1) Inspect, test, and repair the existing millions of miles of pipeline in operation today.
2) Offer more incentives for businesses who are promoting the use of renewable energy to operate.
3) Follow the lead of major corporations moving toward green energy initiatives.
Why do I suggest the above steps as a mindset moving forward?
Below are a few thoughts to initiate the discussion forward.
30 Years Of Oil Spills
In a recent article from 'The Atlantic' titled "30 Years of Oil and Gas Pipeline Accidents, Mapped" Author George Joseph provides us with a great overview of the last 30 years of oil transportation using oil pipelines. The article contains extremely informative infographics and visual illustrations which prove beyond a doubt that the last 30 years has been less than stellar for the oil industry -- as far as accidents go.
Using the recent Standing Rock Sioux Indian tribe's protest of the North Dakota pipeline, he jumps right into hammering down the truth surrounding accidents and oil pipeline with the following statements:
Oil industry supporters argue that pipelines are safer alternative to hauling fuel by tanker trucks or freight trains. “Environmental analysis comparing pipelines to rail finds pipelines will result in fewer incidents, barrels released, personal injuries, and greenhouse gas emissions,” says John Stoody, a spokesperson for the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, in a statement to CityLab. He cites an environmental impact statement conducted by the U.S. State Department comparing the impact of rail delivery of crude oil to that of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Additionally, a 2013 study from the conservative Manhattan Institute found that road transportation had an annual accident rate of 19.95 incidents per billion ton miles and rail transportation had 2.08 incidents per billion ton miles, compared to 0.89 incidents per billion ton miles for natural gas transmission and 0.58 serious incidents per billion ton miles for hazardous liquid pipelines.Environmentalists, however, point to a lack of adequate state and federal regulation and the difficulties of maintaining millions of miles of aging pipeline infrastructure in their warnings about the dangers of spills, fires, and other accidents. And data from the federal government suggests such concerns should be taken seriously. Over the last twenty years, more than 9,000 significant pipeline-related incidents have taken place nationwide, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The accidents have resulted in 548 deaths, 2,576 injuries, and over $8.5 billion in financial damages. (Not counted in this total are thousands of less “significant" pipeline-related malfunctions.)
Readers of this site will recall the calculations performed in a recent blog post regarding the amount of oil that could potentially be moved per day through the Dakota pipeline -- 19.7 million gallons per day! That is no small amount. Therefore, accidents like those described in the excerpt result in large environmental costs and human costs (injuries) -- which will be commented on shortly.
As if the figures above were not enough to drive home the point surrounding the dangers associated with the transportation of oil in pipelines, he goes onto show evidence gathered in the form of graphs/plots of frequency of occurrence correlated with geography. One snapshot of a plot appears like the following shown below tracking the growth of the pipeline spills over the last 30 years:
Source: George Joseph
The total costs of the spills dotted in the above image total to $8.5 billion over a 30 year period. With that many miles of pipeline developed over a 30 year period, one cannot help but wonder what is the disaster/injury rate. Below is a diagram taken from the same source detailing the number of incidents over a 30 year period from 1986-2016:
Source: George Joseph
Just last week, after the victory of the Sioux Tribe in getting a total Environmental Impact Report, the news did not report another pipeline break that was 200 miles from the Dakota protests. In an article from the website 'EcoWatch' titled "Oil Pipeline Shut Down After Spill, Just 200 Miles From Standing Rock" the author lists a series or recent spills that have occurred with the company at fault in the last few years -- resulting in hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil being spilled. One would ask the logical question:
Why do we continue to build oil pipelines in light of the disasters over the years?
Even when the disasters have such long term (and unknown) consequences to the environment. The points made above do not take into account the tourism industry which suffers greatly as a result of any oil spill. In a blog post I wrote last spring, I discuss the traditional 'California Dream' being destroyed by the operations of 'big oil.' The effects of pipeline disasters are unknown and loom largely in the background -- which is why the last question is extremely important to consider repeatedly when the discussion of energy demand is on the table.
Of course, the default answer to the energy trade is the that the national demand drives our dependence on cheap fossil fuels rather than costly renewable energy. I am not arguing against the fact that demand does drive the default (lowest cost) solution. What I will propose is to build upon the existing pipeline (improve conditions) along with growth toward renewable energy. Growing the renewable energy sector will demand a more intelligent workforce (which we have) and improve the conditions of working overall. Let me explain below.
Grow Renewable Energy!
First, before we grow renewable energy, the existing oil and gas infrastructure needs to be approved upon. When I was a graduate student at University of California at Riverside in the Chemistry department, I got to work closely with the machine shop. Some of the machinists had come to work for the University after working along the pipeline in the North West of America -- Alaskan pipeline.
According to a welder, the work was tedious and not challenging since it was highly repetitive. Although, I have met a number of people in my life who thrive in those conditions. They love repetitive work. Work the shift hard and then go home -- sounds like a perfect fit to me. Which raises the following question:
Why can't we get workers back to work improving existing oil and gas pipeline?
According to the article cited above in 'The Atlantic,' there exists millions of miles of pipeline.
What a great fit?
Could you imagine the amount of jobs required to inspect and repair millions of miles of pipeline. The number of hires needed would be in direct proportion to the time required to complete and upgrade our oil delivery system. By update, I mean repair and make sure that the existing oil pipeline is in good shape.
Additionally, the employees could also install 'sensors' with accuracy to detect when the flow at a given point has changed dramatically. Sensor technology has advanced quite a bit in the last couple of decades. Piezo-electric technology has the ability to offer such solutions to the oil and gas industries to detect major changes. In an article from the website "Scientific Computing" titled "Aviation Enhancements, Better Biosensors Could Result from New Sensor Technology" an update is given by the author on the state of piezo-electric technology by the following excerpt:
Piezoelectric sensors measure changes in pressure, acceleration, temperature, strain or force and are used in a vast array of devices important to everyday life. However, these sensors often can be limited by the "white noise" they detect that can give engineers and health care workers false readings. Now, a University of Missouri College of Engineering research team has developed methods to enhance piezoelectric sensing capabilities. Enhanced sensors could be used to improve aviation, detect structural damage in buildings and bridges, and boost the capabilities of health monitors.Guoliang Huang, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the MU College of Engineering, and his team's new platform improves sensors by amplifying the signal, allowing the same amount of sensors to read more data. Their new device also cuts costs by allowing fewer sensors to cover larger structures and longer distances.
The author goes onto describe the changes from previous sensor technology. Further, the sensors can be "tuned" to a specifically weak signals which would neglect other signals. These sensors are an example of the type of technology appearing on the market that has been developed and is currently in use in a wide range of applications from aerospace to the biomedical field. Understanding that the technology exists raises the following question:
Why is this technology not being deployed to prevent oil and gas spills?
This prospect would be beneficial to society and the world at large. No one likes to see an economy that is adversely impacted by a large number of spills resulting in a large amount of environmental damage. Moving toward a sustainable future is where the world is headed. The question becomes then:
Is the current administration headed in the same direction?
Toward a more sustainable and healthy environment through the promotion of green energy?
Unfortunately, at the current moment with the announcement of reductions in climate funding and science funding overall, the direct seems to be counterintuitive to that of forward progress. Not to worry though? There exists powerful people (CEO) that are in charge of large corporations that can and are promoting change toward renewable energy.
Private Investment In Renewable Energy!
In addition to whatever funding is sought after to elevate the use of renewable energy in the future, a portion of that money will be inevitably from 'Private Sector' funding. Years ago, I was watching a Charlie Rose interview with a rear Admiral who was explaining that funding sources occur in two different ways: either government funding or private sector funding.
At any given time, you can limit the source to either funding avenue. Furthermore, he stated that the funding source can change between the initiation of the project and the end point of the project. With the recent Paris Climate talks just completed (less than a year ago), there is enthusiasm on part of the private sector through an initiative called "Breakthrough Energy Ventures" spearheaded by top CEO's like Bill Gates. This is encouraging.
Although with the news of the incoming administration's intention to back away from these environmentally friendly improvements, the Coalition has had to step up with a press release. In an article from the website "Laboratory Equipment" titled "Billionaires Launch Massive Green Energy Fund to Spur Breakthroughs" the author introduces the Coalition's intention of elevating the renewable energy market by competitive bids. Here is an excerpt describing the thought process behind the initiative:
Breakthrough Energy Ventures counts Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma of Alibaba, Richard Branson of Virgin, Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, and a handful of others among its board.Their goal: to invest in new breakthroughs that have the potential to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions “by at least half a gigaton.”That difference must be achieved across five areas, they said: electricity, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing and buildings.“Some of these investments will result in ideas that move forward and some won’t; developing some may even make work on others unnecessary,” they said.Together, the group’s combined total wealth is about $170 billion, according to Business Insider.Ventures is part of a larger Coalition founded last year to inject private innovation and research dollars into new energy technologies. Government research alone will not solve the open-ended conundrum, they said. To find the solution, there are probably dead-ends that need to be investigated – perhaps at a net loss of capital.
As you can see by the names listed in the first paragraph -- the backers are 'heavy hitters'. Very successful Chief Executives that have produced wealth and supported massive change in supply and demand areas in our economy over the years. Their combined wealth is $170 billion -- WOW!
I state that the CEO's listed have produced massive wealth and changes in supply and demand. One might be wondering what exactly I mean by this. I will explain below.
By creating change in the way supply and demand exists in our world, these CEO's have literally transformed our society. Think about the changes alone of just Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. Bill Gates has competitively changed our life as we know it with the products of Microsoft. Not to mention the purchasing power that the online market offers with the addition of Amazon. A person can order a variety of items (groceries, books, audio products, tech gadgets, etc.) with the push of a button using their distribution system.
Now, a person might be reading this blog post and cite the jobs lost as a result of technology change with the production/distribution lines in factories being lost to Robots. I would argue that a loss of a job going to a Robot is a creating of a job going toward a renewable energy position. 'Work smarter not harder.'
Putting employees in high level jobs -- creating renewable energy -- would offer the new employees experience in operating data collection systems. These systems that monitor the creation and distribution of energy would result in optimizing the system and reduce threats to the system over time. The overall achievement would be to have unemployed people working and a more intelligent (more highly skilled) labor force.
Other CEO's listed above are spearheading 'green movements' on their own which enable them to join the coalition. Sir Richard Branson has a large part of his business 'Virgin Atlantic' devoted to thinking sustainably. Back in 2014, he purchased a 74-acre island (Necker Island) in the British Virin Islands and started thinking about powering the land solely by 'renewable energy.' This thought process led to the creation of "The Carbon War Room" -- whose mission is stated in 2 minutes in the following video below:
As highlighted in the video above, the total thinking on behalf of companies has shifted toward a renewable energy based mindset. And as a result, there will be inevitably job creation as these new industries develop solutions to the challenge of reducing the carbon footprint by a gigaton per year.
What Does The Data Say?
In a recent study highlighted on the website "Science Daily" in an article titled "Natural gas and wind are the lowest-cost generation technologies for much of the U. S." a wonderful and positive result for the renewable energy industry was reported. The study aimed to map the "Levelized Cost of Electricity" per county across the United States.
Result: wind and natural gas technologies stand out as the cheapest across the Nation!
How did the authors arrive at the conclusion?
What were the considerations in the study?
Here is an excerpt from the paper on 'Science Daily':
Researchers categorized the electricity system into three principal components: consumers; generation technologies; and the wires, poles, storage and other hardware required to connect end users and generators. Taken as a whole, the white papers assess the interaction among these three components, as well as costs often considered external to the electricity system, such as environmental effects and public health impacts."These are complex, interrelated issues that cannot be adequately addressed from one perspective," said Dr. Tom Edgar, director of the Energy Institute. "We assembled a cross-disciplinary team to provide a fuller understanding of these costs and their policy implications."For the white paper on power generation costs, researchers used data from existing studies to enhance a formula known as the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE). In addition to including public health impacts and environmental effects -- which the LCOE typically does not -- the research team used data to calculate county-specific costs for each technology.
Other considerations include:
The FCe- study examined numerous factors affecting the cost of electricity generation, including:
1)Power Plant Costs (both operating and capital costs)
2)Environmental and Health Costs (air quality, greenhouse gases)
3)Infrastructure Costs (transmission & distribution lines, rail, pipelines)
4)Fuel Cost (variability, full fuel cycle)
5)Integration of renewable and distributed energy resources
7)Government financial support for electricity generation (subsidies)
This is just one of a few studies that have emerged with indisputable data showing that renewable energy is starting to become a prominent player in the energy market. The 'white paper' for the study above can be found by clicking - here. The diagram with low resolution of the different sources and their geographical location are shown below:
Source: 'Science Daily'
I will be the first person to admit that certain aspects of renewable energy have a distance to go before being realized. A major obstacle to the generation of renewable energy is what to do with the energy afterward? How do the energy companies deal with the tremendous amount of energy to be stored? This is where battery technology could be further developed and optimized to fill in the gap.
Regardless, the data from the study above and others like it are promising and cannot be denied. More on this subject in the future on this site.
Renewable energy offers the opportunity for large job growth in the future according to the accounts above. You don't have to believe me necessarily. There are plenty of high-level CEO's discussing the possibility. Which is great. I am a huge proponent of the private sector contributing to 'science funding'. In a blog post a few months ago, I wrote about how the supposed '1%' could give (in funding) to elevate science research. As highlighted above by Mr. Bill Gates, the funding will be multi-faceted and long range down the line. The process is not a short sprint, but a long marathon for the future of renewable energy production.
As with any race or run, there must be a course to run (a plan), the proper protection (i.e., police) of the course during the run (Federal dollar protection - investment). And there must be 'runners'. In the paragraphs above, the 'runners' (Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson, etc.) do exist -- which is extremely encouraging.
Lets hope in closing that the support of the plan comes in by enlisting the federal government to back these projects up. With the support of all entities, growth in the renewable market is not only possible, but jobs will be created in the process. This will be directly in line with the President-elect's 'bringing jobs back' and 'making America great again' slogans.
Until next time, Have a great day!