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RAND’s Peterson discusses how Chernobyl disaster affected future of nuclear power
(transcript and video)
On Point, E&E TV
Twenty years ago, the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people and spread radioactive fallout around Europe. During today’s E&ETV Event Coverage, D.J. Peterson, senior political scientist at the RAND Corp., addresses the environmental legacy left by the disaster. Peterson, filmed last week at a Woodrow Wilson Center event marking Chernobyl’s 20th anniversary, also talks about the resurgence of nuclear power in eastern Europe and Russia and discusses how the memory of the incident is affecting the future expansion of the nuclear industry.
(2 May 2006)

Experts doubt oil shale answer to energy crisis

Lance Gay, Scripps Howard News Service
Massive deposits of oil shale are locked up under America’s Western prairies, but even with crude prices at historic highs, some experts doubt it will become economical to extract it anytime soon.

The Energy Department remains enthusiastic about the prospects of using the deposits, saying the United States needs to take a second look at this “strategically located, long-term source of reliable, affordable and secure oil.”

The Bureau of Land Management says it is reviewing proposals from eight companies to conduct research into how to extract the oil from shale in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. U.S. deposits of oil shale hold the potential of providing enough oil “to meet U.S. demand for oil at current levels for 110 years,” the agency says.

With oil hitting record prices on the world market, projects once shelved as impossibly uneconomical when oil was $30 a barrel are now getting a second look.

But Walter Youngquist, a retired University of Oregon geology professor, says he’s considered ways of exploiting America’s untapped oil shale resources for 40 years and concludes that extracting commercial amounts is like a mirage: every time it is approached, it just keeps retreating into the distance.
(2 May 2006)

Turning dirty coal into clean energy
(audio, transcript)
Elizabeth Shogren, NPR
Today’s expensive gasoline is making people look for alternatives. That has opened doors of opportunity for entrepreneurs such as Andrew Perlman, who is betting that the “clean” fuel of future will be made from one of humanity’s oldest — and dirtiest: coal.

Perlman wants to turn coal into clean natural gas. The concept isn’t new. In the 1800s, cities such as Boston used big, dirty ovens to turn coal into town gas to fuel streetlights and gas lamps in homes. During World War II, Nazi Germany turned coal into liquid fuel to run tanks.

During the energy crisis of the 1970s, the U.S. government promoted research projects to produce gas and liquid fuel from coal. But those efforts were abandoned after the crisis passed. Now, instability in the Middle East and record-high prices for petroleum products have prompted a new wave of interest in technologies to turn coal into natural gas and liquid fuel. For entrepreneurs such as Perlman, these technologies hold the promise of producing cleaner fuel out of coal, which is abundant and affordable.
(25 April 2006)
When I read pieces like this, I think of the photo features in the old “Soviet Life” magazines – marching into the future with smiling faces and technology – though NPR has the smiling faces of entrepeneurs rather than collective farm workers. It’s true that short radio spots don’t allow much depth, but at least some of the doubts and problems around gasification should be mentioned. -BA

Green Fuel in Goldfield, Iowa
(Skepticism about green fuel)

SPROL (Canada)
Lately the U.S. Federal Government has been making a lot of noise about green fuel. It started with President Bush’s comment about “switch grass” in his State of the Union Address. He got a few chuckles out of that. While we’ve all heard of using corn to make ethanol, and the importance of trading our SUVs for hybrids, I don’t know anybody who is talking about using switch grass.

Since January, the photo-ops broadcast on television networks have been touting Bush’s concern for the environment. Since this is the administration that turned the Clean Air Act into the Clear Skies Initiative, while lowering the standards of environmental safety that energy companies are required to uphold, we should probably ask: how green is green anyway?

Take ethanol, for example. There is a refinery in Goldfield Iowa that has been making ethanol since late last year. It’s been hailed as the “clean, renewable fuel of the future.” But it uses fossil fuel to power the ethanol refinery, so just exactly what are we gaining from this experiment in so-called green energy?

According to a report from the Christian Science Monitor, Carbon Cloud Hangs Over Green Fuel, while other ethanol plants use natural gas, the Goldfield plant burns 300 tons of coal a day to make this clean, renewable fuel. In fact, Goldfield is the first of its kind to use coal. In Nevada, Iowa, just south of Goldfield, another coal-burning ethanol plant is currently under construction and there are, reportedly, plans to build at least three more in the mid-west.

There are now an estimated 200 similar plants under construction. So, environmentalists are getting a little worried. As well they should.
(1 May 2006)
Recommended by Gristmill.

The SPROL site has other well-written articles with attractive photos. According to its About Us page, SPROL is a team of contributors with the aim of showing “visual macroscopic effects of the decisions and behavior of our society.”

Exxon CEO: Use less of our stuff

Ted Barrett, CNN Money
NEW YORK – Exxon chief executive Rex Tillerson said Tuesday there is little lawmakers can do to combat rising energy costs and urged consumers to reduce demand by using less.

“We just have to ask people to make sure they are using energy wisely,” Tillerson told CNN after a meeting with congressmen in Washington. “Be efficient with it, don’t waste it.”
(2 May 2006)
Go to original for a link to an online interview.

Increasing Oil Supply
New technologies being developed at MIT could as much as double accessible world oil.

Kevin Bullis, Technology Review (MIT)
The amount of accessible oil worldwide could eventually be increased by roughly 30 percent with the help of new drilling, imaging, and oil extraction technologies, including the use of microbes, say MIT researchers. Theoretically, this number could be even higher; in a best-case scenario, the amount of oil that could be produced would double.

On average, using current techniques, about two-thirds of the oil in an oil field gets left behind, says Richard Sears, a vice president at Shell International Exploration and Production, Houston, TX. “The fundamental problem is basic physics. It’s not like the oil is in big tanks. We produce oil from rock — sandstone. The oil is actually held in the very small spaces between the grains of sand. The problem is, when you try to move that oil out of the rocks, because of the size of the spaces, you end up with a layer of oil coating the insides of the rocks.” About one-third of the oil in fields will always be inaccessible. That leaves one-third that could be recovered with new technologies — which is equal to the amount that would have already been extracted.

Getting all of this oil out would be extremely ambitious, but Robert van der Hilst, earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences (EAPS) professor at MIT, says much smaller gains would still be marked improvements. Increasing the percent of oil harvested from worldwide oil fields by even one percentage point would be the equivalent of adding a new oil-producing region as productive as the fields in the entire North Sea, he says.

To a certain extent, getting more oil out of existing fields is a question of economics. Oil, which resides underground in porous rock, can be forced out by injecting water, steam, or carbon dioxide, but these methods bring added costs that limit their use. If oil prices stay consistently high, these methods will be employed more than they are now, Sears says.
(3 May 2006)
It will be interesting to see how The Oil Drum dissects this article. -BA

Learn to live with coal
(original “Fueling Our Future”)

Jonathan Shaw, Harvard Magazine
Climate warming is accelerating as energy use soars. Nuclear power won’t close the gap. We need to learn to live with coal. Here’s one elaborate engineering solution.

…“[Energy and global warming is] a grand problem,” says professor of earth and planetary sciences Daniel Schrag. “One that most people haven’t even thought about.” Even within universities, he says, “research on energy has basically decayed away to almost nothing over the last 30 years. Around the country, there just isn’t that much intellectual capital, and the reason for that is really quite simple: the cost of oil has been low for a very long time.” Harvard, however, is lucky to still have a few scholars—“survivors,” Schrag calls them—who got their start during the oil crisis of the 1970s. On Wednesday mornings, they gather for a weekly “energy breakfast”…

[Article goes on to discuss nuclear, carbon sequestration and global warming.] (May-June 2006)
Interesting technical piece, written for a general audience.