Tag: BP

Solar To Equal Fossil Fuel Cost Within Decade?

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | December 1, 2010 3:17 pm

Picture 13For a while, I’ve been hearing that the cost of renewables will soon be equal to that of traditional fuels, with solar leading the way. Meanwhile, renewable prices have continued to decrease while oil, coal, and nuclear have risen consistently.  So it’s interesting to see this article at Bloomberg:

The cost of generating power by capturing the sun’s energy will fall about 10 percent a year in the next decade until it equals the expense of producing electricity by burning fossil fuels, a BP Plc official said.

As conventional fuel prices rise and solar power falls, generation costs may reach parity in as little as five years for some fossil energy sources, Vahid Fotuhi, Middle East director of BP Solar, said at a conference in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Solar power costs about 20 cents a kilowatt-hour now, he said.

* * * *

Solar power expenses are declining as technology improves, the speakers said. Fossil fuel costs may climb with oil prices that are expected to rise to an average of $94.50 a barrel in 2012 and to $102.13 a barrel in 2013, according to the weighted average of estimates from 35 analysts compiled by Bloomberg.

Neat, no? Read the full article at here.


Who gets the credit for the BP container cap? YOU do.

By Chris Mooney | July 20, 2010 8:37 am

This is a guest post by Darlene Cavalier, a writer and senior adviser at Discover Magazine. Darlene holds a Masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and is a former Philadelphia 76ers cheerleader. She founded ScienceCheerleader.com and cofounded ScienceForCitizens.net to make it possible for lay people to contribute to science.

The world may never know for certain who sparked the idea for the current BP oil containment cap.  Professor Robert Bea, from the University of California, Berkeley, however, has a strong hunch:

Six weeks ago, Robert Bea, an engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, received a late-night call from an apologetic “mystery plumber.” The caller said he had a sketch for how to solve the problem at the bottom of the Gulf. It was a design for a containment cap that would fit snugly over the top of the failed blowout preventer at the heart of the Gulf oil spill. Read More


Oil In The Water

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | June 10, 2010 12:01 pm

Picture 3

Click on the map to watch CNN’s time-lapse video

Now go read Nicholas Kristof’s related Op-Ed in the NYTimes:

The national campaign to get President Obama to emote, throw crockery at oil executives and jump up and down in fury has failed. But here’s a long-term solution: Let’s anoint a king and queen.


[It] would give President Obama time to devise actual clean-up policies. He might then also be able to concentrate on eliminating absurd government policies that make these disasters more likely (such as the $75 million cap on economic damages when an oil rig is responsible for a spill).

Our president is stuck with too many ceremonial duties as head of state, such as greeting ambassadors and holding tedious state dinners, that divert attention from solving problems. You can preside over America or you can address its problems, but it’s difficult to find time to do both.


* Update: You can now vote for king and queen of America at Vanity Fair. *


The Nuclear Option?!

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | June 2, 2010 9:19 pm

On the road somewhere in Tennessee tonight, I read the present top story at the NYTimes:

Nuclear Option on Gulf Oil Spill? No Way, U.S. Says

The chatter began weeks ago as armchair engineers brainstormed for ways to stop the torrent of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico: What about nuking the well?

Decades ago, the Soviet Union reportedly used nuclear blasts to successfully seal off runaway gas wells, inserting a bomb deep underground and letting its fiery heat melt the surrounding rock to shut off the flow. Why not try it here?

Of course this won’t happen, but the idea isn’t actually all that far fetched. Furthermore, does anyone have a better suggestion? Now go read the article and let’s get an interesting discussion going in comments…

The Oil Spill Belongs To All of Us

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | June 1, 2010 10:24 am

Well, I’m back. Over the past month, the devastating BP spill that began April 20th has become catastrophic in scale. And that’s an understatement.

Picture 2When I checked on my inbox early May, it was overflowing with questions from our readers about oil’s impact on the marine realm, its potential to spread, and the long-term possibilities across sectors. Foremost, I want to thank Wallace J. Nichols and Philip Hoffman for posting in my absence when I asked them to provide details. Chris has also done a good job covering the reasons we should all be concerned about the 2010 hurricane forecast.

In short, the BP oil spill is as bad as it gets. It’s an unprecedented social, environmental, and economic disaster in the US. And it’s not over. The public seems to have expected that scientists and engineers would have a quick fix immediately–not surprising given that on television, problems take less than an hour to solve (with commercials). Now any fix will do, but no one’s sure what we’re dealing with 5000 feet below sea level. I haven’t kept up with all of the coverage while overseas, though I’m sure much of what I’d say about the tragedy itself would be repetitious. Instead, I will add this…

No matter what took place and why it happened, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico belongs to all of us. Now it is our collective responsibility to make sure we establish the policies that will prevent it from happening ever again It’s related to oceans, economics, security, and climate change. But most of all, this is all about energy. And the truth is, regardless of the renewable options that are coming down the pipeline, we’re not there yet. Earth will continue to be a primarily fossil-fuel based planet for decades to come. So if we want better related institutions, it’s our choice to enact them.

Over the next three days, I’ll be on the road driving from NY to Austin, Texas. Once I arrive, I’ll share the details of my new job working on energy solutions for the 21st century.

MORE ABOUT: Austin, BP, Energy, oil, oil spill, Texas

The Hurricane-Oil Slick Story Makes the New York Times

By Chris Mooney | May 31, 2010 3:31 am

Kenneth Chang covers the same basic ground as my Slate piece, and comes to the same conclusions. A slick is not going to slow down a storm, but a storm could fling a slick everywhere. Of course, it all depends on the particular path of the storm, etc.

Granted, the story becomes more pressing now because of the failure of the “top kill” method of plugging the well. We’re on to Plan C now, followed by Plan D, but if they all fail then the relief wells won’t be finished (allegedly) til August. That’s right when the serious part of hurricane season begins–although, again, if we’re in for a mega year like 2005, then you can have an early forming Category 4 (like Dennis) in July.

I’m trying to find the bright side in all of this…but I’m really not seeing it.

Below, incidentally, is the track of Dennis in 2005. A storm along such a path might actually push oil away from land, given that it would be approaching the nearshore part of slick from the southeast. In this scenario, the winds over the bulk of the slick would (I believe, just by eyeballing it) be blowing back out to sea. That isn’t the worst case scenario, but such a storm would also surely shut down all clean up or well plugging efforts….


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Hurricanes

The Coming Hurricane Season is Forecast to Be Brutal

By Chris Mooney | May 28, 2010 2:37 pm

hurricane_fran_nasaI have to say, I am a bit staggered by just how severe the forecast from NOAA is for the Atlantic hurricane year 2010. We know these predictions aren’t always spot on, but they get increasingly accurate as the season nears–and now just before June 1, NOAA is calling for 14-23 named storms, 8-14 hurricanes, and 3-7 major hurricanes.

In short, they’re calling for a year that would almost rival the worst year on record–2005–the year of Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.

And of course, it hardly helps matters that we have tons of oil in the Gulf this year. If NOAA’s forecast is really correct, it’s hard for me to imagine that there won’t be a number of storms that get into the Gulf and threaten to disrupt clean up operations and/or to drive oil all over the place.

This makes success in BP’s ongoing “top kill” effort pretty crucial. If they can’t get the spill stopped now, and it keeps pouring out oil well into the summer, then there will be hurricanes to contend with–and in a bad year, like 2005, the really strong ones can even come in July.

For more on what would happen if a strong hurricane hit the oil slick, check out my Slate.com piece on this subject.

This just in: Michael Mann of Penn State (working with grad student Michael Kozar) has also just released a seasonal hurricane forecast–and it is even scarier. Due to the strong heat anomaly in the Atlantic’s “main development region” for hurricanes, Mann and Kozar forecast between 19 and 28 storms this season!

MORE ABOUT: BP, Hurricanes, oil slick

Hurricane vs. Oil Slick

By Chris Mooney | May 22, 2010 12:20 pm

100521_Exp_oilEXI’ve just done a Slate piece elaborating on what would happen if a hurricane hit the Gulf oil slick, based upon further research and interviewing. Here’s an excerpt:

Much depends on the angle at which the storm crosses the slick. In the Northern Hemisphere, hurricanes rotate counterclockwise, with the largest storm surge occurring where the winds blow in the direction the storm as a whole is traveling—that’s in front of the eye and off to the right. (Meteorologists worry over a hurricane’s dangerous “right-front quadrant.”) So if a powerful storm approached the slick from the southwest, say, its most potent winds would push the oil forward, instead of sweeping it off to the side and out of the storm’s path. If the storm then plowed into the Gulf Coast, you’d expect an oily landfall.

And how would the slick affect the storm? Not much if at all:

…by the time winds reach hurricane force (greater than 74 mph), they cause so much ocean mixing that any oil slick on the surface would be driven down into the depths and generally broken up. MIT hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel has tested the phenomenon on a small scale using an enclosed tank, half filled with water, with an air rotor at the top capable of generating hurricane force winds. When the rotor turned at high speeds, the surface of the water was torn apart, and the scientists observed no difference in the amount of evaporation that occurred with or without an oily surface film.

It’s even possible that an oil slick could make a powerful hurricane a little stronger. Oil is darker than water, and so it absorbs more sunlight while also blocking evaporation from the sea surface. That means the spill could be trapping heat in one part of the ocean. If a storm passed over and churned up the surface of the water, that potential hurricane energy might then be released.

You can read the full Slate piece here.

Update 9 ET Saturday: This piece is the second most emailed and third most read item on Slate.com right now. Apparently people want to know….

MORE ABOUT: BP, Hurricanes, oil slick, slate

Can Offering Prizes for Innovative Solutions Save the Gulf?

By Chris Mooney | May 13, 2010 8:08 am

This is a guest post by Darlene Cavalier, a writer and senior adviser at Discover Magazine. Darlene holds a Masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and is a former Philadelphia 76ers cheerleader. She founded ScienceCheerleader.com and cofounded ScienceForCitizens.net to make it possible for lay people to contribute to science.

Prizes: This old idea is making a sweeping comeback and it is changing the way government, industry and foundations help revolutionize future discovery. It’s high time we offer prizes to motivate and galvanize the public to come up with creative, real-time solutions to major disasters, such as the BP oil spill.

Approximately one-and-a-half weeks ago, I received an email from Andrew Revkin (who writes the DotEarth blog at The New York Times) in which he challenged researchers and others to think creatively about substantive approaches to stanching the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“There’s a lot of talk about sweeping Grand Engineering Challenges this year. But one is unfolding in real-time in the Gulf. Waiting months for a relief well seems pretty in the box,” he wrote in the email (reprinted with Revkin’s permission), and reiterated in this blog post.

While it’s true that BP is accepting public suggestions about ideas to mitigate the oil spill, the process needs some tweaking. From the Deepwater Horizon Response website: “Once a formal suggestion has been filed, BP technical personnel will carefully evaluate each and every one for technical feasibility and proof of application. If the engineering group finds the suggestion feasible, the person submitting the suggestion will be contacted if and when their support is needed.”

BP technical personnel will evaluate the suggestions? Seems a little too cozy to me. Read More


The Gusher: Underwater Video of Oil Spill

By Chris Mooney | May 12, 2010 6:24 pm

See for yourself. It’s hard to get a sense of scale, but it is still extremely dramatic–and ominous:

MORE ABOUT: BP, oil spill

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