Sunday, May 24, 2009

Environmental Benefits of Oil Drilling

Estimates of hydrocarbon emission rates from the eleven square mile marine seep field offshore from Coal Oil Point, Santa Barabra, CA:

“The nonmethane hydrocarbon emission rate from the gas seepage is … a large source of air pollution in Santa Barbara County. Our estimate is equal to twice the emission rate from all the on-road vehicle traffic in the county.”
“The decrease in hydrocarbon seepage rate near platform Holly, possibly due to the reduction in subsurface reservoir pressure, suggests that oil production here has resulted in an unexpected benefit to the atmosphere and marine environment. Natural hydrocarbon seepage is frequently found above oil fields throughout the world. If the decrease in natural seepage found near Platform Holly is representative of the effect of oil production on seepage worldwide, then this has the potential to significantly alter global oil and gas seepage in the future. On a local level a reduction in seepage due to oil production can have a profound effect on the air and water quality. For example, if the 50% reduction in natural seepage rate that occurred around Platform Holly also occurred because of future oil production from the oil field beneath the La Goleta seep, this would result in a reduction in nonmethane hydrocarbon emission rates equivalent to removing half of the on-road vehicle traffic from Santa Barbara County. In addition, a 50% reduction in seepage from the La Goleta seep would remove about 25 barrels of oil per day from the sea surface, which in turn would result in a 15% reduction in the amount of tar found on Santa Barbara beaches.”
“The rate of increase in global methane atmospheric concentrations has been decreasing for the past 20 years. A worldwide decrease in natural hydrocarbon seepage related to onshore and offshore oil production may be causing a global reduction in natural methane emission rates.”
Drilling for oil is good for the environment! Funny, I don't remember hearing about any of this. Maybe it'll make the news soon. Oh wait, maybe not - this report is nearly ten years old (published in Journal of Geophysical Research, September, 1999).

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Will more people die in car accidents because of the new mileage standards?

The National Academy of Sciences, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Congressional Budget Office and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have separately concluded in multiple studies dating back about 20 years that fuel-economy standards force automakers to build more small cars, which has led to thousands more deaths in crashes annually. Even though the standards were updated in recent years to reduce the incentive for automakers to sell more small cars by allowing different fuel-economy targets for different vehicles, the fastest way to make cars more fuel-efficient is to make them smaller.
When the rules are finalized, if they "leave the automakers the option of downsizing, clearly we're going to have some safety consequences," Lund says. "Smaller vehicles do not protect their occupants as well as large ones."
Though it'll be expensive, Ford's Cischke says, a lighter car can be made as safe as a heavier car.

Even before the new regulation, Ford Motor was planning on "taking between 250 and 750 pounds from (each of) our vehicles. That's a huge challenge," she says.

"It's all about managing the energy, protecting the crash cage," she says. "There are ways you can design a vehicle to be very strong, to provide the same crash safety as a heavier one."
Is this a good time to be foisting ever-more stringent mileage standards on the car companies? What if people don't want smaller cars? Guess we'll just have to suck it up and buy what "the man" says is best for us.
"When regulations establish requirements on what people buy, not what we make, if people aren't buying those, we have to offer incentives," says Sue Cischke, Ford Motor's vice president for environment and safety. "We can't force people to buy what they don't want to buy."

Jim Lentz, president of Toyota's U.S. sales unit, says he doesn't think that all drivers will be forced into smaller cars but notes that in order to sell the bigger, thirstier ones, he will have to sell more Priuses or other gas-savers. If the gas-savers don't sell, there is the "possibility" that there could be shortages of larger vehicles, he says.
BTW: this external combustion engine looks like an interesting option. Maybe the car companies will start looking into radical designs like this? Or, given the accelerated advent of the new regulations, probably not. And we criticized corporations for having too short of a time horizon on profits? Cyclone Engine

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Natural oil seeps release 8 to 80 Exxon Valdez oil spills

There is an oil spill everyday at Coal Oil Point (COP), the natural seeps off Santa Barbara, California, where 20-25 tons of oil have leaked from the seafloor each day for the last several hundred thousand years.
“One of the natural questions is: What happens to all of this oil?” Valentine said. “So much oil seeps up and floats on the sea surface. It’s something we’ve long wondered. We know some of it will come ashore as tar balls, but it doesn’t stick around. And then there are the massive slicks. You can see them, sometimes extending 20 miles from the seeps. But what really is the ultimate fate?”
“It’s a good bet that it ends up in the sediments because it’s not ending up on land. It’s not dissolving in ocean water, so it’s almost certain that it is ending up in the sediments.”

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Superstitious fears

Remember how people were so afraid of microwave ovens back in the 70s? MRI, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, was originally called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, but the word "nuclear" scared people so they changed the name. People are superstitiously afraid of anything nuclear or anything related to "radiation" (even though no one is afraid of visible light, which is radiation), but put them together and "nuclear radiation" is just off the charts scary to people.

This is too bad because there are many benefits to be had from processes that happen to be described by the words nuclear and radiation. This state of affairs cannot be blamed on ignorance alone, however. Fear of all things nuclear is actively fomented by environmental groups with multi-million-dollar budgets. We must cultivate a deep skepticism of such groups who gain when the public buys into their campaigns of disinformation and fearmongering.

There has recently been a renewed global interest in using nuclear energy to address the environmental concerns that accompany our continued combustion of coal, oil, and gas to sustain our standard of living. However, new construction of nuclear plants is impeded by powerful anti-nuclear political activists -- and by media reporters who communicate unwarranted fears about small doses of radiation.

In this publication ["Nuclear Energy and Health, And the Benefits of Low-Dose Radiation Hormesis,"], nuclear engineering expert Jerry M. Cuttler, D.Sc., P.Eng. (past president of the Canadian Nuclear Society) and Myron Pollycove, M.D. (formerly of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission) present important biological realities and scientific explanations that are being ignored. On the thirtieth anniversary of Three Mile Island, end the scare stories about nuclear energy, suggests this report, so that a safe and highly efficient source of energy can be utilized for the benefit of humanity at a time when energy production is a top priority.
Some quotes from the paper:
Expected doses in a nuclear reactor accident would be in the low dose range, where there is no statistically significant evidence of adverse health effects.
From the time of their first appearance, living organisms have been receiving natural radiation over a very broad range of dose rates .... radiation levels in some locations are as much as several hundred times greater than the world average dose rate. Life in those locations has been flourishing. Studies on organisms and human populations living in high dose rate regions have suggested that they are better able to recover from exposure to a much higher dose of radiation than those living in low dose rate regions.