BP Under Pressure to Tighten Spill Cap

How is one to bridge the gap between BP’s latest oil collection stats and visual reality?

The oil and gas giant claims to be sucking crude straight off its stricken mile-deep wellhead and pouring it into the drillship Enterprise at a rate of 11,000 barrels per day, thanks to a cap and tube installed on Friday. And, yet, video feeds from ROVs present a plume of oil and gas that looks as angry as ever, gushing plenty more black goop destined for dispersal into the Gulf of Mexico’s already beleaguered  ecosystems.

“Clearly alot of people are looking at it and trying to understand what does this mean,” acknowledged BP senior vp/exploration Kent Wells of the top-rated video images during in a media briefing this afternoon. Continue reading

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BP Installs Crude Containment Scheme #4

BP is capturing oil at a rate of 1,000 barrels-per-day via its latest containment scheme — a cap and new riser installed on its gushing Gulf spill last night — according to Federal response coordinator and Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen. But video feeds confirm that far more crude is still spilling into the sea from under the cap — at least 11,000 barrels per day if one subtracts 1,000 bpd from the minimum flow estimate of the Deepwater Horizon spill released by a federal task force last week.

BP Americas chief operating officer Doug Suttles told a media briefing this morning that the cap (BP containment scheme #4 by Carbon-Nation’s count) could ultimately capture over 90% of the leak. Suttles and his company have proved unreasonably optimistic before, and could be once again. Continue reading

BP’s Name is Mud (which today counts as good news)

BP Americas chief operating officer Doug Suttles says the ‘top kill’ operation initiated this morning to stanch the Gulf oil spill is “performing as expected” and could be completed within 24 hours. But U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry, who spoke with Suttles at an early-evening media briefing, took a more reserved tone. “I do not want to express optimism until I know for sure that we’ve secured the well and that the leak has stopped,” says Landry.

By 5pm Houston time on Wednesday BP had already pumped over 7,000 barrels of heavy drilling mud into the damaged blowout preventer on the wellhead created by the Deepwater Horizon rig whose destruction last month unleashed the spill. Much of that mud appears to be flowing up into the Gulf. Continue reading

Facing Our Flow with BP’s Live Spill-Cam

Click image, then hit play (persistently) for live stream

For a look in the mirror that could inspire a car-free weekend, BP has made available a livestream feed of its uncontrolled oil spill over 5000-feet below the Gulf of Mexico’s increasingly oily surface. [You’ll need to hit play several times to get a peek at this very popular feed.] Government agencies and industry engineers have been viewing this feed for two weeks. BP made it accessible today to gasoline consumers and shareholders of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem at the urging of Ed Markey, chair of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and an advocate of fossil fuel-free energy and transportation. Continue reading

Deciphering Big Oil’s Retreat from Renewables

road_tanker_refuelling_credit-bpA New York Times article this week concludes that major oil and gas companies are, as the headline roared, “Loath to Follow Obama’s Green Lead.” Such stories bashing Big Oil’s slim investment in renewable energy tend to fall short by failing to consider how renewables intersect with an oil major’s core business, and this one is no exception.

As the Times ably demonstrates, big oil is freezing or cutting investment in renewable energy and doing so from a relatively small base. It notes that Shell, which has frozen spending on wind, solar and hydrogen energy, has invested just $1.7 billion on alternative energy projects since 2004 compared to $87 billion to keep its oil and gas flowing.

That should come as little surprise since Big Oil’s insubstantial and fickle commitment to renewable energy goes back decades. Following the 1973 oil shock, for example, U.S. oil majors of the time such as Mobil and Chevron embraced photovoltaics, only to dump the projects when oil prices crashed and OPEC’s power waned a decade later. British Petroleum’s promise to go “Beyond Petroleum” already looked weak five years ago when it ditched production of next-generation cadmium-telluride thin-film photovoltaics — the technology that Tempe, AZ-based First Solar has since ridden to the top of the world PV market.

Continue reading

The Sahara Reveals its Carbon Capture Success

The market’s blasé reaction to the oil production cut ordered by OPEC ministers meeting in Algeria this week–bad news for greentech investors–topped the Wall Street Journal’s green business blog this week. The more lasting news from the meeting, however, may be the conference sideshow that took journalists to one of the world’s largest carbon capture and storage operations: Algeria’s In Salah natural gas operation, which stores about 800,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, 1.2 miles below ground.

In Salah, hidden deep in the Sahara desert some 700 miles south of Algiers, is operated by oil and gas giant BP, Norway’s Statoil, and Algerian state oil and gas firm Sonatrach. The field’s gas is about 7% CO2, which must be cut to 2% or less before it can be shipped on to European markets. In Salah cuts the CO2 to 0.3% and, instead of simply venting the removed CO2 as many gas operations do, pumps it into an aquifer below the gas reservoir. Given the scale of the gas flow, it’s the environmental equivalent of taking 200,000 cars off the road.

The reporters visiting In Salah this week reported that the CO2 seems to be staying put, as is the case with the other two large-scale CCS operations in operation — the natural gas-stripping operation at Statoil’s Sleipner field in the North Sea, and the Dakota Gasification coal-to-synthetic natural gas operation. The Associated Press quoted Mohamed Keddan, the station manager, expressing confidence that the layer of thick shale sealing the In Salah reservoir would hold the CO2 for good: “If it contained gas for millions of years without leakage, why would it start leaking now?” said Keddan, according to the AP.

Better still, the cost of storing the CO2 is relatively low. Business Week reported that the $100 million CCS operation was just 2.5% of the overall $4 billion cost of the In Salah gas production complex. That puts the cost of sequestering the CO2 at about $14/ton.

At that price BP, Statoil and Sonatrach could eventually make money on the stored CO2 by selling carbon credits earned at In Salah to other polluters, such as coal-fired utilities, facing steeper CCS costs. That is, if future treaties governing greenhouse gas emissions enable CCS operations in developing countries such as Algeria to earn carbon credits — a concept rejected for the time being by international climate negotiators meeting in Poland last week — which could be revived by the time a follow-on to the Kyoto protocol is to be hammered out in Copenhagen twelve months from now.

So, given its success and low cost, why do we hear so little about In Salah, whereas the Dakota Gasification and Sleipner CCS operations enjoy pinup status? Business Week’s correspondent may have hit on the answer, noting that about 2,000 people work at In Salah if one includes the “military units intended to deter attacks by Islamic militants, who are still a serious threat in Algeria.”

Sometimes, and some places, it pays to keep your head down.

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This post was created for the Technology Review guest blog: Insights, opinions and analysis of the latest in emerging technologies