The presidential panel tasked with finding the cause of the oil spill in the Gulf began work Monday with a hearing in New Orleans. Yet most of the commentary from various experts throughout the day was about what was being done to stop the leak, which is still gushing in the Gulf, and the damage it is having to Gulf Coast states. Even Texas is now seeing some oil on its shores.
But the problem with probing an incident that is still unfolding is that everyone is too intent upon the here and now – as well they should be in this case - to have the luxury of time to look back for lessons learned. Indeed, Kent Wells, BP senior vice president, used his testimony before the panel to answer questions about what the UK company was doing to stop the leak. And nobody asked him what he thought caused the accident. He probably could not have answered that, anyway.
Rumours of the death of the clean energy industry in the recession were exaggerated, it seems: new investment in clean energy technologies, companies and projects “held steady” in the second quarter at $33.9bn globally, according to a new analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
This represented a slight decline of 1.5 per cent from the first quarter of 2010, and the year-on-year drop was more marked, with this year’s Q2 showing a 3 per cent fall from investment figures for the same period last year.
Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said this was good going, given the Greek and Eurozone crises, the continuing tightness of credit, and the sluggish US economic recovery.
So much for BP’s plans to cut off the flow of oil with its newly-installed cap on Tuesday.
It appears that the US administration, in the form of energy secretary Steven Chu and USGS director Marcia McNutt, has stepped in and demanded more analysis before the valves are shut off.
From incident commander Admiral Thad Allen:
“Today I met with Secretary Chu, Marcia McNutt and other scientists and geologists as well as officials from BP and other industry representatives as we continue to prepare and review protocols for the well integrity test – including the seismic mapping run that was made around the well site this morning. As a result of these discussions, we decided that the process may benefit from additional analysis that will be performed tonight and tomorrow.”
So what could Chu and McNutt et al’s concern be?
The plan was to shut the valves off for between six and 48 hours, giving BP time to monitor well pressure. Consistently high pressure, of about 8,000 – 9,000 pounds per square inch, would indicate the well casing was intact. Lower or inconsistent pressure might mean that oil and gas were escaping from other places below the sea bed; the cap risked further rupturing the well in ways that would be very difficult to fix.
In otherwords, the cap is being tested to see if it’s safe to use again in the future.
So perhaps the fear from the administration it is that shutting the valves off completely, even for a test of several hours, would actually threaten the well casing.
By Christian Oliver in Seoul
We saw more huge numbers from South Korea this week, pledging all sorts of green initiatives in its dirty, industrial economy. But what passes for ‘green’ here may come as a surprise.
First, the good news. Seoul will set up a $1.25bn fund next month to spur environmental business. It also expects its 30 biggest companies to spend $18.6bn on green technologies over the next three years. Bravo. South Korea has experienced one of the fastest development trajectories of any nation and has created a grim environmental mess. It is the fastest growing carbon emitter in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Going green makes excellent commercial sense. China is closing in steadily on Korean industry and the big companies understand this.
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Some interesting drilling data has emerged from the American Petroleum Institute: US oil and natural gas drilling activity rebounded in the second quarter, with completions rising 38 per cent from 2009′s second quarter – following a grim first quarter in which drilling activity posted a 22 per cent decline year-on-year. Those numbers underline the turnaround in the sector, despite looming fears about the broader economic recovery. Hazem Arafa, director of API’s statistics department, said in a statement:
The roller coaster year of 2009 has given way to somewhat brighter prospects in US drilling activity in 2010. As expectations for crude and natural gas demand have become more bullish, drilling activity has started to reverse its steep decline from the last five quarters.
Breaking down the figures reveals something even more startling. For most of this decade, the Institute notes, natural gas had been the primary driver of domestic drilling. But the latest data suggests this is no longer the case. An estimated 4,396 natural gas wells were completed in the second quarter of 2010, up 22 per cent from 2009′s second quarter. Yet estimated second-quarter oil well completions surged 59 per cent to 4,847.
The reason for the surge in oil drilling is not only the hope of extracting oil from shale rock, to duplicate the success drillers have had in tripling estimates of US supplies of natural gas in recent years.