In Case You Missed It

In addition to the EPA’s decision to raise the allowed ethanol blends to 15%, there were three other energy-related stories of interest this week.

Deep-Water Ban Ends

The first was that the Obama administration has lifted the ban on deep-water drilling:

Obama ends ban on deep-water oil drilling in Gulf of Mexico

As part of the decision, the Obama administration said it would continue with tougher safety requirements designed to prevent a repeat of the April 20 explosion and fire on an offshore oil rig that killed 11 workers.

“Operators who play by the rules and clear the higher bar can be allowed to resume” drilling, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at a telephone news conference Tuesday.

“The oil and gas industry will be operating under tighter rules, stronger oversight and in a regulatory environment that will remain dynamic as we continue to build on the reforms we have already implemented,” Salazar said.

I don’t know the details of the new rules, but I think most people would agree that changes needed to take place to lower the risk of something like this happening again. Despite that, there will always be some level of risk and there can be no guarantees that a future incident won’t happen. What we do from incidents like this is incorporate the lessons into making sure this particular chain of events is never repeated.

But speaking as someone who has been involved in many safety studies and incident investigations, there is always the possibility of a series of incidents that were deemed low probability (or even not considered) in a safety study combining to cause an incident like this. The job of those overseeing these projects is to minimize that probability, and then design safety measures that would minimize the impact if an event does take place.

An example of this can be found in tanks that are used to store fuel. Lightning can strike these tanks, but there are measures to mitigate against this and lower the risk. Nevertheless, lightning can still strike, tanks can rupture, etc. Therefore, tanks are generally surrounded by containment systems that would prevent the liquids from spreading and burning over a large area.

Google Invests in Wind

Google announced this week that they would heavily invest in a $5 billion transmission line that would connect offshore wind farms in the Atlantic to the grid from northern New Jersey down to Virginia.

Offshore Wind Power Line Wins Backing

Industry experts called the plan promising, but warned that as a first-of-a-kind effort, it was bound to face bureaucratic delays and could run into unforeseen challenges, from technology problems to cost overruns. While several undersea electrical cables exist off the Atlantic Coast already, none has ever picked up power from generators along the way.

The system’s backbone cable, with a capacity of 6,000 megawatts, equal to the output of five large nuclear reactors, would run in shallow trenches on the seabed in federal waters 15 to 20 miles offshore, from northern New Jersey to Norfolk, Va. The notion would be to harvest energy from turbines in an area where the wind is strong but the hulking towers would barely be visible.

Costs for offshore wind are quite high, however:

Generating electricity from offshore wind is far more expensive than relying on coal, natural gas or even onshore wind. But energy experts anticipate a growing demand for the offshore turbines to meet state requirements for greater reliance on local renewable energy as a clean alternative to fossil fuels.

Efficiency Winners and Losers

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) this week issued their 2010 ACEEE Scorecard for state-specific rankings on energy efficiency. California came out on top, and North Dakota ranked last:

ACEEE 2010 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard

The key state-specific rankings in the 2010 ACEEE Scorecard are as follows:

  • The four most-improved states – Utah (tied for #12, up 11 spots from 2009), Arizona (#18, up 11 spots), New Mexico (#22, up eight spots), and Alaska (#37, up eight spots) – climbed at least eight spots since the 2009 Scorecard. In general, the Southwest region demonstrated considerable progress from 2009 to 2010.
  • California retained its #1 ranking for the fourth year in a row, outpacing all other states in its level of investment in energy efficiency across all sectors of its economy. The balance of the top 10 states: Massachusetts (#2, holding steady) ; Oregon (#3, up from #4); New York (#4, up from #5); Vermont (#5, up from #6); Washington (#6, up from #7); Rhode Island (#7, up from #9); Connecticut (tied for #8, down from #3); Minnesota (tied for #8, holding steady); and Maine (#10, holding steady).
  • The 10 states with the most room for improvement in the Scorecard (which includes the District of Columbia) are: Louisiana (#42, down one spot); Missouri (tied for #43, down two spots); Oklahoma (tied for #43, down four spots); West Virginia (tied for #43, up two spots); Kansas (#46, down seven spots); Nebraska (#47, holding steady); Wyoming (#48, up three spots); Alabama (#49, down one spot); Mississippi (#50, down one spot); and North Dakota (#51, down two spots).

In response to this, I will make a visit to North Dakota in a couple of weeks to investigate. I will also go to Massachusetts to figure out what they are doing right. (Joking about the reason, but I do have to visit both states in November).