Federal mine disaster investigators disclosed a few pieces of new information Tuesday night from their year-long look at the April 2010 deadly Upper Big Branch mine explosion. They said that:
— Mine owner Massey Energy kept two sets of records that chronicled safety problems. One internal set of production reports detailed those problems and how they delayed coal production. But the other records, which are reviewed by federal mine safety inspectors and required by federal law, failed to mention the same safety hazards. Some of the hazards that were not disclosed are identical to those believed to have contributed to the explosion.
— Portions of the Upper Big Branch mine hit by the explosion were not treated for excessive and explosive coal dust because the entryways or tunnels in those areas were too small to accommodate the machine used to spray the material that neutralizes coal dust.
— Gas readings taken shortly after the explosion showed too little methane to support Massey Energy’s claim that a massive, naturally-occurring and unpredictable inundation of gas caused the disaster.
China’s largest oil company has begun operations at Al-Ahdab oil field in Iraq, making the field the first major new area to start production in Iraq in 20 years, according to an official news report on Tuesday.
Operations began June 21, and the field is expected to produce three million tons of crude oil per year, reported China Daily, an official English-language newspaper. The oil field was discovered in 1979 and is believed to contain a billion barrels of crude.
The Chinese company, the China National Petroleum Corporation, a state-owned enterprise, secured rights to the field under a technical services contract signed with the Iraqi government in November 2008. Under the contract, the company has development rights for 23 years, China Daily reported. It is investing $3 billion.
The contract, the renegotiation of a deal first signed in 1996 with the government of Saddam Hussein, was postponed after the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Iraq and the American military toppled Mr. Hussein in 2003. Analysts say the Ahdab operation is China National Petroleum’s largest in the Middle East.
The contract stipulates that the company receive a fee for every barrel of oil produced, rather than an equity interest in the oil field, as it would have under the original agreement with Mr. Hussein’s government. A Chinese oil executive said in 2009 that the company would make a profit of less than one percent, but that the contract was a way to “get a foot in the door” of the Iraqi oil industry, which has much larger fields than Ahdab.
There was hardly a breeze to stir the warm summer air outside the Acciona wind turbine assembly plant on Tuesday, but those getting off buses for a tour of the factory had wind on their minds.
The American Wind Energy Association is hosting its first University Summit Tuesday and today at the Semans Center, drawing approximately 100 wind-energy experts both from academic institutions and from the industry. The association, based in Washington, D.C., lobbies on behalf of the wind-power industry, and it organized the conference to encourage cooperation among wind companies and universities.
For University of Iowa Provost P. Barry Butler, a board member of the association, the question driving the summit is, “How better can we engage universities [in wind energy]?”
“It’s a give-and-take type of relationship,” said Butler, who teaches courses about wind power. “Not just, ‘Give us your research money.’ ”
He described job placement and internships for students as some of the advantages of future partnerships between universities and businesses and noted that an “industry perspective” might help in curriculum development.
The UI lists wind power as one of the components of its proposed energy portfolio. Currently, Iowa ranks second in the nation in wind-energy production.
A top aide to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Thursday that Murkowski and Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) have a “bedrock” disagreement over President Obama’s proposal to mandate a major expansion of low-carbon power generation.
Obama is pushing a “clean energy standard” (CES) that would require power companies to jointly supply 80 percent of U.S. electricity from “clean” sources like nuclear, renewables and natural gas by 2035.
But McKie Campbell, Murkowski’s staff director, said Thursday that Bingaman and Murkowski are at odds over Murkowski’s view that a CES should replace federal greenhouse gas regulations, and said he does not see a path forward.
“I think we are at a point of some fundamental disagreements,” he said at a panel discussion hosted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
“Probably the most bedrock disagreement is that we believe if there was a CES, that that needs to serve as the main tool for reduction of greenhouse gases; he [Bingaman] believes that in addition you still need to continue with EPA’s endangerment finding and regulation,” Campbell said.
America’s love affair with the incandescent light bulb may still be smokin’ hot, but the affection appears to be somewhat one-sided according to a recent article by Rob Lever for AFP. Lever details more than a dozen cases in which state lawmakers are trying desperately to ensure that the beloved bulbs stay on the market, despite new federal energy efficiency standards that effectively phase out the old technology. The real kicker comes at the tail end of the article, with a line from a spokesperson for the American Lighting Association. While certain legislators may carry a torch for incandescent tech, the bulb manufacturing industry has already “moved on down the road” to more attractive new technologies.
Light Bulb Industry Responds to New Efficiency Regulations
There is nothing in the new federal law that prohibits consumers from buying or using incandescent light bulbs. It simply establishes new efficiency standards, and manufacturers were not interested in investing in the R&D needed to improve the old technology. In particular, Philips has made the whole issue moot by coming out with a new energy efficient LED light that looks and acts just like the century-old incandescent bulb, but uses 28 percent less energy. Major retailers are also moving along. IKEA, for example, no longer carries incandescent bulbs even though the new energy efficiency standards aren’t phasing in until next year.
Xiaoyue Du and Thomas E. Graedel note that the dozen-plus rare earth elements (REEs) have unique physical and chemical properties making them essential for defense applications, computers, cell phones, electric vehicles, batteries, appliances, fertilizers, liquid crystal displays, and other products. But there is growing concern about the supply, since only one country, China, is the major source. “Since 1990, China has played a dominant role in REE mining production; other countries are almost completely dependent on imports from China with respect to rare earth resources,” the researchers state.
To determine how much recycling potential of the REEs from in-use products could add to the supply, they did the first analysis of the amount of REEs available in products in the United States, Japan, and China. Those countries are the major uses of REEs. The analysis concluded that nearly 99,000 tons REEs were included in products in 2007. This invisible stock, equivalent to more than 10 years of production, “suggests that REE recycling may have the potential to offset a significant part of REE virgin extraction in the future…and minimize the environmental challenges present in REE mining and processing,” the report notes.
A vote is expected next week on bipartisan legislation that would restrict the power of EPA rules covering mountaintop mining, waterways and wetlands.
Conservationists knew that new GOP anti-regulatory muscle in the 112th Congress would be intent on debilitating landmark legislation such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
But they’re still taken aback by an attempt to incapacitate the latter in one fell swoop.
Next week, the full House is expected to vote on a fast-moving bipartisan bill that would elbow the federal government aside and elevate the power of state-level rules covering mountaintop-removal mining, waterways and wetlands. Even if it passes, however, the bill isn’t expected to gain traction in the Senate.