board of directors.
In announcing the appointment Friday, Sempra cited the retired Goldman Sachs executive's experience in financial and legal issues.
The daughter of two-term Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, Kathleen Brown served as state treasurer from 1991 to 1995 and ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic nominee for governor in 1994 against Gray Davis.
Sempra's holdings include two utility companies -- San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas -- whose activities and profit opportunities are overseen by state agencies including the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission. Commissioners at those two agencies are appointed by the governor.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/jun/14/sempra-taps-kathleen-brown-dynasty/Share This Post