Tuesday, March 24, 2015

GM really did trademark "range anxiety", only later to abandon that mark

Back in the day, long ago in 2010 when the modern phase of electric cars hadn't started being sold to the public, General Motors was showing the Chevy Volt at some public events.  One of those was at the Presidio of San Francisco (in a couple hundred years, due to be Star Fleet's Headquarters) for a public showing.  As a budding member of the press I was able to attend, take a test drive, talk to some people including GM's marketing representatives, and then write a news article or two.

At that time I had noted two approaches to selling electric cars:  Coda Automotive was putting signs which looked like tombstones (or historical markers) on gasoline pumps, implying that the age of gasoline was rapidly coming to an end.  Fisker Automotive instead was draping scantily clad women over their cars, obviously appealing to the sex factor of the Fisker Karma.  General Motors, on the other hand, was telling us the on-board generator "eliminates the worry of being stranded by a depleted battery" obviously hoping to exploit everyone's range anxiety fear to sell more Chevy Volt's.

That is - the gasoline engine was touted by GM as the solution to range anxiety.  What's actually happened is that Volt owners have Gasoline Anxiety, or the dread of the gas engine kicking on.

What I didn't know at the time is that GM had trademark'd the phrase "Range Anxiety."
Source: tmsearch.uspto.gov

It was a nice bit of insight by myself and other writers covering the scene to point out how GM was exploiting range anxiety fears to sell the Volt.  It's quite another thing entirely to learn that GM actually trademark'd the phrase.

You can verify it for yourself by heading to http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/ then clicking on the "Basic Word Mark Search" link, then entering "range anxiety" as a search term.

What comes up is the results screen shown here.

On July 6, 2010, GM filed for the trademark and the USPTO published the application in October.  By January 2011, however, they'd abandoned the trademark.  Perhaps someone wised up and realized it wasn't a good idea to have ownership over that phrase.

Today, the same thread of marketing message is still there but very subtle.  Look at the main Volt sales page, and sprinkled all through the page is the idea that long-range driving means using gasoline.  That's through phrases like "when the battery runs low, the generator kicks in" to extend the vehicle range.

Of course they say this because gasoline range extension is the Volt's key selling point.  At the same time, the Volt's design represents an opinion that range anxiety is best solved with gasoline.

I've written a page going over what I think is the best solution to range anxiety - developing range confidence.

Friday, March 20, 2015

US Government releases new regulations on hydraulic fracturing, that some call "toothless"

Today, after a review and commenting process of over 200 days in which 1.5 million individuals and groups sent in comments, the US Department of Interior (Bureau of Land Management, a.k.a. BLM) released a Rulemaking covering hydraulic fracking operations on public lands in the USA. The promise being made is the new rules
... ensure that wells are properly constructed to protect water supplies, to make certain that the fluids that flow back to the surface as a result of hydraulic fracturing operations are managed in an environmentally responsible way, and to provide public disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids.
(1) Improves public awareness of where hydraulic fracturing has occurred and the existence of other wells or geologic faults or fractures in the area, as well as communicates what chemicals have been used in the fracturing process;
(2) Clarifies and strengthens existing rules related to well construction to ensure integrity and address developments in technology;
(3) Aligns requirements with state and tribal authorities with regard to water zones that require protection;
(4) Provides opportunities to coordinate standards and processes with individual states and tribes to reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and promote the development of more stringent standards by state and tribal governments.

I notice right off this statement doesn't say much about injected wastewater, thought to be the culprit behind fracking induced earthquakes. However the three items here are a good step forward.

The existing rules, 43 CFR 3162.3-1 and Onshore Oil and Gas Orders 1, 2 and 7, are old - 25 years old.  The new rulemaking will supplement those rules.

A guidance document published by the American Petroleum Institute, “Hydraulic Fracturing Operations-Well Construction and Integrity Guidelines, First Edition, October 2009,” was deemed important enough to mention by name.  The API is of course the petroleum industry lobbyist group, and one wonders out loud just how much influence they had over the resulting rules.

The rulemaking only covers operations on federal lands.  For those states, or tribal areas, with rules on fracking the fracking operator have to abide by both federal and local regulations.

A more detailed description of the new rules are:
  • Submit detailed information about the proposed operation, including wellbore geology, the location of faults and fractures, the depths of all usable water, estimated volume of fluid to be used, and estimated direction and length of fractures, to the BLM with the APD or a Sundry Notice and Report on Wells (Form 3160-5) as a Notice of Intent (NOI) to hydraulically fracture an existing well;
  • Design and implement a casing and cementing program that follows best practices and meets performance standards to protect and isolate usable water, defined generally as those waters containing less than 10,000 parts per million of total dissolved solids (TDS);
  • Monitor cementing operations during well construction;
  • Take remedial action if there are indications of inadequate cementing, and demonstrate to the BLM that the remedial action was successful;
  • Perform a successful mechanical integrity test (MIT) prior to the hydraulic fracturing operation;
  • Monitor annulus pressure during a hydraulic fracturing operation;
  • Manage recovered fluids in rigid enclosed, covered or netted and screened above-ground storage tanks, with very limited exceptions that must be approved on a case-by-case basis;
  • Disclose the chemicals used to the BLM and the public, with limited exceptions for material demonstrated through affidavit to be trade secrets;
  • Provide documentation of all of the above actions to the BLM.
The requirement to disclose fracking chemicals is a big step forward given the secrecy around these chemicals, and the reports of worker poisonings.  The disclosure is expected to be conducted through the FracFocus website.  I'll note that the exception for information deemed to be trade secrets, which might be a loophole to allow the fracking operators to avoid disclosure.  If the BLM has reason to doubt the need for trade secret protection in some cases, they can require the fracking operator to directly disclose the fracking chemicals to the BLM, and the BLM will determine whether the information is being properly withheld from the public.

FracFocus is a non-governmental website managed by the non-profit Ground-Water Protection Council.  The rulemaking document says FracFocus will soon have the ability to export data in machine readable form, to reduce errors in disclosures, and generally improve the site.

The BLM has arranged with FracFocus so that when operators upload disclosures about operations on public land, FracFocus notifies the BLM, then the BLM downloads the data off FracFocus' website.  Hence, the fracking operators won't notify BLM directly but through a non-governmental intermediary.

FracFocus is currently used by 20 states for fracking disclosures, and Alaska, Florida, Kentucky and Nevada are considering use of the site.

The State's already have their own fracking regulations, in some cases.  The question might arise, why should the federal government meddle in this?  That may not be the question why the rulemaking contains this statement:
The BLM recognizes the efforts of some states to regulate hydraulic fracturing and seeks to avoid duplicative regulatory requirements. It is important to recognize that a major impetus for a separate BLM rule is that states are not legally required to meet the stewardship standards that apply to public lands and do not have trust responsibilities for Indian lands under Federal laws. Thus, the rule may expand on or set different standards from those of states that regulate hydraulic fracturing operations. This final rule encourages efficiency in the collection of data and the reporting of information by allowing operators in states that require disclosure on FracFocus to meet both the state and the BLM requirements through a single submission to FracFocus.
A big change is that drilling plans submitted by operators must be specific to that well.  In the past they'd allowed plans based on a "type well", rather an example well of a given type that had previously been drilled.  However, subsurface geology varies so much from place to place that the plans have to be specific to each well.

There's quite a few details in the rulemaking document (PDF, press release), more than is useful to summarize here.

A group of Republican Congressmen have introduced legislation, the Fracturing Regulations are Effective in State Hands (FRESH) Act, to block these regulations.  Are state-level fracking regulations effective?  I suppose you should ask the Pennsylvanians who can light their tap water on fire.  And in North Dakota there have been repeated spills by fracking operators, along with extremely lax enforcement by the state.

In addition to the Republican backlash, two oil industry groups filed a lawsuit.  (also: Reuters)  The American Petroleum Institute cried about duplicative regulations, that would create a barrier to growth of natural gas and oil production on federal lands.

House Natural Resources Committee Democrat Raúl Grijalva complained the new rules were a "lowest common demoninator" that “Instead of offering clarity and protecting our resources, today’s rule lets industry off the hook.”

The NRDC, through the Switchboard blog, says that while the new rules are overdue they're too weak. "The final product, however, falls fall short of what is needed to protect public health and the environment. But, rather than using this opportunity to be a leader in safeguarding these places and the health of the people who depend on them, the agency has released a set of rules that are too friendly to industry and are weaker than the rules already in place in many states."  Some specific issues are:
  • The federal government can issue sweeping, unprecedented, far-reaching exemptions:  The purpose is that if State rules serve the same purpose, the BLM can issue a State-wide exemption, and avoid duplicative rules.  The NRDC claims the provision is vague and puts everyone in uncharted waters.
  • Risky techniques similar to fracking not covered:  The BLM's earlier draft rules would have covered all forms of well stimulation.  However, for the final rule they dropped that in favor of covering only hydraulic fracturing.  In particular this leaves Acidizing in an unregulated state. Acidizing uses strong acids, like hydrofluoric acid, to essentially melt underground rock.  It's highly toxic and requires extra careful handling, especially if it returns to the surface as flowback (produced water).  
  • Allows fracking operators to hide behind smokescreen of corporate secrecy: As I noted above, the new regulations require disclosure of fracking chemicals.  However, the corporations can claim trade secret and not disclose chemicals.  Just how big a loophole this is isn't clear.
  • Thwarting transparent reporting of information:  As I noted above, the fracking operators are to file reports through FracFocus rather than directly with the government.  It's a government responsibility to receive reports of this sort, just as it's a government responsibility to receive corporate financial reports that are filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.  Hence, why should fracking operators file their reports through a website owned and operated by the oil industry? The NRDC notes that this violates a Federal Order "requiring federal data to be available to the public in an accessible format that can be downloaded for research and analysis." 
  • Allows fracking operators to submit generic plans about their operations: The rules allow fracking operators to submit a "master hydraulic fracturing plan" that covers several wells on the same site.  The NRDC says this is based on flawed thinking that all wells at the same site would be the same, and therefore requiring separate documentation for each well would be duplicative.  The NRDC goes on to note that "geologic variations necessitate differences in well stimulation design and operation" and that "even if there are cases where the geology that each well intersects is similar, that doesn't mean each well will be built, fractured, or operated in the exact same way."
  • The New Rules Fail to Address Other Key Safety Concerns:  The new rules don't, according to NRDC, regulate fracking in environmentally sensitive areas like wilderness areas or drinking water resources.  Also lacking are setbacks prohibiting fracking operations near sensitive locations like schools or homes.
It's not all bad according to the NRDC.  A specific improvements is the banning of open air pits for temporary storage of produced water.  This water comes back to the surface after a fracking operation, and is typically heavily laced with underground chemicals as well as fracking chemicals, and in some cases it's even radioactive with Radon.  Current practice is to put the water in puts, sometimes unlined pits.  These pits are a major source of ground pollution and air pollution.  The new rules prohibit using open air pits for temporary storage, but unfortunately don't prohibit their use for long-term storage.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Tesla Motors magic pill to solve range anxiety doesn't quite instill range confidence

On Sunday, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk did one of his famous cryptic tweets claiming to have solved a big issue for electric cars -- range anxiety.

Supposedly electric car drivers are quivering in their shoes any time they dare to risk driving their electric car.  Supposedly we're all deathly afraid of running out of electricity and getting stranded.  In actuality after a few weeks electric car drivers have enough experience to avoid this problem (most of the time) and it's not like gasoline car drivers never run out of fuel either.  But the range anxiety bugaboo is strong enough to cause some people to delay buying electric cars, and gives GM and Toyota and others excuses to sell plug-in hybrids so that drivers have their gasoline life-line.

It's now past 9am Thursday, and we can say the new feature is pretty cool but it's not exactly a solution for range anxiety.

I think electric car drivers need to develop Range Confidence rather than remain trapped by Range Anxiety.  In fact, I'm in the middle of writing guidelines to develop Range Confidence.  The basis is learning the capabilities of your vehicle, knowing where the charging stations are located, and experimenting with both to learn new skills.

But let's get to Tesla's announcement before we discuss that in more depth.

With version 6.2 of the on-board software the Model S will now have a Trip Planner which is meant to give Range Assurance.   According to Tesla, Model S owners will now be able to take long long long road trips with confidence.  Simply enter a destination into the trip navigation system, and the car will automagically plot a route (taking into account elevation gains/losses) that ensures enough recharging stops to make it to the destination.

In part this relies on the Tesla Supercharger network coverage being adequate to handle (almost) any trip.  In the U.S. 90% of the population is within 175 miles of a Supercharger station, and 95% is within range of a "destination" charger (a high power Tesla-specific charger that's becoming commonly installed at higher-end hotels).

The Trip Planner route will minimize driving time in two ways.  First is the obvious, by choosing an optimum route over the land just as any GPS unit will do.  The second is to monitor charging progress, and to notify the driver when the car has enough charge to make it to the next supercharger station.  That is, instead of sticking around to get a full charge, the trip planner will help minimize charging time to minimize overall trip time.

That's an important trick to taking a long trip with an electric car.  The driver should leave as soon as the vehicle has enough charge to comfortably reach the next destination.  It doesn't pay to wait until the car is fully charged because of the effect of tapering off the charge rate as the battery pack fills up.  On the other hand it's important to have enough juice in the car to redirect to an alternate destination in case the plans go awry, so I hope Tesla's engineers took that into account as well.

While driving the Model S will monitor state of charge, distance to nearby charging stations, and an estimation of whether the next planned stop is still reachable.  If anything changes while driving, the car will alert the driver and route them to an alternate charging station.

This is all very smart - and lets Tesla do all the heavy thinking for the driver.

Does it end "range anxiety", however?  That's what Elon promised, does it deliver on the promise?

It might - so long as there are sufficient supercharger stations.  The trip planner as described is useless if there aren't sufficient charging stations, especially the supercharger's.

One step to eliminating range anxiety is to eliminate as much charging time as possible.  

For example, A few years ago Coda Automotive made a plea to automakers to instill Range Confidence through increasing charging power as high as possible.  At the time Coda's cars offered 6.6 kiloWatt on-board charging where the other electric cars had paltry 3.3 kiloWatt on-board chargers.  The higher charging rate gave Coda owners more autonomy by doubling the miles gained per hour of charging, reducing the charging time.  However, even though 6.6 kW charging is faster than 3.3 kW it's not fast enough to make a significant difference in reducing long waits at charging stations.  The Tesla Supercharger with its 130 kW charging rate does make a significant difference in charging time and miles gained per hour of charging.

The anxiety we feel while driving around is uncertainty over making it to the next charging station, whether that charging station is working, whether it's occupied, whether it's ICE'd out, and whether our trip can work while waiting several hours to recharge.

A real time data service we access while driving, like Tesla's new Trip Planner, will help with some of those concerns.  But the rest also depends on we, ourselves, gaining experience with our vehicle and with the charging process.  A study published in November 2013 by Transport Policy said as much, after studying 70-80 MiniE drivers.  The study found that as they gained experience, about 3 weeks were enough, the drivers reported having the confidence to just drive around without worries.

From my electric car driving experiences, what reduced my anxiety was to learn the capabilities of my vehicle and the charging infrastructure through getting out there and driving.  That's what the Range Confidence guidelines I'm writing try and teach.

Most of us can't afford the Model S that gives us access to the infrastructure and services Tesla Motors is supplying.  It means the dashboard info system showing charging stations is probably derived from an incomplete database.  It means we're doing as well as we can with smartphone apps like PlugShare.  It means we're limited to inadequate charging infrastructure, especially when it comes to fast charging.  It means we don't have a neatly integrated Trip Planner that takes care of our every need.

Therefore most of us must learn the skills and knowledge to plan out long trips on our own, and to develop the experience which gives us range confidence.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Update on Galena IL oil train - 21 cars involved, which were the supposedly safer CP1232 design

Yesterday, a BNSF trail carrying 103 crude oil cars derailed on tracks bordering the Mississippi River in a remote part of Illinois near Galena.  Today there's some further information which clears up some unknowns about the incident.  It's now known the fire was more extensive than thought yesterday, involving more cars and where yesterday it was thought only five cars had derailed its now known that 21 did so.  

KWQC - the local TV station - 21 rail cars derailed, with BNSF saying two of them are still burning but Galena Fire says five are burning.  It's difficult to be sure how many are burning because of burning oil pooled under the cars.  There's a plan to relight some of the oil to get it to burn off.  It's believed that none of the oil has gotten into the Mississippi River, despite the accident occurring on the river bank, but they've deployed Boom just in case.

The oil's source was the Bakken field, but BNSF isn't saying what the destination was.

They did say the rail cars were not the DOT-111 that everyone is up in arms about, but "unjacketed CPC 1232 cars with a half height shield."  The CPC1232 cars are supposed to be safer, but it's now two accidents in a row (The West Virginia derailment last week also had CPC1232 cars) using these same cars.
The reports would be working from this statement:
BNSF MEDIA STATEMENT as of March 6, 2015 at 9:00 am CST – Galena, IL derailment
A BNSF Railway train originating from North Dakota derailed on BNSF's mainline track at approximately 1:15 pm CST on March 5, 2015 in a rural area south of Galena, IL. There are no injuries reported. The train consists of 105 loaded cars, which includes 103 cars loaded with crude oil and 2 buffer cars loaded with sand. A total of 21 cars derailed. An initial pool fire occurred that we believe impacted 5 rail cars and that fire continues to burn. Local, state and BNSF Railway emergency personnel are on the scene working to contain the incident. BNSF personnel arrived soon after the event occurred to be part of the response. 
Protection of the communities we serve, the safety of our employees and protection of the environment are our highest priorities. We are guided by these priorities as we respond to this situation. We continue to be unaware of any injuries. Local officials have announced a voluntary evacuation of an area that is within one mile of the incident. We are grateful for the efforts of the first responders at this incident and sincerely regret the inconvenience this event has caused to the community. 
The cause of the derailment is still under investigation. We are still in the early stages of this effort and will continue working closely with the Federal Railroad Administration as to the cause. All tank cars involved in the incident were the unjacketed CPC-1232 model with half-height head shields. 
BNSF has established a claims center at the Country Inn in Galena, IL (11334 Oldenburg Ln) to help and assist local residents who may have incurred damage to their property or are in need of temporary relocation. Residents may also call 309-335-2968 for information or assistance. BNSF continues to take precautionary measures to protect the waterways in the area and continues to conduct air quality monitoring. BNSF will address any environmental impacts. 
As we are able to share more information, we will issue additional statements.

The Winona Daily News reports that both BNSF and Canadian Pacific Railroads are working on expanding rail capacity.  Both companies are hiring new workers and are building new rail lines to relieve bottlenecks in the rail network.  In Winona that includes adding new track (filling in some marsh to do so) to eliminate a section that's only a single track.

The railroads don't explicitly say why, but shipping volume is up, and of course crude oil shipments by rail are way up.

There's concern about why the railroads don't have to file an environmental impact report.  If a pipeline were to be built, that would be a requirement.  These oil trains are essentially pipelines on wheels, and there should be an environmental impact report.

The report estimates their region is seeing 420,000 barrels of oil per day pass by on trains.

Last month, train safety regulators in Canada said that a derailment in Canada at that time demonstrated the newer supposedly safer rail car designs didn't go far enough. The CP1232 design came about after the Lac-Mégantic, Que oil train derailment that essentially destroyed that town and killed over 40 people.

The CSX derailment near Timmons Ontario, the Carbon Mtn WV derailment last week, and the Galena Illinois derailment yesterday, all involved CP1232 rail cars. In all three cases they blew up and burned.

“The initial impression is that [the newer tank cars] are probably not good enough and more needs to be done to find a better class of tank cars to transport these types of products in,” said Rob Johnston, the safety board’s manager for the central regional operations. And, “This is a North American problem, this is not just a Canadian problem,” he said. “And if we’re going to fix it, it needs to be fixed in North America.”

The Quad City Times has an extensive report.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Another oil bomb train - why are they shipping crude oil by train? - Symptoms of fossil fuel addiction

Mike Burley, THONLINE
Another week another bomb train, it seems.  Last week it was West Virginia, this week Galena Illinois.  This time a 105 car train, 103 of which were crude oil tankers, derailed in a remote section of Illinois just off the Mississippi River.   According to a news report by a local news team, eight cars of the BNSF train left the tracks at least two of which caught fire.  Crews were able to get to the remote scene using a bicycle path, but had to evacuate when the fire became too intense.  They've decided to let the fire run its course, probably due to the intensity (other oil train fires have also been allowed to burn themselves out after crews couldn't extinguish them), but the remoteness would hamper efforts to bring fire-fighting equipment to the scene. (there's a Reuters report that's also worth reading)  (pictures from another local news report show a Homeland Security Command Post on the scene, BTW - what woulda happened if the Republican-led attempt to defund Homeland Security had happened?  Would the local response been hampered?)

Going by pictures posted in that news report - and cross verifying with Google Maps - the train was in the process of crossing a bridge over the Galena River, a tributary to the Mississippi.  Immediately after the bridge the rail line splits into three parallel lines, and the lead cars had just started switching to one of those lines while two other trains were on the other lines.  The derailed cars were just a few cars behind the engines, it seems, right at the switcher thingy.  A channel of the Mississippi river runs right next to the track, and some of the above pictures show flames encroaching the Mississippi.

We don't need to go too deep into this specific story.  I expect they'll find a flaw in the rail at the switching mechanism caused the derailment.  It's already known the DOT-111 rail cars are unsafe - this train was carrying Bakken oil, meaning it had come from North Dakota and therefore was likely to be using the DOT-111.

Instead I want to refer to my recent research project - a summary of the full lifecycle of gasoline from well to refinery to wheel to air.  I just happen to have finished reading a lot of reports about the oil trains.  The page I just linked is raw, unedited, about 8000 words long and over 100 footnotes, and it isn't even finished.  But it's eye-opening as to the extent of the toxicity in the gasoline lifecycle.

Why are the oil companies shipping crude oil by train?  We've had over a dozen train derailments since July 2013, obviously something is wrong and the oil companies should use a different method, right?

The reason why they're using trains is the lack of pipeline capacity from North Dakota and Alberta.  Both those areas have made a massive jump in oil production since 2010.  How much it's been is jaw dropping.

This image shows oil production per month since 1920, and is sourced from the US Energy Information Administration.  It shows the peak of US oil production in 1970, just as M. King Hubbert predicted.  It shows that US production plateau'd until about 1985 when it started to decline.  By 2005 US oil production had fallen to 140-150 million barrels per month from the peak of 308 million barrels per month in 1970.  But in 2010 US oil production took off like a rocket, going from about 170 million barrels per month that year to nearly 300 million barrels per month in December 2014.

That means there's a heck of a lot of oil coming out of North Dakota, as well as the Eagle Ford and Permian shale formations in Texas.  Since this chart is US oil production it doesn't include the Alberta Tar Sands oil, that's also being shipped by rail.

It's more expensive to ship oil by rail - about $15 per barrel versus $5 per barrel for shipping by pipeline.  That's a big disincentive to shipping by rail, but the amount of shipping by rail has also exploded (if you'll pardon my use of that word) in the same time frame.

The problem is that this oil production has ballooned (I knew I could find a non-explosive word) so rapidly that the oil companies haven't been able to install the enough infrastructure, yet.

And, by the way, the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline is extremely related to these two charts.  They want that pipeline so they can more cheaply transport by pipeline this massive oil flow they're now shipping.

Lacking pipeline capacity there are two alternatives - rail, and barge.  Barges are used for shipping crude oil, and it's only a matter of time before one runs into a bridge or something, because barges hit bridges all the time.  There are even proposals afoot to use the Great Lakes to ship oil to refineries in that region.  Unfortunately there are insufficient suitable cargo boats in the Great Lakes fleet.

We can breath a sigh of relief that only a couple of these rail cars caught fire, unlike some of the other oil train accidents.

However, we should be expecting about 10 of these oil train derailments a year for the next 20 years.  That's the prediction of the US Dept of Transportation last summer.  It's only March, and if I'm remembering right there's been 4 already this year.  Those were crude oil trains, a couple weeks ago there was an ethanol train derailment a few miles north of this one.

The oil trains are using regular train lines across the country, meaning they're going through peoples back yards and through downtowns across America.  What happens when one of these trains blows up in a downtown?  The first of the oil train explosions, in July 2013, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, did hit a downtown area of a small town.  It basically destroyed the town and killed over 40 people.

We collectively have an addiction to the stuff made from crude oil - gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, asphalt, etc.  Groups like 350.org want us to think of the sole threat from fossil fuels is the carbon put into the atmosphere.  Yes, that's alarming, and climate change is a serious threat, but there are many many many other effects of crude oil.  Go to the gasoline life-cycle page I linked above and you'll see.

Because crude oil is being spilled at this site, that local area has now become infested with a quantity of highly toxic crude oil.  It's full of benzenes and tuolene's and Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) all of which are highly carcinogenic.

Until we break the fossil fuel addiction, the oil companies will have to continue shipping crude oil around in order to feed our addiction.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Chevron relinquishes fracking in Romania, as part of broader pull-out from Eastern European fracking operations

A year ago I made several posts about Chevron's plans to begin fracking operations in Romania's portion of Moldova.  News surfaced on Friday that Chevron has relinquished interests in drilling frackable shale fields in Romania (and other countries), completely ending all of Chevron's work on shale gas fracking in Eastern Europe.  The news comes from no less than the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Business, and Chevron's yearly 10K filing with the SEC.

The town of Pungesti, in the heart of Romania's portion of Moldova, had learned enough about the side effects of fracking, after Chevron began work on a drilling pad just south of town, that they staged an intense months-long protest that eventually drew world-wide attention.  Despite the protests, Chevron was able to start drilling an exploratory well in April 2014, finishing the exploratory work in July 2014.

In November 2014, in the final weeks of Romania's national elections that saw Klaus Iohannis win over then-Prime Minister Victor Ponta, Ponta said during a national TV broadcast "It looks like we don't have shale gas, we fought very hard for something that we do not have. I cannot tell you more than this but I don't think we fought for something that existed." (original: "Oricum s-a amânat, pentru că se pare că nu avem gaze de şist, ne-am bătut foarte tare pe ceva ce nu avem. Nu pot să vă spun mult mai mult decât atât, dar nu cred că ne-am bătut pe ceva care exista.")  Ponta was running for President of Romania, but lost to Iohannis, and was able to retain his position as Prime Minister and has since been pushed out of the Prime Minister job .

At the time Chevron responded saying that their engineers were still studying samples.  But it was a clue that perhaps the results of the exploratory drilling were disappointing.

Indeed, a Chevron spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal on Friday, Feb 20, 2015, that they're "are in the process of relinquishing our concession interests" without explaining why.

The company's 10K yearly filing with the SEC, also filed on Friday, disclosed the following phase-outs of activity in Eastern Europe:
  • Lithuania: Chevron divested its 50 percent interest in an exploration and production company in mid-2014.
  • Poland: In first-half 2014, Chevron completed a 3-D seismic survey on the Grabowiec concession. The company also entered into a joint exploration agreement covering Chevron's Grabowiec and Zwierzyniec licenses and two adjacent licenses in early 2014. In fourth quarter 2014, Chevron relinquished two shale concessions (Frampol and Krasnik) in southeastern Poland. In early 2015, Chevron announced the discontinuation of exploration activities in Poland.
  • Romania: In 2014, drilling of the first exploration well in the Barlad Shale concession in northeast Romania was completed, as was a 2-D seismic survey across two of the three concessions in southeast Romania. Chevron intends to pursue relinquishment of its interest in these concessions in 2015.
  • Ukraine: In 2013, Chevron signed a PSC with the government of Ukraine for a 50 percent interest and operatorship of the Oleska Shale block in western Ukraine. In fourth quarter 2014, Chevron terminated the agreement.
The 10K filing also says Chevron is facing rising expenses on "dry holes" (drilling operations that end up empty handed) with 2012 dry hole expenses of $555 million, $683 million in 2013 and $875 million in 2014.  The Bloomberg news report says Chevron is shifting its focus to America, and that falling oil prices meant there wasn't as much cash available for exploratory drilling and other capital expenses related to starting new fields.

Since Chevron was tight-lipped as to the real reason for pulling out of Romania and other Eastern European countries, the above data is meant to inform a bit of speculation.  The possible reasons that come to mind are:
  • The protests in Pungesti was too severe, and Chevron decided to back off --- this seems very unlikely
  • There's a technical reason, that engineers weren't able to discern a way to make Fracking work in these shale fields.  If so, it would have to be something that affects all four of the countries named above.
  • Falling oil prices are apparently making fracking uneconomical, and that Chevron is cutting its losses.
  • Increasing tension in Ukraine, following the western-backed Coup of Ukraines government a year ago, makes business investment in that region very risky.  If the fighting over Ukraine were to break out into a full scale war, it might not be contained just to Ukraine.  Romania could become embroiled if Russia tries to take back Moldova and Romania tries to intercede, for example.  NATO, the EU and the US could escalate the fighting into a broad-scale war over Eastern Europe.
The latter two points seem most likely.

I believe all this is part of a larger geopolitical tussle between Russia and Western Europe, and earlier posts on this blog have laid out the reasoning.

The U.S. State Department, starting under Hillary Clinton's term as Secretary of State, launched an effort to export fracking technology to every country around the world with frackable shale deposits.   We don't know exactly why, but it's clear that Clinton is very pro-fossil-fuels.  Given that she's a front-runner for the next U.S. Presidential Election we need to be very very concerned about her stance on fossil fuels.

There is a broad worry among America's elite class about Europe's energy security.  The European Union, and the rest of Europe, doesn't have much indigenous fossil fuel supplies.  Europe has had to turn to other regions for those supplies, principle among them being Russia.  But dealing with Russia is tricky business because Russians like to exploit every weakness they can.  Having Europe under economic dominance of Russia would be bad for Europe.

As a result a Congressional Research Service report describes European energy security as in the U.S. National Interest.  That's a code phrase for "we are willing to go to war over this" because Europe's security is that important to the U.S.

And, by golly, what has the US done but to launch a skirmish in Ukraine by toppling the Ukranian government and putting the US/EU/NATO on a collision course with Russia that may blow up into a major fight.

The CRS report outlines all the ways the U.S. could help Europe out of energy dependency on Russian natural gas.  Part of the plan was fracking in the countries named above, because of the shale deposits shown on the map above.

What we've now learned from Chevron's actions is there's a high likelihood that the shale deposits on that map aren't worth fracking.  Chevron had to have spent a lot of money in those countries, and have pulled out of each.

The WSJ report linked above said
  • BP's annual "energy outlook" says it's unlikely to be any significant shale production in Europe over the next 20 years because conditions aren't as good as they were in the U.S.
  • ExxonMobil, France's Total SA and Marathon Oil, have all pulled out of projects in Poland.
These factoids make a technical reason for Chevron's pull-out seem likely.  If engineers weren't able to develop a fracking chemical cocktail that would work in these shale deposits, they might as well not waste their time and money because fracking won't release any natural gas.

Whatever the reason that Chevron and these other oil companies have pulled out of fracking Eastern Europe, this trend is dashing one of the big hopes to keep Europe safe from Russia's economic dominance over Europe.

In my mind it simply raises the importance of steering Europe strongly towards renewable energy, instead of continued reliance on fossil fuels.  One thing to take from this is that Europe is in a hard place, facing economic domination by Russia because of Europe's continued dependence on fossil fuels.  While Europe doesn't have much indigenous fossil fuel supplies, they do have wind and sun resources and can deploy wind turbines and solar panels.  The more investment Europe makes in renewable energy resources, the more resilient they will be to Russia's attempts at domination.

Update - For a good rundown of the sequence of events at Pungesti, see http://sarahinromania.canalblog.com/archives/2015/02/21/31574782.html

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Answer anti- electric car articles with truth and pride - truth outshines all distortions

Another anti-electric-vehicle article has made it into the mainstream press, so it's time for everyone to freak out and think the sky is falling.  I'm talking about an opinion piece in USA Today, Electric car benefits? Just myths, by well-known distorter of facts Bjørn Lomborg.  He has the ability to string together what looks like well reasoned fact filled arguments with citations at the bottom of the page and everything, but the stuff he presents is highly distorted.  According to ThinkProgress, Lomborg rakes in dough from the Koch network for his efforts.  There is even a whole website devoted to exposing Lomborg's Errors.

He should be proud the people behind that site have devoted so much energy to his work ;-)

Those were what I found with a quick yahoogle search on his name.  I don't want to focus on the topic of saying someone else is bad or wrong or anything.  It doesn't serve any of us to focus on such a negative attitude.  What I prefer is to focus on truth, the truths about electric vehicles we should all be proud of.

Unfortunately there are lots of people who share some of the opinions he wrote in that Op-Ed piece.  That makes it necessary to address those ideas with truth - because the truth about electric cars is being distorted out of recognition.

As a result, I've been spending quite a bit of time the last few weeks working on a set of articles that are meant to be an "EV Buyers Guide".  It seems important to me to focus on addressing the kind of ideas Lomborg wrote in his article, so of course those articles I've written already answer a lot of what he said.

"Electric cars cost a fortune" ...  It is true that the MSRP of today's electric cars are quite a bit higher than the MSRP of equivalent gasoline cars.  But MSRP isn't the right comparison to make.  Total Cost of Ownership is, and on that measure electric cars make a lot of financial sense.  Fuel cost savings, maintenance savings, tax credits, and time savings are the main ways that electric car ownership pays for itself.

"Electric car global warming benefits are small" ... It is true that quite a lot of electricity comes from coal-fired power plants.  What's also true is that electric cars, on the U.S. electricity grid, are cleaner than equivalent gas cars even when the electricity comes from burning coal.  

Generally speaking, electricity is as clean as the electricity source.  In China or India where electricity predominantly comes from extra-dirty coal power plants, electric cars are indeed dirtier than equivalent gasoline cars.  But other forms of electricity production are lots cleaner.  Follow the link above and you'll see a chart showing just how much cleaner solar or wind power is than even natural gas.  In the U.S. electricity system, the states that predominantly get electricity from natural gas or hydro are lots cleaner than coal-fired states, and the electric cars in those states are lots cleaner than gassers.

It's quite possible for a typical home-owner to put enough solar panels on their roof to generate enough electricity to power both their home and their electric cars.  Can't do that with gasoline powered cars.  Even if you grew Corn to make Ethanol, it would take 2.75 acres of ground to produce enough Ethanol for the typical gasoline powered car, and you'd also need processing equipment and storage tanks to hold the fuel.  If the entire US vehicle fleet were to run on ethanol, it would take 370 million acres just for the corn fields.

"Electric cars shift emissions to electricity production plants" ... This idea ignores the long tail pipe of gasoline production.  It's fine and proper to complain about dirty electricity production methods.  But that also means you must complain about dirty toxic methods to produce gasoline, that consume huge amounts of resources.

The EPA labels on electric and gasoline cars measure emissions at the tailpipe for a reason.  Doing so greatly simplifies the debate.  EPA labels say electric cars emit 0 grams of CO2 or anything else, while gasoline cars emit quite a bit more than that.  This leaves the door open to the criticism about coal fired electricity, sure.  But the reality that gasoline production is highly toxic deserves lots of attention.

Those are the main three points in Lomborg's Op-Ed piece.  The rest of it simply rehashes one of those points.  For example he talks about the number of people "killed" by air pollution, saying that electric cars will kill more than gasoline cars.  But as we just discussed, he's using flawed reasoning in determining which kind of car is dirtier than the other.