Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Gulf Spill: A Rude Crude Awakening

The recent Gulf oil spill is a rude awakening to humans regarding the price and risk of energy exploration. With now an estimated 23 to 47 million barrels of oil draining into the gulf region we are seeing tremendous alarm why we need to reexamine our American energy policies.

The tragic costs of this accident will be accounted for in years. This includes the lost of marine life, devastated wetlands and economic impacts to the Southeast. Oil extraction results in the destruction or alteration of wildlife habitats, erosion, sedimentation, pollutant loading of groundwater and surface water from product and/or waste leaks and spills, groundwater contamination from communication between production or waste injection zones and underground sources of drinking water, release of hydrocarbons and hydrogen sulfide to the atmosphere, and decreased soil productivity from land spreading and/or releases of reserve/mud pit contents. While oil and gas professionals have developed practices that have reduced the generation of waste to avoid such environmental catastrophes. Also there has been improved economics of drilling and production operations leading to safer operations.

In the United States alone, more than 2 million wells have been drilled in the search for oil and gas since the first few successful wells in the mid 1800s. Of these wells (averaging about 1000 meters in depth but ranging to as much as 8000 meters), only about 1 exploratory well in 10 has found oil in sufficient quantities to justify production; and 1 in 50 has found enough oil to repay its total costs. Increased shortages will force new searches for oil and gas into more remote and hostile environments. Some drilling may not be offset by profits reaped by actual oil and gas discovery. The difficulty of finding oil and gas now is finding it in pores of rocks as a mixture of oil, salty water, and natural gas. The oil clings tightly to the pores of the rock to resist even the most elaborate schemes to get it out.

The cause and effect how we use oil in American reveals both triumph and tragedy. Petroleum has been both a blessing and a curse for America. We comprise less than 5 percent of the world's population, but consume 25 percent of all oil produced or about 20 million barrels or 840 million gallons. Since 1751 when the Industrial Revolution began we used the amount of fossil fuels burned that is equivalent to all plant growth on Earth for the last 13,300 years. We use this black gold there's no end to the stuff, though experts estimate we've got 50-100 years' supply left at current consumption rates.

The world is currently consuming oil at the rate of 30.2 billion barrels per year. Based on the forecasts 50 to 100 years forecast is our global supply. We, Americans consume about 20.6 million barrels of petroleum per day (7.5 billion barrels per year). Currently, about 70% of the petroleum we consume is used for transportation. Light duty vehicles and freight trucks take the largest share while aircraft take less. However, from the standpoint of fuel efficiency, aircraft are the least efficient while light duty vehicles are the most efficient. However, overall fuel consumption increasing by almost 7 million barrels per day with only slight changes in the distribution of use.

The advancement of electric cars and hybrids will significantly effect on petroleum consumption. All-electric vehicles powered by rechargeable batteries can help most to reduce oil consumption, because only 2% of our electricity is generated from oil. Also, there may be some technology improvements in diesel-powered freight trucks,

Even if we drill up north at full production in 2020 or beyond, proposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is estimated to produce 800,000 barrels of oil daily, 0.7 percent of global production. Estimates of undiscovered oil, has been estimated by experts to amount to 39.1 billion barrels including reserves in the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf, the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the restricted areas of the Lower 48 States. At our present rate of consumption, these reserves would supply our needs for a little over 5 years.

In the U.S. is a good example of what is going to happen to many others in the world. We are currently depending on other countries to supply us with 66% of the oil we need. It is believed we have passed our peak of oil production in 1970’s or 80’s. Presently our petroleum comes from: USA Petroleum Production-34%; Petroleum Imports from OPEC-27%; Non-OPEC Petroleum Imports-39% (Canada, Mexico, Russia, etc.)

Just from the American do-it-yourself consumer, we waste 400 million gallons of used oil and 500 plus million oil filters are lost yearly in the United States (each containing around seven ounces of oil). The current sampling method to evaluate the toxicity of oil, Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) is not the best test since it was designed for municipal landfills. I ask you to simply reflect on the fact that one gallon of used oil improperly disposed can contaminate one million gallons of fresh water or ruin the water supply for 50 people for a year.

There is a price for using oil besides impacting climate change. Exploration, development, production, product treatment, and waste management activities associated with oil and gas production projects can have a variety of impacts on the environment. There is the one trillion gallons of oilfield waste we inject into deep wells in addition to the 3 billion tons of oil and gas wastes we generate yearly by our oil and gas exploration and production in the USA.

For over a century Americans have greatly benefited from oil. Now the question is how we find energy alternatives as we deplete our dwindling oil resources. Also how we make this transition have enormous benefits for our prosperity. The future holds what complexity, expense, and the environmental impact of increased exploratory drilling will result. We will greatly profit from preventing such future pollution. As Americans increasingly learn the full cost of this Gulf spill so must we explore new ways to conserve and preserve this fragile place where we live.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pedaling to Make Bethesda Greener

Did you know May is National Bike Month? People will celebrate it with various activities around the nation, including Bike-to-Work Week from May 17-21. Bike-to-Work Day will take place Friday, May 21. (That morning, get breakfast, tune-ups and prizes at the Bethesda pit stop)

Living in Bethesda for over 40 years, I have become an avid cyclist. There is no better way to get around. It is quicker and cheaper, has no parking problems and I enjoy the exercise. Also there are lots of other psychological benefits: I get to slow down, get a feel of the community and lessen my environmental impact. As an expert in used oil recycling, I also believe in another type of “re-cycling”; this is why biking is my thing. Also I have documents showing the numerous water impacts cars have on the Little Falls and other area watersheds.

According to WorldWatch Institute, a short, four-mile round-trip by bicycle keeps about 15 pounds of pollutants out of the air. Also the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey found that 25 percent of all trips are made within a mile of the home, 40 percent of all trips are within two miles of the home, and 50 percent of the working population commutes five miles or less to work. Yet more than 82 percent of trips five miles or less are made by personal motor vehicle. Sixty percent of the pollution created by automobile emissions happens in the first few minutes of operation, before pollution control devices can work effectively. Since “cold starts” create high levels of emissions, shorter car trips are more polluting on a per-mile basis than longer trips. (Learn more about why you should ride for the environment.)

Commuting by bike reflects the tenor of the times because of its health benefits and low environmental impact. Biking to work or using a bike to run errands prevents pollution, saves you gas or transit money, and benefits us all by reducing oil and gas use. Biking also can be less stressful than hanging out in area traffic. Riding a bike can give you fresh air outside the gym and allow you to see more of the outside world. Also you may consider taking a bike to the subway or to the bus stop.

There are many wonderful ways you can explore neighborhoods and get a sense of our beloved Bethesda community pedaling around. Increase everyone’s quality of life here: Bicycle as much as you can!