Tag Archives: energy

Why must more species go extinct so we can harvest “green” solar energy?

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/16067454 w=500&h=283]

Raw unedited interview with ecologist Jim Andre, Director, Granite Mountains Desert Research Center at University of California, on the dangers posed to the Mohave Desert ecosystem from Large Solar Development. Focusing on the Ivanpah Valley. ©2010 Robert Lundahl, Freshwater Bay Pictures, LLC.

Solar Gold is funded by people, not corporations. Contribute here: indiegogo.com/​Solar-Gold

Hat-tip to Chris Clarke who continues to fight the fight to save the Mojave from these “green” energy projects where even many big environmental organizations have failed to really stand up on behalf of biological diversity against those who would destroy what little remains in novel ways that are even more insidious for being garbed in green.

Will the Panoche Valley be saved from big Solar today?


The county Board of Supervisors are about to meet, even as I type this (sorry I didn’t realize it early enough to solicit petitions prior to the meeting), to vote on the EIR and the cancellation of Williamson Act Contracts. Let’s hope they manage to vote sensibly and protect Panoche Valley from the unnecessary and excessive “green” energy of a large-scale solar power project. Visit Save Panoche Valley (also on facebook) to learn more about the issues, and to keep up with developments today, and beyond.

And for much more (and in-depth) on the larger issues of how best to develop – and not develop -solar energy alternatives in this warming world, visit Solar Done Right. You’ve already bookmarked that site, of course, haven’t you?

Is cleaning up oil spills all about aesthetics?

If not, why would you pour 6.6 million litres of a synthetic petroleum solvent as a dispersant into the already oil-filled Mexican Gulf? Why are they letting BP continue to pour in this dispersant of relatively unknown effects on marine and coastal organisms (other than breaking up obvious plumes of oil to make the stuff less visible)? Because the pictures of heavy oil are bad PR? I’d rather let the world see, on a daily basis, what has been wrought by our thirst for oil, instead of trying to spread it around thinly and hoping some microbes will be able to break it down more easily that way – without a whole lot of evidence to back up that hope! Nature News has more on the growing debate over the impact of dispersed oil:

It may look unhealthy, but the cure could be worse.

USCG/Petty Officer 1st Class Tasha Tully

For years, Robert Twilley has worked to bridge the traditional academic divides between oceanography and coastal science.

“They really are not two separate systems,” says Twilley, a coastal scientist from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. “Whatever you do offshore certainly has implications to the shoreline and bay estuary environments.”

Now, Twilley is watching this lesson unfold before his eyes. As London-based BP continues to pour vast quantities of dispersants into the Gulf of Mexico, Twilley and many other scientists are growing increasingly concerned about the chemical soup that may be creeping onshore, as well as the poorly understood effects of dispersant in the water column at sea.

Initially, BP and the federal agencies involved in the spill response made the decision to use dispersant offshore to limit the amount of viscous oil washing up on beaches and into the wetlands, says Ed Overton, an environmental chemist at Louisiana State University. The idea behind the use of dispersants offshore, says Overton, “is you hold your nose and accept damage offshore to try to prevent damage onshore”.

So far, more than 6.6 million litres of dispersant have been applied: more than 4 million litres offshore and more than 2.5 million litres at the site of the leak. On the surface, dispersants are sprayed from planes over the surface of the oil. To reach oil at depth, dispersant is pumped from a vessel at the surface down to a wand pointed into the oil flowing from the broken wellhead, some 1.5 kilometres deep. Before the Deepwater Horizon spill, dispersants had only been used to treat surface oil.

Therein lies the worry, says David Valentine, a geomicrobiologist at the University of California in Santa Barbara. “It’s an experiment that’s never been performed before—to dump that much of an industrial chemical into the ocean.”

“My hunch is that when this thing started they wanted to keep the oil off the beaches, so they used the dispersants.” says Samantha Joye, a biogeochemist at the University of Georgia in Athens. “But no one thought it would go on this long.”

Now there are fears that that dispersed oil is making its way into shallow waters even as questions abound about the impacts on the water column at depth. We are trying “to unravel what’s truth and what’s purely speculation,” says Twilley.

BP’s Next Disaster: You ain’t seen nothing yet!!

Illustration by Tim Bower
Rolling Stone is on a roll, exposing one depressing thing after another about this hope and change administration. Here’s the latest about what is yet to come from everybody’s current favorite big oil company, BP. Some excerpts:

But Obama’s tough-guy act offers no guarantee that oil giants like BP won’t be permitted to repeat the same mistakes that led to the nightmare in the Gulf. Indeed, top environmentalists warn, the suspension of drilling appears to be little more than a stalling tactic designed to let public anger over BP’s spill subside before giving Big Oil the go-ahead to drill in an area that has long been off-limits: the Arctic Ocean. The administration has approved plans by both BP and Shell Oil to drill a total of 11 exploratory wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas above Alaska — waters far more remote and hostile than the Gulf. Shell’s operations could proceed as soon as the president’s suspension expires in January. And thanks to an odd twist in its rig design, BP’s drilling in the Arctic is on track to get the green light as soon as this fall.

Ken Salazar, the Interior secretary whose staff allowed BP to drill in the Gulf based on pro-industry rules cooked up during the Bush years, has made no secret of his determination to push the “frontier” of oil drilling into the Arctic. The region’s untapped waters are believed to hold as much as 27 billion barrels of oil — an amount that would rival some of the largest oil fields in the Middle East. “Everything I’ve heard internally, from sources within both the administration and industry, tells me that the administration is all over wanting these guys out in the Arctic Ocean,” says Rick Steiner, a top marine scientist in Alaska who helped guide the response to the Exxon Valdez spill. “They’re trying to solve this political problem with this Gulf spill in time to get these guys out in the Arctic next summer.”

And if that doesn’t worry you,

Here’s what BP has in store for the Arctic: First, the company will drill two miles beneath its tiny island, which it has christened “Liberty.” Then, in an ingenious twist, it will drill sideways for another six to eight miles, until it reaches an offshore reservoir estimated to hold 105 million barrels of oil. This would be the longest “extended reach” well ever attempted, and the effort has required BP to push drilling technology beyond its proven limits. As the most powerful “land-based” oil rig ever built, Liberty requires special pipe to withstand the 105,000 foot-pounds of torque — the equivalent of 50 Mack truck engines — needed to turn the drill. “This is about as sexy as it gets,” a top BP official boasted to reporters in 2008. BP, a repeat felon subject to record fines for its willful safety violations, calls the project “one of its biggest challenges to date” — an engineering task made even more dangerous by plans to operate year-round in what the company itself admits is “some of the harshest weather on Earth.”

Gasland: a magical world where you can set your tapwater aflame! Thank you oil companies!


Josh Fox, the man behind the camera for this HBO documentary, was interviewed on the Daily Show a couple of days ago:


An American President’s plan to end the nation’s dependence on foreign oil!

Trust Jon Stewart and the Daily Show to put President Obama’s address to the nation into its proper historical perspective! And it is good to see that America’s energy policy has remained so consistent across so many presidents from both parties! Isn’t it? Just like their foreign policy, as we learned from the other history lesson I shared recently. The more things change…


Oh, and before that brilliant analysis of the President’s “new” energy policy talk, Jon also echoed my other peeve with that speech, about prayer in this opening segment to last night’s show:


The answer is simple: “they’re cheap bastards”

I’m no expert on marine ecosystems, much less on the oil industry – but I’ve not felt much confidence in the official clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. Now an old veteran of the oil-spill clean-up business confirms a suspicion I’ve had since first hearing about the large-scale use of dispersants to clean up the oil: that it was more for show than real cleanup. Dispersants, I thought, even the most “natural” ones, are like soap, that work by breaking up the oil into smaller droplets that are less visible, right? So, dumping in a boatload of dispersants (and the less benign commercial ones at that) into a big plume of oil may make the plume disappear – but that’s just a visual trick, isn’t it? The oil, after all, is still there, and is now dispersed thinly throughout the column of water, is it not? How can that be any easier to clean up? And how is it any better for the poor marine creatures, which might have had a chance of avoiding an oil plume if it was visible, but must now swim through the dispersed, invisible, oil? Especially if it is also mixed up with toxic chemicals now. Are we really sacrificing real environmental values for aesthetic reasons?

My instinct may not have been wrong, suggests ScienceBlogger Christie Wilcox, whose grandpa happens to be a veteran with a career spent designing ways to clean up after the mess of the oil industry. And some of the “expensive” technology he’s helped develop to clean up spills are in use in other parts of the world. Just not in the Gulf. Because “they’re cheap bastards“. Here’s an excerpt from the longer blog post about dispersants – but you really should read the entire essay:

Why doesn’t the Gulf have the “firehouse mentality” of areas like Puget Sound? Why haven’t they identified the most vulnerable areas and stationed cleanup equipment there, provided up to date training for cleanup personnel, and generally prepared for this kind of disaster?

The answer is simple. As my grandpa phrased it, “they’re cheap bastards.”

The lack of foresight and constant corner cutting by BP led to this disaster. But what’s worse is that they continue to botch the containment and cleanup of the billions of gallons of oil that their mistakes have spilled.

“The real issue,” my grandfather explained to me, “is that they don’t care about solving the problem.” By they, he wasn’t just referring to BP. He was referring to all of the oil companies in the Gulf and the government regulators that are supposed to be ensuring that oil drilling and transport occurs safely. “They throw dispersants on the oil. Do you know what dispersants do? They make the oil neutrally buoyant. Dispersed oil winds up in the water column and, therefore, cannot be deflected by floating booms or harvested with oil skimmers. They make the surface look cleaner, but they don’t do a damned thing to actually clean up the oil.”

Essentially, dispersants are soaps. They emulsify oil, breaking up up and allowing it to mix into water. The idea behind dispersants is that by breaking up the oil and putting it in the water column, it will be degraded faster by the microorganisms that naturally degrade oils and keeping the oil from coating the shoreline.

Starting in May, the US has been spraying oil dispersants at the spill like mad, despite concerns raised by many related to potential dispersant impact on wildlife and fisheries, environment, aquatic life, and public health. The EPA further approved injection of these dispersants directly at the the leak site to break up the oil before it reaches the surface. By the end of may, over 600,000 gallons of dispersants have been applied on the surface, with another 55,000 gallons applied underwater. The two main dispersants being used, Corexit EC9500A and EC9527A are neither the least toxic, nor the most effective, among the dispersants approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, the UK has banned their use entirely. When BP was asked why they aren’t using better dispersants, they said that Corexit was ‘what they had available.’

The bigger question, though, is why are they using dispersants at all. Multiple studies after the Exxon Valdez spill found that dispersants, detergents, and hot water cleaning of shoreline cause substantially more mortality than oil itself. Even before the Exxon spill, scientists knew that “dispersant-oil mixtures are more toxic than the dispersant alone, and many-fold more toxic than the crude oil.” While better and safer detergents are being developed, their long-term toxicity and effectiveness is still completely unknown, making them risky to use in such high quantities as BP is.

The way my grandpa sees it, the so-called cleanup of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill isn’t about being effective or safe, it’s about looking like they’re doing something. The goal is to make it less visible so the public forgets that it’s happening. It’s all about PR.