October 19, 2010
Deep Drill Moratorium Lifted, Clean Energy Progresses, No Change at Top of IPCC
A week after the Obama administration lifted the temporary ban on deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, a group of oil executives yesterday appeared at a forum in Houston at the South Texas College of Law to explain how an essentially unregulated industry was contending with the government’s new rules. The short course: Executives said they were managing.
“It’s anxious times in industry,” Gary Luquette, president of Chevron Corp.’s North American exploration and production business, told the Houston Chronicle. “But I think there’s a little bit more optimism today than last week.”
In the months since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank in the Gulf in April, releasing a torrent of oil, Americans have come to understand that deep-sea energy exploration rivals the U.S. moon mission for technological adventurism, and the Internet for business expansion. In 1989, oil from wells drilled in water more than 1,000 feet deep accounted for 4 percent of all Gulf production, according to the Interior Department. When the BP disaster occurred deep sea wells accounted for 80 percent of Gulf oil production, or about 1.35 million barrels a day. The prolific deep Gulf wells, some probing for oil in waters 7,500 feet deep, are a big reason that U.S. crude production is increasing for the first time in more than 30 years.
Since April, Americans also learned that the offshore Gulf industry was essentially unmonitored. You’ll recall that three weeks before the BP Gulf disaster President Obama called for more offshore drilling, asserting that the practice safe. On May 27, the Interior Department ordered the halt of exploratory drilling on 33 deep-water rigs and banned new permits to drill in water deeper than 500 feet for the next six months. The administration also dismantled the old Minerals Management Service, the Interior Department unit that was charged with oversight, and established a new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Response. Among its new rules are requiring independent certification of a well’s blowout preventer, and new workplace standards aimed at reducing human and organizational errors. Operators must certify that the drilling rigs meet updated safety rules, and companies must prove they have access to enough spill-containment equipment to respond to a “worst case discharge” of a well.
Chevron is expected to be among the first big companies submitting applications to resume deep-water exploration. Michael Bromwich, head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, predicted the first new permits could be approved before the end of the year.
Even as it opened new fossil fuel energy exploration, the administration this month also is fostering clean energy development. On Wednesday last week Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved the 50-megawatt Silver State Solar Project for Clark County, Nevada. The agency also approved three large solar power projects in California ― the first ever sited on Federal land.
According to the American Solar Energy Society, the California developments are the 709-MW Tessera Stirling dish project in Imperial County, the 370-MW BrightSource power-tower project in the Ivanpah Valley, and Chevron Energy’s 45-MW Lucerne Valley photovoltaic project in San Bernardino County. Together the new projects, financed in part by the 2009 stimulus bill, will produce 1,200 MW of carbon-neutral electric power for the Las Vegas and Southern California markets. “
In other news of the week, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the organization of global scientists that produced the comprehensive 2007 report on climate warming, decided at its meeting in South Korea on Thursday to retain Rajendra Pachauri as its chairman. “I have every intention of staying right until I’ve completed the mission that I’ve accepted to carry out—namely, the completion of the Fifth Assessment Report in 2014,” Pachauri told a news conference.
Until next week, take care, Keith Schneider