Friday, 26 December 2008

Exxon Could Benefit from Emissions Work

Technology for Capturing and Storing Greenhouse Gas Puts Oil Giant in Unusual Favor with Environmentalists

While Exxon Mobil Corp. has been among the most vocal skeptics of man-made causes of climate change, the company has spent the last two decades forging an expertise in one of the key technologies to combat the problem: capturing and storing carbon-dioxide emissions.
Since the 1980s, an Exxon natural-gas processing plant in Wyoming has been doing just what many environmentalists say needs to happen on a global scale: capturing carbon dioxide and storing it underground instead of venting it into the air. Indeed, Exxon's La Barge, Wyo., facility, for years has captured more carbon dioxide -- the most abundant greenhouse gas -- than any other facility in North America.
Technology at Exxon Mobil's La Barge, Wyo., facility strips carbon dioxide from natural-gas wells and reinjects the greenhouse gas underground.

Now Exxon, at the insistence of state officials, is spending $70 million to expand by 50% the plant's capacity to capture carbon dioxide, brought to the surface along with the natural gas. The plant separates the natural gas from impurities. And the Texas oil giant is spending another $100 million to test new technology to make it easier and less expensive to strip carbon dioxide out of the natural gas.
Both investments could secure a place for Exxon in the emerging marketplace aimed at lowering emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. There is also a growing market for carbon dioxide itself, because it helps produce more fossil fuels.
Carbon dioxide is a key tool in the growing work of rejuvenating worn-out oil fields. The gas is pumped into old reservoirs and helps the remaining oil flow out.
Much of the carbon dioxide worrying environmental regulators comes from burning fossil fuels, which is why coal-fired power plants and automobiles are major emitters. But the global hunt for natural gas to heat homes and generate electricity also contributes.
About one-third of the world's natural-gas reserves are mixed with high levels of carbon dioxide, according to Exxon Mobil. That means producing more natural gas will lead to even more carbon dioxide being vented into the air. In Exxon's natural-gas fields near La Barge, about 65% of the gaseous mixture from the wells is carbon dioxide. Natural gas is only 22%.
Wyoming officials have urged Exxon for years to capture more carbon dioxide. "In a world that is very concerned about too much carbon dioxide, we are actually carbon dioxide short. We could use a lot more carbon dioxide right now," says Rob Hurless, energy adviser to Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal.
Exxon's carbon-dioxide efforts have earned the company grudging respect from environmentalists.
"Certainly, Exxon isn't usually thought of as being in the forefront of environmental progress," says A. Scott Anderson, a senior policy adviser with the Environmental Defense Fund, "but the fact is they are deeply involved in carbon capture and storage technology."
Exxon has recently turned a corner in its views on global warming. The company, which once funded a think tank that argued carbon-dioxide emissions were helpful to human life, today acknowledges that burning fossil fuels is a significant source of greenhouse-gas emissions and increases the risks of climate change -- although it remains unsure about the exact role of human activity in global warming.
Exxon currently captures about four million metric tons a year of carbon dioxide at La Barge, the equivalent of tailpipe emissions from 600,000 cars. The plant's expansion, scheduled to be completed in 2010, will increase that to six million tons a year.
Exxon spokesman Len D'Eramo said the company's goal is "to safely and efficiently extract additional CO2 for sales as market conditions warrant. La Barge CO2 has been extensively utilized by producers in Colorado and Wyoming."
Outside of the Rockies, oil producers in West Texas also are using carbon dioxide to boost recovery in the Permian Basin's aging fields. A new $1.1 billion natural-gas-processing plant in West Texas scheduled for start-up in 2010 will capture about 13.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year -- twice as much as the expanded La Barge facility -- according to SandRidge Energy Inc., which is developing the project with Occidental Petroleum Corp.
None of the companies would disclose the price at which carbon dioxide is sold.
More carbon dioxide for use in old oil fields could be a boon for oil production. A 2006 report to the U.S. Energy Department, by industry consultants Advanced Resources International, noted that with enough carbon dioxide 210 billion additional barrels could be recovered from worn-out U.S. oil fields -- enough oil to satisfy U.S. consumption for 29 years.
As an added bonus, the same rock formations that trapped oil for thousands of years can be used to store the carbon dioxide.
About half of the carbon dioxide that Exxon Mobil pulls from the ground at La Barge is captured and then sold. The other half is vented into the atmosphere, according to state records, one reason Wyoming officials insisted that the plant's capacity to capture carbon dioxide be expanded. After the expansion, about 75% of the carbon dioxide will be captured.
The demand for carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery far outstrips current supply, says Michael Moore, executive director of the North American Carbon Capture and Storage Association. Future projects to capture carbon dioxide emitted by industrial facilities or power plants could increase the supply of gas to be injected into oil reservoirs.
Plano, Texas-based oil company Denbury Resources Inc., is planning to build a large pipeline from Mississippi to Texas to transport carbon dioxide that it can inject into the historic Hastings oil field, which has been producing since 1935. The company would tap into a large natural source of carbon dioxide in Mississippi, and is negotiating with industrial plants along the pipeline route to acquire more captured gas.
In addition to its continuing expansion, Exxon is building a pilot plant in La Barge to test a new way to separate carbon dioxide from natural gas, making it more economic to capture carbon dioxide for storage.
The process, originally patented in 1985 by Exxon scientists, makes the separation simpler -- eliminating the need for expensive equipment -- and leaves the carbon dioxide as a liquid that can be easily injected underground. It is expected to be operational in late 2009.
The Exxon natural-gas wells are about 40 miles from its La Barge processing plant. The mixture of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases is produced and gathered and sent to the plant, where the methane is separated from the carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is then sent via pipeline hundreds of miles to injection sites in Wyoming and Colorado.
Write to Russell Gold at

Generation of green electricity showing a big surge

Published Date: 24 December 2008
By David Maddox
Scottish Political Correspondent

NEW statistics have shown that the amount of energy produced by renewable sources in Scotland has dramatically increased.
Government figures have revealed that a fifth of the electricity used in Scotland last year came from renewable sources.The statistics from the Department of Energy and Climate Change showed that 20.1 per cent of electricity used in 2007 came from green sources, up from 16.9 per cent the previous year.The figures have been taken as evidence that the Scottish Government is winning the battle to make renewables the main source of energy and that Scotland's renewable power potential is being turned into reality.Jim Mather, the energy minister, said the country was now on track to exceed its target of having 31 per cent of electricity demand met by renewables by 2011.A total of 48,217 gigawatt hours of electricity were generated in Scotland in 2007, with more than 15 per cent of it exported. This was a drop of almost 8 per cent compared with 2006's total of 52,222Gwh. Nuclear power was responsible for 25.6 per cent of the electricity generated.Mr Mather said: "These figures prove that, backed by government support, continuous investment by the private sector is turning Scotland's renewables potential into a reality

An Ethanol Bailout?

And we thought we'd seen everything.

Along with Russia, Venezuela, Iran and the Dubai property market, add another name to the list of bubble economies hurt by the falling price of oil: the ethanol industry. And naturally, the ethanol lobby is looking for a bailout on top of its regular taxpayer subsidies.
The commodity bust has clobbered corn ethanol, whose energy inefficiencies require high oil prices to be competitive. The price of ethanol at the pump has fallen nearly in half in recent months to $1.60 from $2.90 per gallon due to lower commodity prices, and that lower price now barely covers production costs even after accounting for federal subsidies. Three major producers are in or near bankruptcy, including giant VeraSun Energy.
So here they go again back to the taxpayer for help. The Renewable Fuels Association, the industry lobby, is seeking $1 billion in short-term credit from the government to help plants stay in business and up to $50 billion in loan guarantees to finance expansion. The lobby would also like Congress to ease the 10% limit on how much ethanol can be added to gasoline for conventional cars and trucks -- never mind the potential damage to engines from such an unproven mix.
Of course, the ethanol industry wouldn't even exist without the more than $25 billion in taxpayer handouts over the past 20 years. Congress only recently passed energy and farm bills that further greased ethanol production with a 51 cent a gallon tax credit, corn subsidies, plus increasingly stringent biofuel mandates. We were told, as usual, that profitability was just around the corner.
The uglier realities of corn ethanol are at least becoming more widely recognized, even on the political left. The Environmental Working Group and five other environmental organizations said this week they oppose a bailout because subsidies "for corn-based ethanol have produced unintended, yet potentially catastrophic environmental consequences, with little or no return to taxpayers in energy security [or] protection from global warming."
Don't expect Congress to listen. Ethanol may never be profitable in the real world, but in Washington it's a lucrative business that provides jobs and votes. Like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, ethanol is a business created by Congress that now has to be bailed out to save Congress from embarrassment.

Lunacy clouds climate change policy

British politicians have failed to heed expert advice on greenhouse gases, but maybe Barack Obama will be different

Peter Melchett, Tuesday 23 December 2008 12.00 GMT

At long last, it seems as if a US president will be getting honest scientific advice about climate change, with Barack Obama's appointment of John Holdren as the director of the White House office of science and technology policy.
In the UK, as long ago as the late 1980s, we were lucky enough to have Sir John Houghton at the Met office and Sir Crispin Tickell, then the UK's ambassador to the UN, to convince Margaret Thatcher that climate change was a reality. So British politicians have had almost 20 years to plan the changes we will need to make as we remove carbon from our economy. All the more inexcusable then that many UK politicians, including Gordon Brown, are still running the country as if climate change did not exist.
As The Observer reported, Gordon Brown seems determined to give the go-ahead to a third runway at Heathrow.
The arguments deployed in favour of this lunacy bear an uncanny resemblance to the arguments made for decades by the then Department of Transport and its ministers to justify building more roads. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the car lobby said that traffic congestion led to slower journey times and cars sitting in traffic jams, which in turn meant more pollution and more CO2 emissions. It was already clear then (and is now accepted) that building more roads simply leads to more cars and an overall increase in emissions. The same will clearly be true for runways and aeroplanes, despite the ludicrous argument that a third runway will only mean less congestion before and after take-off, and therefore less pollution.
The other argument made by those in favour of airport expansion is that a variety of technological advances will lead to lower emissions from planes and that expansion of airport capacity and, therefore, increasing the number of planes does not matter.
On examination, of course, these technological innovations turn out to be untried or unworkable. Alternative fuels, such as biofuels, burn at the wrong temperature for aircraft engines. Kerosene could be made from coal, but like many of the current biofuels, would cause more pollution not less. New aircraft designs turn out to be untested and probably unworkable. In any event, these technical fixes would go nowhere near achieving the 80% cuts in greenhouse gases that we are now committed to make by 2050. We need fewer planes and fewer runways, not more.
Exactly the same is true for farming. Almost 90% of the greenhouse gas emissions from farming come from nitrous oxide and methane, mainly from the use of artificial nitrogen fertiliser (N2O) needed to grow non-organic crops, and from the waste (particularly slurry) and burping from cows and sheep (methane).
As with transport, it is clear that we need to develop farming in new directions, obtaining the fertility to grow crops from the sun through nitrogen-fixing legume crops such as clover, peas and beans. And to reduce greenhouse emissions from cattle, we need to eat less meat and dairy products, particularly from grain-fed rather than grass-fed animals.
Yet many of the UK government's pronouncements on farming suggest they are wedded not only to business as usual, but to further growth in unsustainable systems, just as they are committed to airport expansion. The government, egged on by the National Farmers' Union, blithely ignore the need for 80% cuts in farming's greenhouse gas emissions and instead talk endlessly about the need to increase output.
As with aeroplanes, proponents of this doomed strategy claim that technical innovations, in the case of farming it is GM crops, will come to the rescue. The words of Professor Robert Nolan of Reuters University, about one of the proposed solution for aeroplanes, (the blended-wing jet), quoted in The Observer story, apply with equal force to GM crops: "an utterly new concept and has not been tested in any significant way....They are also associated with all sorts of problems, particularly concerned with safety".
Let's hope that Barack Obama not only gets good advice about climate change science when he becomes US president, but that he has the guts, so notably lacking in successive UK governments, to start to make the real changes we will need to combat climate change.
It's one thing for governments that don't know how serious the threat to our future security is, to do nothing. Our political establishment has understood the science of climate change for two decades. Gordon Brown and many of his ministers do understand the threat of climate change, and they have been willing to agree tough targets for cuts by 2050. In these circumstances, for our government to continue with policies which will inevitably increase greenhouse gas emissions from crucial sectors of the economy is nothing short of criminal.

Emirates claims world's first cross-polar green flight

By Joe Sharkey
Published: December 23, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO: Granted, the environmental credentials of a man whose airline features in-flight showers are subject to question.
Nevertheless, Sheik Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum, the chairman of Emirates, said his airline had demonstrated that smarter preparation and flight-routing could help reduce carbon emissions in air travel.
"The whole world is going in this direction" in at least giving consideration to the effects of air travel on the environment, Ahmed said last week as Emirates introduced nonstop service between Dubai and San Francisco. "And everybody should be doing more."
The first Emirates airplane flying the route to San Francisco from Dubai was a Boeing 777-200LR, which landed after an 8,100-mile flight that took 15 hours and 20 minutes.
Emirates said it was the "world's first cross-polar green flight." By that, Emirates meant that the aircraft, already known for having better fuel efficiency than older long-range planes, had been routed near the North Pole to save about 2,000 gallons, or 7,500 liters, of carbon-emitting fuel. Making the trip required special clearances from Canada, Iceland, Russia and the United States and from the Emirates home state of Dubai, where the plane received priority clearance for departure.
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There is nothing particularly innovative about airlines tracking near the North Pole to save time and fuel on long-haul flights, though the routes can be tricky because communications and navigation technology are not yet as extensive as they are for standard transoceanic flights.
For decades, the North Pole routes were scarcely used, partly because of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was suspicious about aircraft of any type that flew over its far northern airspace.
With the end of the Cold War, tension abated just as long-haul aircraft became available to serve the growing demand for nonstop travel between cities half a world apart. United Airlines, for example, had more than 1,400 flights on the polar route last year, up from a dozen in 1999.
Emirates is not alone among the world's airlines in promoting better environmental thinking. Continental Airlines, for example, plans a demonstration flight in Houston on Jan. 7 using a 737-800 equipped with engines designed to be powered by a special fuel blend that includes some components derived from plants. (The flight will not carry passengers.)
Emirates, which depends on long-haul Boeing and Airbus jets and heavily promotes its luxurious business-class and first-class cabins on the 12- to 16-hour flights it is known for, clearly wants to position itself as a leader in the industry's incipient environmental initiatives.
But what about those showers? I'm referring to the latest over-the-top innovation, the recent introduction of two showers for use by first-class passengers on Emirates A380 superjumbo jets. The showers are obviously not an environmental step forward, given the additional fuel needed to carry enough water to let all 14 first-class passengers have two showers, if they want.
In fact, said Andrew Parker, an Emirates senior vice president whose duties include the carrier's environmental affairs, first-class passengers have not been using the showers to the extent Emirates originally anticipated when it allotted 500 kilograms (more than half a ton) of weight for the additional water.
Usually, he said, the first-class cabins have been full. But passengers "are using half the allotment" of water. Emirates still carries the full load, but Parker said that the airline was re-evaluating the requirements and looking into ways to "reprocess water" on board to cut down on the weight and the extra fuel required.
Emirates has three A380s in service and another 55 on order from Airbus. Ahmed said that the airline intended to fly them configured into three classes, with no more than 500 passengers.
(The A380 is certified to carry almost 900 passengers in an all-coach configuration, but none of the airlines that have ordered the plane have indicated they were considering doing that.)
Meanwhile, it isn't clear whether the first-class A380 passengers have cut back on showers because of environmental concerns, or merely because they don't want to take themselves out of their private compartments and away from the free Champagne. Nor is it clear whether they might object to showering in the future with recycled water on that long flight to the other side of the world.
But hey, everybody has to sacrifice.