The Missing Oil, Death of a Climate Bill, and French Engineering

The Missing Oil

I just wanted to briefly touch on three energy stories that were in the news over the past week. The first is that the oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico seems to be slowing:

BP Oil Spill: Clean-Up Crews Can’t Find Crude in the Gulf

Thousands of small oil patches remain below the surface, but experts say an astonishing amount has disappeared, reabsorbed into the environment. “[It’s] mother nature doing her job,” said Ed Overton, a professor of environmental studies at Louisiana State University.

Experts stress that even though there’s less and less oil as time goes on, there’s still plenty around the spill site. And in the long term, no one knows what the impact of those hundreds of millions of gallons will be, deep in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

That hasn’t stopped speculation that the oil is really hiding under the water per the Matt Simmons Massive Underwater Oil Lake Theory:

So it’s not a good thing that clean up workers can’t find the oil. It means that the oil will lurk under the surface, poisoning the sea life that lives beneath the surface, and washing back up during storms for years to come.

Or, it could mean that most of the oil is being broken down, which is the point of dispersing it into small globules. No doubt there may still be some existing plumes (possibly from naturally-occurring seeps), but I think it is likely very good news that they aren’t finding oil. Still, conspiracy theorists will probably talk about a hidden underground lake of oil for years to come.

Death of a Climate Bill

I previously told the story of being at the Pacific Rim Summit last year, and someone pulling up a chair at my table and saying “I disagree with everything you just said.” One of the things I had said was “Congress will not pass any meaningful climate change legislation next year” and my detractor’s response was “I think you are completely wrong and that we will get a climate bill next year.” Well, that disagreement is likely settled:

On the death of the climate bill

Not only will the bill not contain any restrictions on greenhouse gases — not even a watered-down utility-only cap — it won’t even contain the two other key policies that would have moved clean energy forward: the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) and the energy efficiency standards.

There are just too many competing interests here who have very different notions about what to do – if anything – about climate change. I don’t believe they will ever agree to anything that has real teeth. The many competing interests are why I wasn’t surprised at the fiasco in Copenhagen, and why I am not surprised to see that despite initiatives like the Kyoto Protocol the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere continues to rise unabated. I also think that any chance of passing legislation went up in smoke with the Climategate story, because it emboldened opponents who already harbored doubts about climate change (which probably includes most Republican and a few Democratic legislators).

French Engineering

I am not sure that’s a phrase I have ever used before. But a recent story says that the French have started work on a 10 MWe Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) pilot project:

DCNS and RÈUNION will place France at the top of the ETM 2011

The story was in French, and is translated using Google Translator. OTEC advocate Dr. Robert Cohen sent me a link to the story, with the following comments:

The French are reported to be back into ocean thermal — which they invented — in what sounds like a big way. According to this report (in French — with illustrations — preceded by its Google translation], a 10 MWe Réunion Island OTEC pilot plant project, in the 2014-2015 time frame, is underway. The project is being carried out with the participation of DCNS, one of Europe’s leading shipbuilders, located in France. (The acronym “ETM” in the article’s title translates to Ocean Thermal Energy.) The report mentions a cost of €400 million ($500 million) for the pilot plant, which is to be preceded in 2011 by a land-based prototype of one of the four power modules, costing another €230 million ($288 million).

Dr. Cohen has addressed OTEC here several times, most recently in Answering Questions on OTEC. As far as pilot plants go, 10 MWe is fairly large. If they are successful, it would go a long way toward demonstrating that OTEC is a viable option for electricity production.