Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saturday Pick Points

Normally this is the point every week where I wander around the Climate Change sites, just to see what is stirring them up. And the controversy continues over the statistics of the paper by Steig that I first mentioned back in January. There is a very well done dismemberment of the underlying statistics given at Watt’s Up With That this week. Basically part of the criticsm is based on the relatively obvious point that as you move two weather stations further apart, then the likelihood of them both having the same weather at the same time becomes less, particularly at greater distances. (For example the snow storm that will hit the East Coast Sunday night and Monday hit Missouri Saturday and was somewhat milder – we got 2 inches, Maine will get 12 inches. On the other hand Waynesville and Salem in Missouri both reportedly got the same amount). However when you look at the statistics that were used in the paper the likelihood of the weather being the same stays the same regardless of their distance apart. And it even stays the same when you consider satellite data. Which sadly implies that the results as quoted in Nature and given national prominence are in error and in fact where a more realistic model is used the continent returns to a largely cooling phase and the furor the paper raised is shown to be based on a false premise. (Not of course that this finding will get much mention in the MSM). Though the controversy may well continue, since the new story is that the speed of the glaciers is accelerating. There is very little data from down in the Antarctic and so it will be interesting if this particular study gets picked up.*
*Since this deals with a topic that I actually teach to students, I will have a small technical note at the end.

Speaking of furors the little tempest over the article that George Will wrote on Climate Change in the Washington Post two weeks ago continues to churn. I talked a little about temperature fluctuations last week, explaining the trends as to why it might have seemed that the world was cooling in 1975. The other major issue was:
As global levels of sea ice declined last year, many experts said this was evidence of man-made global warming. Since September, however, the increase in sea ice has been the fastest change, either up or down, since 1979, when satellite record-keeping began. According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.
It is important to note (though it is rarely mentioned in the row) that satellite records have only been available since 1979, and that is why that particular date was chosen.

Well there were the usual diatribes, with ad hominem attributes – “Is George Will the Most Ignorant National Columnist” is a good example, and the controversy ran for a week, so that George Will’s column a week later also dealt with the subject. It pointed out that, within a reasonable scale of accuracy, what he had said was correct. Which, of course, led to a second set of diatribes . After another week of comments the Post Ombudman wrote a column this weekend. Basically it said that the facts that George Will used were accurate, but that since there had been a big change in the relative volumes of ice (the Arctic had lost a lot which growth of ice in the Antarctic had almost offset) this should have been brought out in the article. And just to emphasize this, Real Climate, in writing "the article that Will should have written", notes
The source of the original quote was a Daily Tech blog post published in early January. While that post itself was heavily criticized as being misleading, it did use data from a reliable scientific source which was technically accurate at the time. My error was in assuming that scientific 'facts' don't change over a month or two and thus it was not necessary to revisit the source of the original data before writing my column. What was true in January would still be true in February, right? Wrong.
Of course that does not mention that the sensor doing the measurement went wonky. Now it turns out that the folks gathering the data have given a very rational explanation at WUWT about all this, and why they are now catching on to to demands of the internet, but still.

Well that has not quieted the complaints, though it is interesting to note from the ombudsman’s column
Although I didn't render a judgment, my response was understandably seen as an institutional defense and prompted an orchestrated e-mail campaign in which thousands demanded that The Post correct Will's "falsehoods." Like they say when the pro football rookie gets clobbered: "Welcome to the NFL."

The messages, often identical in wording, were soon countered by waves of e-mails defending Will and attacking what many labeled "global warming alarmists" trying to muzzle him.
It is the “often identical in wording” which shows the footprints of the thought police. Sadly it is almost impossible to have a reasoned debate on this issue, since any attempt to bring up the topic either gets this treatment (as I noted earlier) or is ignored, as the testimony by Professer Happer before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Senator Barbara Boxer, Chair has largely been.

Similarly John Tierney wrote about Climate Change in the New York Times noting that scientists are tending more to Apocalyptic statements, and urging instead that they behave as honest brokers. Since the scientists who get quoted most often are those who are promising that the conditions are getting worse rather than better and this does help to sell newspapers and air time, he has a point. Needless to say he is not popular with those that advocate AGW. showing their desire to keep the debate at a sophisticated level they have opening statements such as
Tierney is easily the worst science writer at any major media outlet in the country. Pretty much every energy or climate piece he writes is riddled with errors and far-right ideology, including this one.
. And then you get the latest, after Tierney’s recent column
The backlash from George Will's disinformation rightly grows each day that the Washington Post stands behind his lies (see here). Media Matters has samples of widespread outrage in the country here, and a new report [PDF] from CAPAF challenges the WP to issue a correction.

Now it is time for outrage over John Tierney, who not only makes stuff up just like Will, but is actually on the New York Times staff as their 'science' columnist. When we last saw Tierney, he was spreading lies and disinformation about science adviser nominee John Holdren (see here).

Today, the NYT not only let him print more egregiously made up stuff to smear Holdren (and Energy Secretary Steven Chu). But they actually published an article "Politics in the Guise of Pure Science" (see here) under the heading "FINDINGS" about Chu, Holdren, climate science, and climate solutions with precisely one source -- Roger Pielke, Jr. That would be like publishing an article critical of Obama's handling of the financial crisis and only citing Bernie Madoff
Sigh! At the risk of being repetitive, the Senate Committee took testimony this past week, from Chris Field (pdf) and (among others) Professor Happer as cited. They hold strongly different views, yet are the two positions debated in the press, or in Congress as they should be, or are we still being subjected to the “ad hominem “ types of attack that seems to be the fall-back position of what, sadly I am beginning to truly think are those setting out to be thought police for this nation. The Bernie Madoff case illustrates the need for open debate and making this whole debate more open, and more based on science. What Joseph Romm and his ilk seem bent on doing is to have us instead behave as Bernie Madoff sycophants and not ask questions.

The abuse that I have seen showered on articles that raise technical and scientific questions is clearly an attempt to shout them down. It has been my experience and that of others. With the numbers of identically worded letters going to the WP Ombudsman it is clear that these are orchestrated campaigns.

To end with a slight technical comment, that I will expand into a Tech Note one of these days. For my sins I am one of the few people I believe that has videotaped a landslide from in front and beneath it, and got away with it. I have used that video in a class I teach on the movement of geotechnical material and the forces that drive that movement. As part of the class the first homework assignment begins "Take a can of your favorite beverage, drink it. Now fill it full of water and place it on a flat surface. Slowly tilt the surface and note the angle at which the can slides. Now poke a small hole in the bottom of the can and repeat." The class has been doing this and reporting the results for decades, they vary quite considerably, depending on the nature of the surface, its roughness and a number of other factors (and in the course of those decades the favorite beverage has undergone a number of changes). The assignment is not original, but it has shown that there are a number of factors that govern block movement - about which more anon.

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Carbon Dioxide - A Satellite Crash raises a Question

Last week one of the rockets carrying a satellite into orbit failed to shed its fairing (the clamshell nose cone that protects the rocket and helps it move up through the atmosphere more easily) and with that extra weight could not make orbit. The rocket was carrying the Orbiting Carbon Observatory and had five major tasks including:
> - Scientists don't know why the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by Earth's natural ocean and land "sinks" varies dramatically from year to year. These sinks help limit global warming. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory will help scientists better understand what causes this variability and whether natural absorption will continue, stop or even reverse. 

-- Data collected by OCO will help solve the mystery of "missing" carbon--the 30 percent of human-produced carbon dioxide that disappears into unknown places.
Now it seems to me that if you don’t know where carbon is going and why, nor why it is varying dramatically each year, then you can’t predict how much there is going to be in the atmosphere, or necessarily be accurate in stating that CO2 resides in the atmosphere for a hundred years, since short of putting a tracer on a molecule and following it to see what happens there are too many unknowns.

The idea that carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for up to a century is apparently due to a study by the National Academy of Science, chaired by Roger Revelle, who reported this in 1977. Former Vice President Gore took Professor Revelle’s class while at Harvard. The estimate as to the length of time came initially from the ability of seawater to absorb carbon dioxide from the air, (Craig in 1975 and Plass in 1956). Revelle headed the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, and studied the process, opining in 1957 that CO2 resided in the atmosphere for about a decade, with the control being the ability of the sea to take it up. This ability was apparently more limited than had been anticipated, since the underwater layers did not intermingle as much as had been anticipated in earlier studies.

However the short-term life of the CO2 molecule in the atmosphere was predicated on the assumption that once it was absorbed into the sea it stayed there. Revelle included the idea that most of the CO2 that would be adsorbed would promptly evaporate back out, so that the realistic life of the molecule in the atmosphere might be ten times longer (i.e. a hundred years).

Now the study is complicated in the sense that it is indirect. For example when a group of British scientists stated in 2007 that the oceans were absorbing less CO2 than expected, this was based on measurements of the seawater. Similarly a study in Hawaii that reported that increasing salinity had reduced the ability of the ocean to adsorb CO2 looked at the concentration in the water. Incidentally that study also noted
From 1989 to 2001, the ocean-surface salinity at station ALOHA went up about 1 percent. That's because in recent years there's been less rainfall and more evaporation in the area, both of which concentrate salt in the surface water. When the concentration of dissolved substances goes up, it becomes more difficult for a liquid to absorb a gas, says Karl.

Increased salinity accounts for about 40 percent of the decrease in carbon dioxide absorption over the 13-year period, says Karl. He and his colleagues haven't identified the cause of the rest of the absorption slowdown, but some candidates are changes in biological productivity and fluctuations in ocean-surface mixing.

The problem of determining exactly how much carbon dioxide will be absorbed is not easy
What scientists generally use are not "rates" but "concentrations" at equilibrium. This turns a horrifically uncontrolled irreproducible problem into just an extremely complex problem. But that is a step in the right direction. In practice measurements are usually equilibrium quantities.
To reemphasize: "Rates of solution" are virtually useless as a scientific tool in the study of the distribution of carbon dioxide in the biosphere because it only applies to the specific place, time and conditions that the concentration is measured. It would only be useful for some very localized study or problem. Because of the number of rogue variables "rates" will likely vary "all over the map" unless there is some "driving force"

Now I am not looking at this with a detailed scientific eye, for now I will leave that to others. My current point is just that if we don’t know where significant amounts of carbon dioxide are going, and yet significantly more is disappearing from the atmosphere than the current models suggest, then this is an indication that the models are not correct. And if the models are not correct, and more is disappearing then the underlying assumption that the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the future are wrong. And if the concentrations are wrong, then the forcings that they are purported to induce will similarly be wrong.

What I actually wanted to end up with in this particular post, before I wandered down this little alley, was all the different sources of CO2 that there were and their volumes produced. I never quite got that far, but for the sake of reference (which is part of what this post was meant to be about) the EPA has produced a fairly comprehensive document on the Greenhouse Gas Inventory from which I took this figure for the fossil fuel industry. And I will close with this for today.

Source EPA

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Friday, February 27, 2009

The OCS, Chevron and an API Conference

Every so often the American Petroleum Institute (API) hosts a conference call for interested bloggers to talk to folk in the industry. Today they had Gary Luquette who has been President of Chevron North America Exploration and Production Company since 2006. He was in Washington to testify before the House Committee on Natural Resources, and copies of his opening statement were available. This was my first visit to one of these events, and I am grateful to Jane Van Ryan for the invitation. The transcript won’t be out until next week, and I did not catch the names of other participants that well, so I will put that information up when I get it. The questions were focused largely on the testimony, which dealt with access to the outer continental shelf (OCS) of the United States, to allow drilling and production of oil and gas. (API has also just released a primer on the topic.) It is a region where access is currently not available, and so in a sense this was perhaps a move towards the “drill, baby, drill” rhetoric of the last election. The current areas that are off limits are shown on this map that I borrowed from the API primer.

Source API
UPDATE I will add links to the posts of the others that were in the call as I get them, and at the bottom of the post.

Some of the most productive recent discoveries have occurred in the deep waters of the OCS in the Gulf of Mexico, (for example Thunder Horse at 250,000 bd, and the Chevron Tahiti project. The region falls under the Minerals Management Service of Interior, and they recently published their 2008 review of the region. Currently their purview includes the gridded bit of the map below, and the report contains detailed information on wells and production in that region. For example the following figure shows how, over time, companies have had to go to deeper and deeper waters to find new reserves, but that in doing so that they are finding larger fields.
Source MMS
Average field size in the GOM showing discovery date and depth of water (Source MMS ).

It is this trend in discoveries that were an underlying part of the message that Chevron (and the other companies) were trying to convey. As Gary pointed out in his response to a question from “The Bear”, the assumption in the 1960’s, based on MMS surveys, was that the deepwater Gulf would hold 6 – 8 billion barrels of oil, and to date more than 45 billion barrels have been found. Thus estimates, such as an overall yield of only 200,000 bd from new discoveries, are likely to be considerably too low, and his estimate is that production could ramp up to over 1 mbd. New technologies are continually being evolved to deal with the challenges of producing oil from the increasingly more complex reservoirs that are being found, and thus current estimates of ultimate production are likely to be considerable underestimates when oil finally starts to flow. Staying on message relative to current Administration (and national) priorities, he pointed to the increase of over 160,000 jobs that just granting access could bring as this development moved forward. (Though it takes a long time to bring this all to pass, bear in mind that Tahiti was found in 2002, and is expected to come on line at 125,000 bd this year). The ultimate revenue to the government was projected at over $1.7 trillion.

Geoff Styles of Energy Outlook asked about the impact of the current estimate of tax changes (Pick Points 44) which Gary responded to by pointing out that the tax changes were still just a proposal, and while he felt that they were in the wrong direction and more of a challenge in the current climate (Geoff thinks the timing is wrong for cap and trade, he was optimistic for the future.)

Someone from Copious Dissent asked about the impact of climate change, obviously a current hot topic, and Gary responded that you have to accept that there is a perception in the minds of the people, and these for a time create a reality you have to live with. And that, at the moment, is where the climate change situation lies.

He went on to answer another question on AGW and corporate profits by noting that the scale of investments that the company must make each year (around $22 billion) requires that they generate large amounts of capital, and even as profits fall with the price drop for oil, they must continue to invest that amount if they were to have a future. (Tahiti, for example, cost $6 billion and they have yet to earn a penny on the investment).

Steve Rhodes of the Republican Temple asked about possible gas taxes, and the possibility of taxing folk per mile driven. The API position on this has been that taxes are not opposed, as long as they go for the support of infrastructure, but that this would be a very regressive tax, and since it will include a GPS element also carries elements of Big Brother. (My own sense on this is that it is already a dead issue).

Gail (the Actuary at TOD) has already a post up today on the impact of taxes on the industry and was curious as to the impact of proposed legislation on the smaller producers, particularly for the natural gas industry. She then went on to ask as to how $40 oil, and $4 (per mcf) gas prices would impact production. Gary pointed out that it wasn’t too long ago that those would have been very good numbers, and that, were it not for production costs which have recently gone up dramatically, the industry would be happy to work in that environment. Since prices are up it has brought a number of projects closer to the margin of profitability. But with open access to the OCS (which was the underlying message of the call) the industry could live and profit with those prices. He was less definitive in regard to gas production, admitting that while $4 might work in some rich shales, others would need $8 to be viable.

In regard to a small question I had on biofuels (since it was included in his opening statement) he felt that these were already making an impact, mentioned the food vs fuel dilemma, and that they were working with Weyerhauser on generating fuel from wood products.

On a more general note Gary closed by noting that last year the gap between possible supply and demand dropped from 4 mbd to 2 mbd. While current demand in the US is down because of the recession, and will likely continue so, in the rest of the world demand is likely to continue to grow, so that overall production needs to keep up. When the recession ends, then growth, particularly in countries like China and India will return to double digits, with the equivalent increases in demand, and we must be ready to meet that.

Well those are my notes from the conference call. Again my thanks to Jane and API for the invite.
UPDATE: Others who posted on the call are:
Bob McCarty

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

P44. Pick Points

Half-a-dozen or so stories of interest.

Well the new Administration now has a new budget, and there are significant changes for the fossil fuel industries. Oil and gas “preferences” will be eliminated for a total of $31.5 billion by 2019, and, as I noted earlier, there is the hope for carbon credit income of around another $80 billion. This is not a single shot proposal
It also recommended repealing the enhanced oil recovery credit, the marginal well tax credit, the expensing of tangible drilling costs, the deduction for tertiary injectants, and the passive loss exception for working interests in oil and gas properties.
The proposals have not gone un-noticed and there is the anticipated set of reactions. There is a difficult balance to be achieved between encouraging new production and extracting justifiable revenue. Unfortunately, relative to other industries the fossil fuel industries have one awkward catch attached to them. If we don’t have the fuel, we don’t have a resurgent economy. And, paraphrasing the remarks of the Saudi Oil Minister, “we cannot abandon the energy supplies from an old fuel, before we have achieved the supplies from the new.” And we are a long way from getting that amount of energy from sun and wind. So while we can take some money from the old, and give it to the new I sure hope someone has the balance properly evaluated. West Virginia, on the other hand, is just simplifying their tax structure While taxes have a habit, in the end, of being paid by the consumers, in Russia the government has just allowed the oil companies to increase charges, at a time that production costs are falling. The rationale falls back on the need for revenue if one is to continue investing in new fields.
The decision of the new Administration to reject Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository is now final. Both the President and Energy Secretary Chu are opposed and the funding has been removed from the budget. Which is an interesting time for a company to propose processing Italian nuclear waste in Utah. Currently the case is before a federal judge in Salt Lake. However if any of this waste is shipped through Missouri it will now cost a new set of fees.

The Philippines have mandated a percentage of ethanol in their gasoline, and now are looking for ways to produce the ethanol. Cassava is the new feed crop and plans are moving ahead, against local opposition, to install some 20 plants by 2011. China has found that it is cheaper to produce ethanol from cassava than from corn or wheat where it can be grown.

Up in Canada the Ontario government is encouraging investment in solar and wind energies through the Green Energy and Green Economy Act . The concern is that to have a significant impact on need, the scale of new farms must be large, and there are still some technical issues to be resolved. There is a map of existing wind farms in Canada. In California utilities are taking a more pro-active role in encouraging solar, looking to fund 250 MW of construction over the next 5 years. The plan is to use eSolar solar thermal technology, using small tracking mirrors to focus the sunlight. Meanwhile Kender Energy is promoting a solar thermal system that heats helium as the energy transfer fluid.

In Indonesia investment is going ahead to develop a number of Geothermal Energy projects. In Georgia home owners can take the 30% credit promised in the stimulus package and add $2,000 from the state to help pay for ground source heat pumps (or geothermal heat pumps as they are called there) . It is hoped that this will allow the investment to be recouped in about 4 years., with drops in heating and cooling bills predicted to be up to 50%. (This implies an installation cost of around $20,000).

There is some suggestion that a floor has been found for oil prices, though no sooner had that been posted, then the price dropped on news of Japanese fiscal problems. Meanwhile the low price is giving Iraq some concern, since they need the revenue and are anxious to bring partners in to produce more oil.

More stories can be found at The Energy Bulletin and Drumbeat at The Oil Drum.

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Cap and Trade

The Administration has stated that it is looking favorably at the concept of “cap and trade” as a way of controlling the generation of carbon dioxide from power plants, and concurrently encouraging power generation from renewable and sustainable sources that do not generate these gases. So it is reasonable to ask what exactly “cap and trade” is, and what else we might know about it.

I started by going to the MIT study (pdf) on the subject that was published in 2007. Looking for a simple definition of the term I found:
The term “cap-and-trade” is used to describe a policy that identifies greenhouse-gas-emitting entities covered by the system, sets caps on their emissions and allows trading in the resulting emissions allowances. The “entities” are the points of responsibility for emissions and they may be defined at various levels in the economic system from the coal mine and refinery gate (upstream) to the firm or gasoline station (downstream). At these points the emissions accounting is carried out. Emissions allowances (actually entries in an electronic bookkeeping system) are distributed such that the total is equal to the national cap, and covered entities must surrender allowances equal to their emissions, or the emissions that result when the fuel they supply is burned. Market trading in these allowances establishes a price on emissions that in turn creates economic incentives for cost-effective abatement.1 It is common practice to distribute allowances to the entities that are the point of regulation, but this procedure is not a requirement of the system. Allowances could be distributed without charge to any persons, firms or other organizations in the economy, or they could be auctioned.

In other words the mine/power plant/car owner is first assessed to determine how much carbon (which is short for carbon dioxide) that source will emit. After individual entities have been assessed there is a national summation of the volumes that are emitted. Knowing that, and the individual sources, a source is given a maximum capacity (cap) or allowance that it can produce in a year. As it produces the carbon, the allowance must be given up. Once the allowance is used up then, presumably, the source must be shut down until the start of the new year. If the owner of the source wants to continue using it (you still need to get to work, for example) then he/she must purchase an unused allowance from someone else who wants to sell it. The initial assumption is that the seller will do this at a price that is established in the free market. This is the “trade” part of the term. Initial prices set in the abstract to the MIT report suggest a value of $30 to $50 a ton of CO2 as the price for this allowance.

DOE and NASA have combined to create the North American Carbon Program, and there is a map available that shows the relative levels of CO2 around the nation. It is rumored that there will be a ruling, fairly soon, from the EPA finding that CO2 is a danger to the public. This ruling will likely drive standards for allowable emissions of the gas, particularly from automobiles.
"EPA's going to look at Mass. Vs. EPA and will make an endangerment finding," Browner told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview. The Supreme Court ordered the EPA in the Mass. Vs. EPA case to determine if carbon dioxide endangered public health or welfare.
The ruling will bring with it the need for rules for sources that generate CO2, and the current date for these announcements has been suggested as April 2, the anniversary of the Mass judgement. Congress is hoping to have legislation approved by Memorial Day.

There is a web site that allows you to calculate, based on your car, and how many miles you drive, how much carbon you produce. I input the information on the Camry (15,421 miles since I bought it last January, using 455 gal of gas) and I get a carbon production of 8,893 lbs – or roughly 4.5 tons. If we assume a price per ton of $45, then the cost, if I were to buy the allocation would be $200. The car I replaced was a Buick Regal, and for the same amount of driving I would have generated 13,339 lbs of carbon (682 gal of gas). The price of the carbon would be $300. (Incidentally it also allows you to calculate the carbon cost of an airline ticket – so my flight to Washington is going to cost 645 lb of carbon). The Web site I was doing the calculation on is one that allows trading in carbon offsets. These are defined as
A carbon offset is a certificate representing the reduction of one metric ton (2,205 lbs) of carbon dioxide emissions, the principal cause of global warming. Although complex in practice, carbon offsets are fairly simple in theory. If you develop a project that reduces carbon dioxide emissions, every ton of emissions reduced results in the creation of one carbon offset. Project developers can then sell these offsets to finance their projects.

There are hundreds of different types of carbon reduction projects. For example, a wind farm generates clean energy, which reduces carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants. In order to finance its operations, a wind farm can sell these reductions in the form of carbon offsets.
In the above example with the trading of my car I generated around 2 tons of carbon that I no longer used. In theory I could sell that offset to someone who needed the credit.

(In practice it is unlikely to work that way, or at that level, but it illustrates, perhaps, the point, which would apply if I did something on a much larger scale). Using a car as an example is not bad, from the point of view that about a quarter of emissions come from them in the United States, but it is difficult, short of just putting a simple tax on gasoline or diesel, to monitor how much driving an individual does, and thereby to impose penalties for driving too much.

The initial approach will therefore begin with businesses that generate significant amounts of energy, or conversely, generate power without creating carbon, and which thus would have allocations to sell. It almost has to be a national program since, as the LA Times pointed out
All existing cap-and-trade programs have one thing in common: They regulate the source of the emissions. The power plant or refinery or factory churning out the carbon is responsible for controlling its own emissions and trading credits. That won’t work in California, because from 22% to 32% of our power is generated out of state, and California can’t regulate plants outside its borders. Moreover, those out-of-state plants tend to be much dirtier than local ones. So how does a statewide cap-and-trade program account for all that pollution?

Europe provides an example of a situation where cap and trade is already in existence. It has some current problems :
The price of a ton of carbon dioxide in the current phase of the trading system has fallen to record lows recently. And although there are few suggestions the price could collapse entirely, the recent drop still is a worrying reminder that a market-based system to reduce emissions can be subject to significant volatility.
The question of price, and who gets the “profit” is obviously one that governments must decide. It has been suggested that the White House hopes that the sale of credits might raise as much as $80 billion a year, starting in 2012.

In Europe last summer a carbon credit cost $40 a ton (31 EUR) it now costs $10 (8.2 EUR). This has a negative impact on the drive for change, as Julian Glover notes:
A year ago European governments allocated a limited number of carbon emission permits to their big polluters. Businesses that reduce pollution are allowed to sell spare permits to ones that need more. As demand outstrips this capped supply, and the price of permits rises, an incentive grows to invest in green energy. Why buy costly permits to keep a coal plant running when you can put the cash into clean power instead?

All this only works as the carbon price lifts. As with 1924 Ch√Ęteau Lafite or Damian Hirst's diamond skulls, scarcity and speculation create the value. If permits are cheap, and everyone has lots, the green incentive crashes into reverse. As recession slashes output, companies pile up permits they don't need and sell them on. The price falls, and anyone who wants to pollute can afford to do so. The result is a system that does nothing at all for climate change but a lot for the bottom lines of mega-polluters such as the steelmaker Corus: industrial assistance in camouflage.

"I don't know why industrials would miss this opportunity," said one trader last week. "They are using it to compensate for the tightening of credit and the slowdown, to pay for redundancies."
In Europe he considers that the cost of the credits would need to be in the $40 - $60 range to allow renewables to compete with fossil fuel.

It will be interesting to see how the rules over here develop.

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P43. Pick Points

Half-a-dozen or so stories of interest:

I wrote earlier today about the pickup in gasoline demand that EIA had reported, and this was also noted by other folk, and the resurgence has led to a rise in the price of crude to $42 a barrel. . EIA aren’t the only ones trying to explain the situation, the Canadians also have some words on gas prices. Then there is the Rolling Stone interpretation. But rather that the technical explanation others are just blaming the rise on inflation.
U.S. production of crude has slightly increased in the recent past, and industry are urging Congress and the Obama administration to expand drilling offshore, because although renewable energy sources will provide some future volume, at present we still need to grow basic oil production to meet the existing need. However that argument is not strong enough to stop Interior Secretary Ken Salazar from withdrawing leases for oil shale production on federal land, while he works out a plan for higher royalty rates. The Administration is however offering a second round of leases but there is opposition from local mayors near the operations. The techniques used in getting gas out of shale in the US has proved quite successful in generating production from shales that were thought impractical, and so now the Europeans are considering using them over there . Gas from shale is still only 5% of production in the USA though it is expected to reach levels of up to 50% before too long. The Canadians are now trying it, and proving along the way that just because the technique works doesn’t means it will make money. On the other side of the country, however, shale production is already making money .

It does appear that the Shotkman field is finally going to start development, with the initial engineering work being awarded to Aker Solutions who with Technip France and SBM Offshore been awarded a 25 million EUR contract on the development of a concept definition and engineering design for the project floating production unit. Recognizing that a business opportunity lies out there Russian authorities are now ready to elaborate a new EU-Russia energy agreement, to regulate relations and help speed up progress in projects like Shtokman, the Russians say. Royal Dutch Shell however remain to be convinced. They need to be sure that they will receive production rights after exploration and development, and in Russia this is no safe bet even with a local partner.

One example of potential problem comes from the Karachaganak field, where Gazprom and the Kazakhstan Government are thinking of suspending the joint venture Of course not all projects fail for political reasons Chevron has just pulled out of Northern Taiga Neftegaz a venture with Gazprom Neft after reserves in the Pyakutinsky and Aikhettinsky fields in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Area, did not meet the original projections of some 45 million tons of oil.

The latest scheme is for Total to join with Gazprom and fund a pipeline to carry Nigerian gas through the Sahara to Europe, some 2,580 miles away.

As the planting season starts in South Asia the Bangladesh Prime Minister has directed authorities to ensure power to agriculture to protect food production.
The ministry of power, energy and mineral resources has stated that 130 MW of additional electricity has been added to the national grid and 700 MW more will be added by June. However the demand from the people of Bangladesh is that the government should cut the price of fuel oils.
 This year the price is 10% up on the last Boro season when the price was Tk 40. Bangladesh is still trying to find ways to economically exploit its high quality coal reserve . The proven gas resource are widely believed to soon be exhausted. In the absence of a decision the energy deficit is widening. This summer will witness massive load shedding.

Iranian and Russian technicians are conducting a test run of Iran’s first nuclear plant, a major step toward full operations. Work on Bushehr started 34 years ago, during the reign of the shah with the help of the German contractor Siemens but was suspended after the 1979 revolution. Pilot operations at the 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor, built with Russian assistance under a $1 billion contract, have long been delayed and it's unclear when the reactor could be switched on. Wednesday's tests were a computer run to ensure that the reactor's processes work properly. For the tests, technicians loaded a "virtual fuel" of lead into the reactor to imitate the density of enriched uranium, said Iranian nuclear spokesman Mohsen Shirazi.

There is an interest to form strong bilateral relations between Bulgaria and Italy to move forward with the South Stream gas pipeline.

More stories can be found at The Energy Bulletin and Drumbeat at The Oil Drum.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The last TWIP in February

Wednesdays are the day that the EIA releases its figures for petroleum product production and demand, and as we move into the pre-driving season in the United States it is interesting to see how this is evolving relative to previous years, given the current recession. In terms of gasoline demand (the most interesting curve) you can see that demand is now above last year, (where we had already seen the start of a drop in consumption because of price) and is rising earlier and, perhaps a little faster (though we’ll have to wait a week or two to be sure) than last year.
Source EIA

Supplies remain in about the middle of the range, and so the situation is relatively normal. However, as I noted last week, with the change starting towards summer driving it is possible that we are now starting to take up again the surplus created when demand dropped a year ago. That surplus of available supply has been taken up by reduced production from OPEC, and yet they had not taken up to total volume of the drop, and so there was more available than needed and price dropped.
Source EIA

The next interesting question is going to be how fast demand is going to build. We can get some sense that the market is tightening by the EIA comments that they have provided on the relative price of gasoline this week. Refinery inputs remain lower than last year, but domestic production of crude continues to rise, and stock volumes are stabilizing.
Source EIA

The point that EIA is making this week is in response to the question that if crude prices are down, why are gasoline prices starting back up. They answer that the reason is that gasoline is made in a number of refineries around the country, and is a blend of different crude oils. While the price of one of these, the one that is used as the benchmark price (West Texas Intermediate or WTI) has fallen the others have not, and so crude price of the mix has not changed that much.
Source EIA

The other cause of gasoline price rise has been the increase in the margin between gas price and crude oil price. Until recently gas did not have to carry the increase in price of the crude, since the margins on the other products produced from the oil were doing very well, while demand for gasoline was lower, and the margin for it thus dropped. Now that demand is rising it can carry more of the cost of production, and thus the margin is also rising. The relative costs of a gallon of gasoline and one of diesel are also provided by the EIA. (Though this one is currently a little dated).
Source EIA

Well, for now, all we can do is wait and see how demand develops over the next month, but if it continues to go up, and the lower prices will encourage this, then I suspect that crude will start to rise, and our little price break will be over.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The President's Speech before Congress

Tonight was the equivalent of the State of the Union Message from President Obama, giving us a preview of what we can expect in his major programs over the next year. Energy forms one of the three major thrusts of this initiative, but this is very much a technology oriented Administration,
The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth.
And the most critical problems?
We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before.
Survival is a rather strong word, and yet it is realistically true. And his focus for the application of the money included
More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector - jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.

Much of this will have an energy impact, and has been addressed in the Stimulus package, and now we will have to wait and see how this will play out. (Judging from one or two phone calls I have had recently I am not the only one trying to work this out).

The segment of the speech that addressed energy in the budget was first of the three priorities (as he ranked it during the debates).
Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history - an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

Towards the end of his speech he drew attention to the presence of the mayor of Greensburg, Kansas
I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community - how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay. "The tragedy was terrible," said one of the men who helped them rebuild. "But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity."
The website for the town is a blog that shows some of the creative things that they are doing, such as recycling some of the 87,000 truckloads of broken concrete that had to be hauled away after the tornado. It is going for such things as foundation and walls, lowering the carbon footprint since it has already been made. (Cement requires a lot of heat in the manufacture). Though they also have a post on building houses with natural materials that includes straw bales.

In response the Republican Governor Bobby Jindal spoke of lowering taxes as being a better way of stimulating the economy and mentioned some of the waste in the stimulus package including
It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a ‘magnetic levitation’ line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called ‘volcano monitoring.’ Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, DC.
Well as I seem to remember reading that the Maglev train is not a done deal. President Obama wanted that piece in the legislation, and may have other targets for it other than the link (which is favored by Senate Majority Leader Reid).
Also in the running are proposed high-speed corridors in the Northeast, the Northwest, Florida and the South.
In regard to the volcano monitoring, those who remember Mount St Helens, which erupted in May, 1980 may not be aware that the lava dome has rebuilt, and in 2005 threw a plume seven miles into the air. The whole ring of fire that forms the West Coast of the United States is vulnerable, including places such as Yellowstone, and the damage can be much worse than that from an Earthquake. It should also be remembered that President Obama is likely familiar with some of the damage from an erupting volcano, albeit on another island.

Turning to the energy debate Governor Jindal had this to say
To strengthen our economy, we need urgent action to keep energy prices down. All of us remember what it felt like to pay $4 at the pump - and unless we act now, those prices will return. To stop that from happening, we need to increase conservation … increase energy efficiency … increase the use of alternative and renewable fuels … increase our use of nuclear power - and increase drilling for oil and gas here at home. We believe that Americans can do anything - and if we unleash the innovative spirit of our citizens, we can achieve energy independence.
I still remain unconvinced that either of them understand either the scale or the imminence of the problem. In this they are probably totally reliant on their advisors for knowledge, and with all the other financial issues, the energy program may not move forward as fast as it otherwise might. But as one of the commentators said on ABC News after the speech words to the effect: “It will be interesting to see, a year from now, how much has changed.”

On a small personal note, after watching the two speeches, the Actress and I sat and watched the promotional DVD we got from our local Ford dealer on the new Fusion Hybrid. I have been very happy with my Camry Hybrid over the last year, and since it is now the Actress that is seeking a new vehicle, on the advice of Robert Rapier’s blog we are checking this one out. I will keep you updated as the decision approaches, and after we get whatever we do. Somehow I doubt it will be an Aptera but the Fusion Hybrid is quite a possibility.

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P43. Pick Points

I mentioned in Monday’s post that I have an interest in algae, and so I will put up a couple of items that caught my attention this weekend. The first deals with the possibility of using wind power to provide some of the energy that algae need to foster growth Some of the European wind farms have been up for a while, and one in Denmark, that was installed in 1990, is looking at using some of the extra power to encourage algae growth. The algae, through the generation of biofuel, would thus act as a form of “battery” for the wind. One problem, however, is to ensure biological security, since the escape of algae species into a favorable place, such as in Hawaii, can have negative results, and require costly capture and remediation. The use of algae for flue gas cleanup has inspired a number of efforts, from Israel to MIT (who use it to make hydrogen), to Missouri . There is also the blog Oilgae, which carries the MIT report on the topic.

Developers of the Shtokman project are talking about using CCS as part of the strategy for development at the site. There is anticipation that the cost of the project will decline with the poor economy. More details of the loan from China to encourage a pipeline and oil supply to that nation are now emerging. The change in investment strategy has the advantage of getting a good price now for the oil, and securing it into the future. Russia is also trying to find a way to improve the efficient use of energy, with planning for a new law on the way, and an example of how it might be done, comes from a dairy. In the United States homeowners can look at the Home Energy Rating System which compares the energy use of a house with a standard. Based on the result that you get different approaches may be needed to lower the number (a 200 means you use twice the standard). Oregon is moving to have the state provide loans to encourage upgrading of homes in a way that would make them more energy efficient. As I noted in Monday’s post, this is something that we are seeing in an increasing number of states.

St Mary Land and Exploration is drilling horizontal wells into the Woodford, and Haynesville shale and while cutting the number of rigs back to 7, from 16 at the peak of last year, one or two of the rigs will shuttle between the Haynesville, the Eagle Ford and the Marcellus shale sites. The lateral section of the well is around 3,300 ft, and with 10 slick-water fracs will use some 3,000,000 lb of resin coated sand proppant. There is some move in Pennsylvania to require that drilling records for the Marcellus be made public (including production data) every six months. Other states such as Louisiana and Wyoming post such production on Web sites. Chesapeake, who is drilling both Marcellus and Hanesville is currently getting a favorable press. With natural gas prices projected as perhaps falling as low as $2 per MMBtu due to lack of demand and overproduction, this years prospects don’t look good for the industry.

Scotland is looking for new ways to develop marine energy, the target being some 60,000 MW. The current projects are based in Orkney, and the European Marine Energy Centre. The current targets are sites around Britain and Ireland that are capable of producing more than 1,000 MW each, largely from wave and tidal energy.

The State Governors are asking Presidential help in promoting biofuels hoping to see approval, for example, of ethanol blends above 10% and as high as 30%. (This was something Dr Chu was asked about last week).

Because of the global financial problems Russia and Kazakhstan are considering slowing the development of the Karachanganak project (which is reputed to have 47 trilion cubic ft of gas).

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Monday, February 23, 2009

A Local Town Energy Meeting

Last Friday night I was a part of a panel at a local meeting on energy, put together by the local Democratic party. There were a number of us that had been asked to speak, and ahead of time, I had predicted that, with the meeting starting at 7 pm I would be home by 8:30 pm. The first surprise was that before the meeting started they had to bring in extra chairs. (I take no credit for this, I was a minor speaker). According to the local paper there were more than a hundred folk in the room, and one of the utility speakers noted that on this topic he usually sees about fifteen. The meeting was based on an initiative that passed in the last election that required utility companies to get 15% of their electricity from clean energy resources by 2021. It passed with 66% of the vote.

Missouri is one of the states that currently requires that a utility have a power plant in place and producing electricity before it can make any charge to the rate-payers. The practice of allowing a surcharge, while the plant is being built is called Construction Work in Progress (CWIP). It is controversial.

The benefits of this to those paying these bills is only there until the higher, later bills show up. Nevertheless with a construction time at around a decade, the first speaker, Erin Noble from the Missouri Coalition for the Environment spoke strongly about the need to keep the rule in place, while the nuclear power station at Fulton is doubled in capacity. She was answered later in the evening by the Ameren representative, who pointed out that money does not come free, and if the company has to carry that debt (and interest) until the charges can begin, then obviously they would be higher.

The second speaker, John Hensley, was from Wind Capital Group the company that had installed the wind turbines in Northwest Missouri. One of these, at Rockport was in an earlier Pick Points, because it is the first community that they feel can meet all its needs from the turbines. (Their web site has a wind speed indicator that shows the wind is currently blowing at 10 mph as I write). He gave a little of the history of the company and some of the benefits of the installations to the local community. He also showed slides of the rather impressive foundation that has to be installed to hold one of the turbines. To date it has been a success, but, for this state, all the potential sites with enough wind to be useful are up in the Rockport area. The company was able to tie into existing distribution lines to use the power it generated, but getting much power further into the state will require that new power lines be run, and there are a number of different forms of cost and delay in getting that accomplished. He did note the potential of the stimulus package to help.

Our group, from the University tried to cover a number of the different programs that we are currently working on, with Angie Rolufs, Director of the Institute for Environmental Excellence, giving the campus overview of projects. These range from the more mundane (but effective) step of having the campus do an energy audit (which it has) through a number of current programs that include improving grid connections to intermittent sources of power (wind and solar) to vehicles powered by various unconventional means. The next topic, covered by Curt Elmore, related to our ongoing study of wind and solar power, and the way to integrate it into the grid. He it was who had to explain to folk that, even though we have a small turbine installed, the low and intermittent quality of the wind in this part of the state would not make wind an economic viability - it will take about 40-years for the one installed to pay for itself. Then I talked a bit on our current algae program, and John Sheffield finished out to group talk with some words on the Hydrogen project and the current work on the EcoCar Challenge.

There were two representatives from AmerenUE, the generator of electricity for this part of the state, who began by discussing the funding of Callaway, during which they acknowledged that the increasing prices of natural gas generators would limit their future potential as a power source. They moved on to discuss their current initiative to improve household efficiency in the use of electricity and the willingness to do energy audits of homes, and what typical results might be. They referred to the latest National Geographic, which features an Energy Audit article. (I described one that I was familiar with in an earlier post. The need for improving energy use was also stressed by the local utility that provides power to the surrounding area, Intercounty Electric and the opportunity for a free home energy audit was explained.

There were a number of questions throughout the evening, and at the end (somewhere around 10 pm) most of the folk were still in the room, asking questions and debating. Energy is obviously an issue that has us rural folk’s attention.


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Sunday, February 22, 2009

P42. Pick Points

Half-a-dozen or so stories of interest:

Back in March Switzerland signed a deal with Iran for a 25-year supply of natural gas it appears that this will bring a fourth gas corridor though Turkey, that will provide an additional connection to Europe, and it remains under criticism. Iran sees it as the start of a new relationship with Europe, and a possible model for others. The gas will come from Assalouyeh and require a new pipeline that will be built by the Turks. Germany has taken the hint, and Gerhard Schroeder is now in Tehran to see what sort of a deal they can cut. The pipeline will also provide a pathway for Turkmenistan gas to get into Europe without going through Russia. Iran, meanwhile still considers the discussions ongoing with Bahrein, even though the latter cut them off when some Iranians claimed the kingdom belonged to them. Iran is discounting those statements.

Russia, meanwhile has apparently not been sending the agreed amount of natural gas to Poland. So far it has only got 75% of the agreed amount, and now Gazprom wants a new deal. The Council on Foreign Relations has just released a special report on Eurasian Energy Security that calls, among other things for a better network of interconnections and integrating Russia more into the energy picture in Western Europe. It also calls for a common regulatory framework. Rune’s work on whether the UK will get through the winter without problems, suggests it will be close.

Iceland is looking to exploit its Geothermal power in the face of major financial problems. Of the three natural resources the country has, fish, hydro and geothermal, the first two are in some trouble, and with an increasing amount of geothermal due to come on line in the next few years all they need are investors. For those in the US looking at using geothermal, the more likely domestic source will be ground-source heat pumps, and the cap of $2,000 for a tax credit which would otherwise be 30% of the cost, has been removed. In an earlier post at TOD I heard that the going price was in the $20,000 to $30,000 range, and so this is a significant change (but not enough to justify my doing it yet).

The numbers for oil production from Mexico, of which I have written in an earlier post, are growing worse quite quickly. Country production fell 9.2% in January , with Cantarell now down to 772,000 bd. Pemex claim they can keep it to an average of 700,000 bd this year, but this may be doubtful, and will hurt exports. That did not help oil and gas futures (the latter at $4 per million btu). There is a new documentary on the oil situation now out called Blind Spot which has got a favorable review at TOD but since they were out of copies when I tried to order one, it will be a wee while before I can do a review.

Last week China was tying up loans with Russia to ensure long-term delivery, and then with Brazil. This week it is Australia’s turn with Exxon Mobil signing a long term agreement for LNG from the Gorgon project that will send 2 million tons a year of gas north for 20-25 years. Projections for the LNG plants being put into Gladstone in Australia have slipped from 2011 to 2012 for the first LNG plant, which will liquefy coalbed methane, and the customer has not been defined. (Though as I noted last week I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a South Asian accent).

The current low prices for energy, taken with flooding from the fire-fighting last year, means that the historic Barentsburg coal mine in Norway may not reopen.

More stories can be found at The Energy Bulletin and Drumbeat at The Oil Drum.

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T5. Historic coal mining

In trying to lay a foundation for later posts I am using these Sunday Tech Talks to cover points that folk may not be aware of. As the debate over coal continues, and likely intensifies over the next couple of years then I will revisit topics such as: where it is; how it can be mined; how we should burn it; and what we do with the products. Along the way I will also talk a bit more about the energy and other societal costs of coal, but for today I am going to go back to where mining started.

When coal was first used, the legends have it that it was collected along the sea coast near Tynemouth, and taken to the local priory and the rights to the coal were given to the monks. Coal was used to provide the fire for the local lighthouse until about 150 years ago. The monks did well by their ownership of the coal rights, by 1281 they were shipping the coal down to London where it brought nineteen shillings a chauldron. (There were 20 shillings to a pound, which is currently worth $1.44, though the value has historically been higher). A chauldron was a wagon that would hold around 80,000 cubic inches of coal or just over 45 cu. Ft. of coal, or about 1.7 tons of coal. So we know that coal was heading down to London, where King Edward (because the fumes apparently sickened his mother) banned it, with the threat of torture and death to those that used it. (This is the king that had Wllliam Wallace, as played by Mel Gibson in Braveheart, chopped into bits, while alive, so he generally wasn't someone you wanted to mess with). But is was sufficiently cheaper than the wood alternative that the ban had little effect, and coal has been a major fuel in the United Kingdom ever since.

The king, incidentally, was compensated in other ways, since a royal duty was imposed on the mining and shipping of coal, that brought in a large income over the years. In 1818 the mines were estimated to produce 15 million tons a year, for domestic use, with additional amounts used by industry. The duty was 9 shillings and four pence to London, and 6 shillings to other ports in the UK. And this brought in a revenue of 570,066 pounds in 1816. Some 2.25 million chauldrons of coal were shipped, roughly half of which originated in Newcastle.

Mining had progressed by that time from the initial collection of loose coal washed up on the beach (sea coal) to mining it where it outcropped, and then mining back into the seam outcrop from the surface, and this often meant that the tunnel that was mined sloped down into the ground. The dirt that was mined out was dumped at the entrance to the tunnel, and often created a small narrow feature on the ground, a tip, some of which can still be seen today. Our family, for example, used to be coal miners at Eglingham. This is a small village found in the North East of England, not that far from the Scottish border.
Aerial view of North of England (Google Earth)

I have marked an overview of the village with a couple of arrows to show where the two tips were that I have walked around (and where my ancestors no doubt worked) on an overall view of the village (using Google Earth) which is at the bottom of the picture.
Eglingham (Google Earth)
Right in the center of the picture however, of one zooms in until GE tilts a bit, you can see a third tip quite clearly.
Pit tip at Eglingham (Google Earth)
My aunt (the Teacher) had done some research on where we lived, and this was not down in the current village but up where the top left arrow points, and where all that is left of the houses are circles where the gorse grows, but where rabbit warrens have brought up small pieces of china, and other remnants of the time that folk lived there, only a couple of hundred years ago.
Ruins at Tarry, near Eglingham
In those days it was pre-mechanization, and the miners used only a pick and a shovel to break the coal from the solid. It was then put into woven baskets called corves, that were dragged to the surface on a wooden board, either by younger boys, or by women. The board would slide up the tip, and could be dumped before being dragged back underground. The tunnels were driven to the height of the coal, which in the area may have been somewhere around 4 ft 10 inches (with an interbedded layer of stone that ranged from 3 inches to 2 ft thick) or 5 ft 8 inches, (with 3 ft of interbedded stone) not the richest of workings.

In these small operations, with all the excavation from the initial tunnel into the side of the hill, the coal was mined by individual workers, or families. The miner would work with a candle as a light, and that would be mounted to a wooden post that he would use to hold the roof up.
Miner position (when I relearn Poser I will put in a better illustration)

Laying on his side, he would then take his pick and cut out a slot at the bottom of the coal. This undercut would be cut along the total face of the coal, before the miner would start to work up. Depending on the size of the tunnel he may also make a vertical cut to create a second free face. (You can see some of these markings in the walls of old stone quarries, and in the mines under Bath in the UK, and the salt mine at Wieliczka in Poland). He would then break out the coal in individual lumps that were several inches in size. (4-6 would be ideal). If he used the joints (called cleat) and the bedding planes of the coal, then this was not too difficult to do, and so he could mine out several chauldron’s worth of coal in a shift. In the measurement of the work he did using a modern measure it would take as little as 4 joules/cc of energy to break out that coal.

A typical shift would be around 8 hours, but it shrank, so that when I went into the mines it lasted only 7.25 hours. As well as mining the coal, the miner had to hold up the roof, and, if there was a roof fall repair it. But of all his concerns the most prevalent was that of gas. Remember both that he had to breathe, and that coal emits methane, or natural gas, from most seams. The methane will burn, or in the right concentrations in the mine can explode. And when that happens it consumes all the oxygen, so that even if the miners aren’t in an area where the explosion happened then they may still die as the de-oxgenated air circulates underground.

Sadly, just today I heard that there had been such an explosion in a mine in China. While I don’t know much about this particular incident, it is something that can be quite difficult to fully protect against, since there are many ways that the gas can get into the working area, and so much of the safety precautions are aimed more at making sure that it is not ignited if it does become present. Our sympathies and prayers are with them and their families tonight.

I will return to talk more about coal mining and the next step up in the size of operations, in a later post, For the North of England, after these smaller surface workings were exhausted, larger mines such as the Scremerston Colliery grew nearby to produce coal on a larger scale, My ancestors moved on to Ashington, and the coal mines there, of that also more anon.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday Pick Points

On Saturday evenings I like to take a stroll around some of the Climate sites to see what is new and interesting in the discussion over the past week. Climate Audit is unfortunately down at the moment, so we'll have to give it a pass. At Real Climate there have only been a couple of posts this week.

The first was on the fires in Australia and the premise that global warming is intensifying tragedies of this type. After initially taking a stance that AGW didn’t cause the fires, the article then quotes an article from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology issued this month, that points to the number of record temperatures recorded in the continent. It also indicates that the low humidity is expected due to AGW, and droughts are likely to be a result of AGW. The more recent post deals with tree growths and deaths in the Pacific Northwest and California and ties, through global climate models (GCMs) which not unsurprisingly find that the models, as built, cannot account for the change in conditions wholly from natural change, and that therefore it has to be due to human forcings. The item that they key on is the Snow Water Equivalent number which relates to water year precipitation and they find that April snow is a key variable. Given that California already has a big water problem this year, I suspect this may be only the first of many articles.

And so on to Anthony Watt’s pages where equipment failure reports continue, with there currently being a problem with the estimates for the Ice Melt in the Arctic. One of the satellite sensors has apparently failed. This problem first cropped up last week, and which has led to a discussion on the reliability of the data at The Cryosphere Today site (CT), someone even picking up on the George Will debate
In an opinion piece by George Will published on February 15, 2009 in the Washington Post, George Will states “According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.”

We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km. Therefore, global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979. This decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined.

It is disturbing that the Washington Post would publish such information without first checking the facts. ”
Thing is, the article was written January 1st, not Feb 15th, and Mr Will was comparing the END OF 2008 with the END OF 1979. Not Feb 15th of each year (which was still a month and a half away from happening when he wrote it).
Why did Cryophere Today blatantly misrepresent what the author was writing about?

In other posts from the past week, there is another weather station improperly located (I need to send our data in), a little more controversy over an elementary school text and the one that caught me for an hour this afternoon is a link to the debate between William Schlesinger and John Christy on Climate Change. If you have an hour its worth a listen. (Lots of scare from Schlesinger, lots of facts from Christy).

Over on Gristmill they are still upset with the Will column and obviously did not see, or agree with the quote I inserted above. There apparently has been a miniature firestorm about it on the internet and I missed it all. There is another post on mountaintop coal mining at Coal River and, just for the record, if the writer’s home is shaking as much as he implies, he should get records that will stand up in court. Because the rules on how much blasting is allowed, and the impact it can have on local residences are very well and pretty restrictively defined. (My colleague who is currently doing "The Detonators" can give you bible and verse on it). Similarly there are other regulations that, if properly enforced, should quiet a lot of the arguments in the piece – but when folk get emotional about their property it is difficult to make those arguments. I do wonder though what is to stop Coal River from putting in the wind farm after the mine is finished, Access will be a lot easier, and with a large flat area then the winds should work a lot better.

Oh, and this week they didn’t like hydrogen either, and one gets the idea that if you live where there is neither the option for wind or solar, then you had better move!

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