This caucus was held at the Texas Democratic Party Convention in Dallas, Texas, on 27 June, 2014.
The caucus, which ran from
1 PM until 2:30 PM on 27 June, was SRO (standing room only) for much of the
caucus. Unfortunately, Alyssa Burgin of
Texas Drought Project had an accident and was unable to attend. But the remaining panelists kept the crowd
attentive and engaged. OPD’s James
Cargas, who is a candidate for U.S. Congress 7th District, moderated the caucus
and gave the initial presentation on the current status of the nation’s energy
policy… or lack thereof. Sharon Wilson
of EarthWorks, presented a scathing criticism of fracking and natural gas
production but, after some discussion, admitted she was not totally opposed to
natural gas production as long as total costs of production and subsequent environmental
and property damages were accounted for and injured parties made whole. Jim Rine discussed implications of energy production
and global warming and some possible steps to slow CO2 emissions. Between presentations, current office holders
and candidates stated their cases.
Notable attendees were Pete Van de Putte representing his wife Leticia,
who is running for Lt. Governor; US Congressman Gene Greene; candidate for RR
Commissioner, Steve Brown; and Annise Parker, Mayor of Houston. Proof that the caucus was well-received is
that many attendees made comments.
Copies of the Cargas &
Rine presentations are available in Dropbox (https://www.dropbox.com/sh/dbtb50i6nvaeal5/AADoIXBLxVZm0b2SlBvvIkKLa?n=313903625) or on our Facebook page.
Oilpatch Democrats (OPD) seek to promote a responsible conduct of business within the energy industry for the common good of our country, particularly as it applies to energy efficiency, conservation, the environment, human rights, workers rights, the economy, domestic and foreign relations, national security, and corporate accountability.
Sunday, July 20, 2014
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT BRIEFING PAPER FOR WENDY DAVIS CAMPAIGN FOR TEXAS GOVERNOR AND OTHER DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES From OilPatch Democrats, May 20, 2014
The following briefing paper broadly follows the topics outlined in the “Suggested Energy talking points” document sent to the campaign in October 2013 (attached) from the OilPatch Democrats (OPD). This briefing paper includes expanded OPD “talking points” along with excerpts of published articles (with links to original publications) pertaining to the particular topic. OPD doesn’t necessarily endorse all the views expressed in these articles but feels the majority of the facts and opinions expressed in them should be noted.
1.0 Responsible production of fossil fuels
1.1 OPD Talking Point - The oil and gas industry in Texas has made great strides in the last few years, largely due to the development and utilization of improved methods of hydraulic fracturing. The procedure of fracking and the subsequent production of oil and gas from these unconventional plays (combined low permeability source rock and reservoir), however, requires many more wells than past conventional plays (extraction from higher permeability reservoir rocks). With all these added wells come added problems, because even with a very low rate of material failure or operational mistakes, there are bound to incidents resulting in damages toindividual property owners or nearby communities. These problems can be fixed with the proper oversight and procedures for allowing individual landowners and their communities to obtain recourse for damages. Unfortunately, the needed oversight and procedures for recourse have diminished with successive Republican administrations.
1.2 The following chart (Figure 1) shows that, between 2008 and 2013, the number of wells in the Eagle Ford play quadrupled while TCEQ’s budget was almost cut in half. Is it logical to expect that TCEQ can perform its stated mission “…to protect our state's public health and natural resources…” with this level of diminished funding?
Figure 1. From InsideClimate News (http://insideclimatenews.org/fracking-eagle-ford-shale-big-oil-bad-air-texas-prairie).
1.3 This lack of funding for the TCEQ may be why the number of monitoring stations for the Eagle Fords is so inadequate.
The TCEQ has only five permanent monitors in the Eagle Ford, all positioned far from the most heavily drilled areas. The Barnett Shale in North Texas, by contrast, has 35 permanent monitors, even though that field covers only about 5,000 square miles — a quarter of the area of the Eagle Ford (http://www.publicintegrity.org/2014/02/18/14235/drilling-ravages-texas-eagle-ford-shale-residents-living-petri-dish).
The increased level of monitoring of the Barnett area may be due in part to the efforts of State Senator Davis and State Representative Veasey (http://www.davis.senate.state.tx.us/pr11/p20110801a.pdf).
1.4 The following is an excerpt from http://www.publicintegrity.org/2014/02/18/14235/drilling-ravages-texas-eagle-ford-shale-residents-living-petri-dish)
Our investigation and records obtained from Texas regulatory agencies reveal a system that does more to protect the industry than the public. Among the findings:
· Texas’ air monitoring system is so flawed that the state knows almost nothing about the extent of the pollution in the Eagle Ford. Only five permanent air monitors are installed in the 20,000-square-mile region, and all are at the fringes of the shale play, far from the heavy drilling areas where emissions are highest.
- Thousands of oil and gas facilities, including six of the nine production sites near the Buehrings’ house, are allowed to self-audit their emissions without reporting them to the state. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which regulates most air emissions, doesn’t even know some of these facilities exist. An internal agency document acknowledges that the rule allowing this practice “[c]annot be proven to be protective.”
- Companies that break the law are rarely fined. Of the 284 oil and gas industry-related complaints filed with the TCEQ by Eagle Ford residents between Jan. 1, 2010, and Nov. 19, 2013, only two resulted in fines despite 164 documented violations. The largest was just $14,250 (Pending enforcement actions could lead to six more fines.).
- The Texas legislature has cut the TCEQ’s budget by a third since the Eagle Ford boom began, from $555 million in 2008 to $372 million in 2014. At the same time, the amount allocated for air monitoring equipment dropped from $1.2 million to $579,000.
- The Eagle Ford boom is feeding an ominous trend: A 100-percent statewide increase in unplanned toxic air releases associated with oil and gas production since 2009. Known as emission events, these releases are usually caused by human error or faulty equipment.
- Residents of the mostly rural Eagle Ford counties are at a disadvantage even in Texas because they haven’t been given air quality protections, such as more permanent monitors, provided to the wealthier, more suburban Barnett Shale region near Dallas-Fort Worth.
Texas officials tasked with overseeing the industry are often its strongest defenders, leaving the Buehrings and other families interviewed for this story to mostly fend for themselves. Oil money is so thoroughly ingrained in the Texas culture and economy that there is little interest in or sympathy for those who have become collateral damage in the drive for riches.
1.5 Some personal stories from this report are as follows.
The Lyssy family from Wilson County, Texas:
More often than not, residents’ complaints lead nowhere, as Fred and Amber Lyssy discovered in April 2013.
The Lyssys raise pigs, goats, and cattle on a 564-acre organic farm in Wilson County outside Floresville. The land is owned by Fred’s mother, Agnes Ramos, who for years has refused offers to lease the mineral rights for drilling. Some neighboring landowners have accepted, however, and the Lyssys' land is now surrounded by wells, flares, and holding tanks.
When foul odors swept across the farm, the Lyssys suspected a gas processing plant less than a mile away. Fred stopped letting his livestock graze on the pasture next to the facility and moved his and Amber’s bedroom to the opposite side of the house. They worry about how their three children — ages 7 months, 3½ years, and 6 years — will be affected by the pollution. They fear it will jeopardize their pledge to provide organic food to their customers.
“We are about liberty and freedom,” Amber said, “but they are trespassing with their emissions.”
The Buehring family from Karnes City:
KARNES CITY, Texas — When Lynn Buehring leaves her doctor’s office in San Antonio, she makes sure her inhaler is on the seat beside her, then steers her red GMC pickup truck southeast on U.S. 181, toward her home on the South Texas prairie.
About 40 miles down the road, between Poth and Falls City, drilling rigs, crude oil storage tanks, and flares trailing black smoke appear amid the mesquite, live oak, and pecan trees. Depending on the speed and direction of the wind, a yellow-brown haze might stretch across the horizon, filling the car with pungent odors. Sometimes Buehring’s eyes burn, her chest tightens, and pain stabs at her temples. On those days, she touches her inhaler for reassurance.
From the porch of their little white house, the Buehrings can see, and often smell, evidence of the hell-bent rush to tap Texas oil.
In addition to the wells near their home, there are at least 9 oil and gas production facilities. Little is known about 6 of the facilities, because they don't have to file their emissions data with the state. Air permits for the remaining 3 sites show they house 25 compressor engines, 10 heater treaters, 6 flares, 4 glycol dehydrators, and 65 storage tanks for oil, wastewater, and condensate. Combined, those sites have the state’s permission to release 189 tons of volatile organic compounds, a class of toxic chemicals that includes benzene and formaldehyde, into the air each year. That’s about 12 percent more than Valero's Houston Oil Refinery disgorged in 2012.
Figure 2. From http://insideclimatenews.org/fracking-eagle-ford-shale-big-oil-bad-air-texas-prairie.
1.6 Not only is the Republican-dominated state government not protecting Texans, it is aggressively hindering the efforts of local governments and regulators to try and address problems on their own. One example is recent actions by TCEQ against the city of San Antonio as described in a report by InsideClimateNews (http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20140423/texas-yanks-funding-san-antonio-air-quality-program-releasing-emissions-data), which is excerpted below.
A few casual words and the early release of some scientific data have cost the San Antonio region much-needed state funds to battle its growing air pollution problem. The misstep, which appears to have been unintentional, highlights the sensitivity of studying oil and gas pollution in business-friendly Texas.
The dispute began after the Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG)—a coalition that oversees 13 counties in the San Antonio region—launched a two-part study to determine how oil and gas drilling was affecting the city's air quality.
San Antonio's air quality has been deteriorating since 2008, the same year drilling began in the nearby Eagle Ford Shale, site of one of the nation's biggest energy booms. The air pollution is now so bad that metropolitan San Antonio could soon be declared in nonattainment with federal standards for ozone, the main component of smog. If that happens, it could be subject to sanctions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, including increased EPA oversight for new development projects.
Local officials hope to avoid that fate by curbing pollution through voluntary measures, but first they need to understand where the emissions are coming from. Because San Antonio is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, much of the ozone-forming chemicals are likely emitted by cars and trucks. But AACOG knew little about the contributions from oil and gas drilling.
AACOG released the first part of the study, an emission inventory of the Eagle Ford, on April 4. It projected a dramatic increase in air emissions by 2018 during peak ozone season, including a possible 281-percent increase in releases of volatile organic compounds, which react with nitrogen oxides to form ozone. More details are expected in the second part, a photochemical model that explains how the emissions affect San Antonio's ozone levels.
About a week after the emission inventory was released, the Austin American-Statesman reported that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which funded the study, had slashed AACOG's air-quality planning budget by 25 percent because an AACOG employee had made some of the draft results public. AACOG's contract with the TCEQ prohibited AACOG from releasing any results without TCEQ approval.
1.7 Another example of the Republican bias towards industry versus protection of individual landowners and their communities is the State Legislature’s prohibition of to adding new regulations pertaining to the Eagle Ford play. The following is excerpted from http://www.publicintegrity.org/2014/02/18/14240/saturated-oil-money-texas-legislature-saved-industry-pollution-rule.
KARNES CITY, Texas — In January 2011, with air quality worsening in Texas’ booming oil and gas fields and the federal government beginning to take notice, state environmental regulators adopted rules to reduce harmful emissions.
The industry rebelled. So did the state legislature.
A few months later, the legislature overwhelmingly approved SB1134, a bill that effectively prevented the new regulations from being applied in the Eagle Ford Shale region of South Texas, the fastest-growing oil shale play in the nation and maybe the world. Since then, more than 2,400 air emissions permits have been issued in the Eagle Ford without additional safeguards that would have reduced the amounts of benzene, hydrogen sulfide, formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals that drift into the air breathed by 1.1 million people.
The Texas legislature’s rush to protect the oil and gas industry reflects a culture in which politics and business are almost inseparable.
1.8 OPD concluding comments regarding oversight of fossil fuel production in Texas
It would be reasonable to concur with Greg Abbott that Texas could do a better job than the EPA to protect the citizens and environment of our state if our state regulatory agencies were given adequate funding and given instructions to follow their mission statement to “… protect our state's public health and natural resources….” Unfortunately, with the status quo outlook of the Republican-dominated State Government that energy industry interests can do no wrong, individual Texans and their communities have little recourse other than to seek help from the Federal Government. This will change under a Davis Administration where the rights of individual landowners and communities will be protected by Texas agencies.
1.9 OPD opinion on fracking
Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has been used by the petroleum industry for decades, and we support its continued safe use because this technology enhances domestic oil and gas production, which, in turn, lowers our reliance on foreign sources. In a state where water resources are a precious commodity, however, the Davis Administration will promote policies that minimize water use in the fracking process and maximize water recovery for future use. Furthermore, when the inevitable failures occur, the Davis Administration will emphasize protection of the rights of landowners and communities.
1.10 Article on water conservation (or the lack of) regarding the Barnett shale play
Study: In Midst of Drought, Fracking Industry Does Little to Recycle Water
by Forrest Wilder Published on Tuesday, February 4, 2014, at 2:04 CST
Barnett Shale drilling rig
A newly-published study of fracking-related water use in North Texas’ Barnett Shale provides new insights into what has been a murky topic. Authored by researchers at the University of Texas’ Bureau of Economic Geology and published in Environmental Science and Technology, the paper describes the Barnett Shale as an “ideal case” to try to get a better understanding of how much water is being used in fracking, the source of the water, how much is actually recycled and how much of the wastewater ends up in injection wells—pressing questions in drought-stricken Texas. “This is the first paper, I think, to take a comprehensive look at water use in one play,” said lead author, JP Nicot.
While researchers, journalists and regulators have slowly developed better estimates of how much water fracking consumes, especially at a regional or state level, less attention has been paid to where the water comes from and whether the industry is following through on promises to recycle and reuse water that returns to the surface after a frack job. What jumps out at me in this study is how little the industry has accomplished in using less water since the Barnett Shale took off in the middle of the last decade—even in the face of crippling drought.
Nicot found that the vast majority of water, about 92 percent, used to frack Barnett Shale wells in 2011 was “consumed”—never to return to the aquifer or reservoir again. Only around 5 percent of all the water has been reused or recycled “for the past few years.” The remainder, about 3 percent, came from brackish water sources. The figures suggest that the industry is making very little progress in conserving water, despite a push from regulators and lawmakers to encourage the practice.
At one time, Nicot said, companies were doing more to recycle.
“They started doing it even at a monetary loss,” he said. “Then they realized well it doesn’t seem like we are going anywhere with that recycling thing so let’s cut our losses and let’s not recycle anymore.”
“I know a lot of recycling companies,” he added. “They are kind of disappointed. A lot of people thought it would be the next big thing, the El Dorado. … The overall feel is that it’s not working as well as it could have.”
But so far, the industry does not seem too concerned about the drought. “Periodic droughts, characteristic of Texas climate, do not seem to control [hydraulic fracturing] water use in the Barnett play, which is more sensitive to the price of gas and economic activity,” Nicot wrote.
Indeed, the correlation between gas production and water use in fracking is nearly perfect. The more gas produced, the more water used, with little to no increase in efficiency.
Cumulative gas production and water use track each other.
Other interesting findings from the study:
· We know very little about the source of water used in Barnett Shale fracking. Nicot reports that data is “sparse” because “the industry is fragmented” and “water contracts are signed and expire in a very dynamic business environment.” Groundwater regulation in Texas is notoriously scattershot, spread over more than a 100 locally-run groundwater conservation districts, many of which don’t collect information on fracking-related water use. There is nothing in state law requiring that the industry report the source of its water.
- Nonetheless, Nicot is able to estimate that the Barnett Shale play relies roughly half on groundwater and half on surface water.
- Most of the groundwater comes from the Trinity Aquifer, one of the most depleted in the state.
- The potential for recycling in the Barnett Shale is much greater than in the Eagle Ford Shale or other shale plays. In many Barnett Shale wells, more water comes back to the surface than is injected in the fracking process. Such abundant “produced water” can be recycled or reused.
For now it appears to be business as usual, despite the hype about recycling and reuse
1.11 Recycling of produced water and use of saline aquifers
Recent articles and presentations with the Houston Geological Society addressed the issue of recycling of produced water from oil and gas drilling and the use of saline aquifers (articles from the February and May 2014 issues of the HGS Bulletin are attached). An oral presentation in May by Doug Hall pointed out that, while overall use of water for fracking may be a small percentage of overall freshwater use in Texas (1%), in some communities it may consume 50% of the available water. Hall also pointed out that economics plays a large role in whether or not operators dispose of produced water in a disposal well (DW) or recycle it. If a DW is within 25 to 50 miles, it is generally cheaper to use it. A more important conclusion expressed by Hall is that, if a locality goes to the expense of constructing a purification and desalination plant, direct extraction of water from saline aquifers is a much more reliable resource than produced water from oil and gas wells. It is estimated that Texas has 2.7 billion acre-feet of brackish groundwater.
1.12 Pickens Plan (the NG alternative to alternative energy)
The following is an excerpt from http://www.pic kensplan.com/natural_gas/
Abundance Natural gas is one of America’s greatest resources. While reserves other resources are diminishing, new drilling technologies and techniques are allowing us to recover natural gas in the huge shale deposits found all across America. A recent Rice University study projects that U.S. shale gas production will more than quadruple by 2040 from 2010 levels of more than 10 billion cubic feet per day, reaching more than 50 percent of total U.S. natural gas production by the 2030s. The study incorporates independent scientific and economic literature on shale costs and resources, including assessments by organizations such as the U.S. Geological Survey, the Potential Gas Committee and scholarly peer-reviewed papers of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. As President Obama has pointed out, the energy available from natural gas contained in these shale deposits can provide ample supplies for the next 100 years.
2.0 OPD talking point: development of alternative sources of energy
Texas is the number one state for energy production from wind and one of the top 10 states for solar energy production, a status largely resulting from private sector efforts. The Davis Administration will promote policies to facilitate the production and distribution of these and other alternative energy resources in order advance Texas’ leadership as an energy producer.
For a general overview of both the fossil fuel and alternative energy possibilities, OPD recommends viewing the documentary Switch. This documentary is largely the result of efforts by Scott Tinker, Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas, Austin. A copy of this movie can be purchased online or furnished by OPD.
3.0 Promotion of advanced smart grid technology
3.1 OPD talking point—In order to better utilize the wind and solar resources of Texas and to safeguard access to power during local and regional emergencies, the Davis Administration will promote an interstate and nationally integrated electrical network connecting all sources of energy generation (power plants, wind farms, solar farms, single consumers/producers), feeding divergently located power consumers through a computer controlled and balanced system.
3.2 The following article, which ranks states on smart grid policies, investments and customer engagement levels, shows Texas as second only to California.
Jeff St. John, July 29, 2013, http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/embargo-which-states-are-leading-in-smart-grid
Which states are leading the nation in smart grid investment -- and which policies and customer engagement practices are driving that lead?
A new report from the GridWise Alliance and the Smart Grid Policy Center lays out the answers to these questions, in a first-ever state-by-state ranking across those three categories.
The Grid Modernization Index Report (PDF), released Sunday at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) meeting in Washington, D.C., lays out a treasure trove of statistical detail for industry players and state utility regulators, along with some unexpected findings on which state policies do -- and don’t -- correlate to more effective smart grid efforts.
( GMI = Grid Modernization Index)
“It’s not just measuring that the technology has been deployed,” Becky Harrison, CEO of the GridWise Alliance, said in a Friday prebriefing, “It’s measuring how the utilities are gaining value from that and introducing ways for the customers to engage.”
That means that the overall state rankings have been further broken up into which states are leading in each of those three categories. That chart reveals some interesting discrepancies.
While Texas and California were the top-ranked states, they got there by different routes, Harrison noted. For example, while both states are leading the nation in terms of smart meter deployments, Texas’ deregulated and competitive energy markets have allowed retail power providers to use those assets to increase customer pricing programs and engagement efforts, whereas in California’s regulated utility environment, that hasn’t happened as quickly.
Texas' approach to smart meter data management and integration have also “enabled the back-end data centers that have allowed these systems to work in that deregulated environment,” she said.
On the other hand, in California, which has the nation’s most aggressive policies on renewable energy, “We’re seeing investments on the grid side help them recognize and deal with the higher distribution of generation resources that are out there,” she said (California is also taking the lead in pushing energy storage into the grid.).
The study also revealed some correlations between smart grid acumen and other energy policies. For example, states that had received a large portion of smart grid stimulus grants from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act showed a higher score across all three smart grid categories. Another link was found between the 26 states that have renewable portfolio standards requiring solar, wind and other green energy resources, showing a strong correlation to high scores in smart grid investment, policy and customer engagement -- although the study didn’t delve into just what linkages drove that correlation.
On the other hand, some correlations that were expected to appear didn’t actually show up, Harrison noted. For example, “We suspected there might be some correlation with electricity pricing,” but the study found no statistical link between the price of power and the smart grid scores amongst states, she said.
3.3 OPD suggested comments—A Davis Administration would encourage the growth of this technology and educate the public why “smart grid” is good and not intrusive. Perhaps with the right incentives, Texas could be #1 instead of #2 behind California. Since Texas is currently #2 from the BOTTOM in education, however, a Davis Administration will be placing initial emphasis on improving the education of Texas children.
4.0 Development of alternative transportation systems
Since transportation currently relies almost exclusively on oil, much of which is imported, the Davis Administration will develop policies that encourage the use of Texas-produced energy resources, such as natural gas (see Section 1.12, Pickens Plan).
5.0 Nuclear energy
5.1 OPD talking point—Nuclear energy offers an immense source of energy with negligible carbon emissions but with other inherent risks, as demonstrated by the event at Japan’s Fukishima plant. Texas’s similarly designed plants are especially susceptible to catastrophic weather events, such as floods or prolonged droughts, which rob the plants of the necessary water for cooling of their radioactive cores. The Davis Administration will stringently monitor our current plants while promoting research into more reliable and safer next-generation nuclear resources.
Below are two articles describing how even without earthquakes or tsunamis, Texas reactors could be vulnerable, especially in a changing climate situation such as the one in which we find ourselves. The first article points out environmental vulnerabilities of present reactors. The second article, which is by the somewhat “colorful” investigative journalist Gregg Pallast, points out inherent problems in the present and projected reactors within Texas.
5.2 From International Business Times, February 12, 2014
Could a nuclear accident like the 2011 meltdown that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan happen here?
David Lochbaum, a former nuclear engineer, director of the Nuclear Safety Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists and one of the authors of the new book-length account “Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster,” thinks it’s more than possible. The safety preparations at the plant before the accident, he says, weren’t that different from the precautions taken at U.S. plants.
“It’s not that Japan was behind the standards of the rest of the world, or that the Japanese regulators or [Fukushima Daiichi operator] TEPCO was especially inept,” Lochbaum says. “They’re on par with everyone else.”
U.S. regulators have already been warning operators about the possibility of Fukushima-type disasters happening in the U.S. for years.
One of the most likely scenarios that could cause a meltdown is a flood. Nuclear reactors require a lot of water to carry away their waste heat, so they’re generally built next to oceans, lakes or rivers. Plants near lakes and rivers are often located downstream of a dam. In that case, if a dam bursts, the plant could be flooded and lose power, similarly to what happened at the Fukushima plant when the tsunami hit. In 2009, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff identified about 35 reactors in the U.S. (out of the 100 currently operating) that were vulnerable to dam failures, according to Lochbaum.
In June 2010, about nine months before Fukushima’s three reactors melted down, the NRC issued a letter to Duke Energy, the owner and operator of the Oconee Nuclear Station near Seneca, South Carolina (view the letter here on Scribd). The letter – initially not released to the public, but unearthed by a reporter from The Cascadia Times in Oregon, through a Freedom of Information Act Request -- lists various actions Duke Energy is supposed to take to mitigate the risk of flood damage.
This letter came after NRC risk analysts concluded that the failure of the Jocassee Dam had a 100 percent chance of causing Oconee’s three reactors to melt down, according to Lochbaum (Duke’s own reports disagree.). The main reason for concern? The plant’s flood wall was five feet high; the flood waters caused by a dam breakage were estimated to rise about 14 feet. Fukushima’s seawall was also easily breached by a 50-foot tsunami wave.
“In other words, both Oconee and Fukushima were protected by flood walls that worked just fine, unless there was a flood,” Lochbaum says.
Another risk to U.S. nuclear plants is fire. Like floods, flames can disable safety systems and their backups.
“At Fukushima, workers had literally dozens of pumps that could put water into the reactor vessel,” Lochbaum says. “But the flooding disabled all forms of electricity such that all these pumps literally stood by powerlessly. Fire can have this same consequence.”
In fact, a U.S. plant came close to a fire-related meltdown in 1975. A worker at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama had accidentally caused a fire while using a candle to check for air leaks in a room directly below the control room for two reactors. The fire burned for almost seven hours, and damaged the electrical cables in the room such that all of the emergency cooling systems for one reactor shut down, along with most of the emergency systems for the other reactor.
"Only heroic operator actions prevented two meltdowns that day," Lochbaum says.
The NRC adopted fire protection regulations to prevent another Browns Ferry incident in 1980, and updated them in 2004.
But “today, about half of the reactors operating in the US do not comply with either the 1980 or the 2004 regulations,” Lochbaum says. “Sadly, the three reactors at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant are among those that operate in violation of fire protection regulations. As [are] the three reactors at Oconee.”
So, what has been done, post-Fukushima? The NRC issued recommendations and orders for upgrades shortly after the accident to try and apply lessons from the incident to domestic plants. By December 2016, U.S. nuclear plant owners must make various upgrades to help guard against extended blackouts, in order to be able to keep spent nuclear fuel cool and avoid meltdowns. Plant owners were ordered to invest in more portable power equipment in plants and nearby sites, improve instruments that measure the levels of water inside spent fuel pools and expand post-9/11 protections against terrorist attacks from single reactors to multiple reactors, among other actions. Plant operators think the first wave of these post-Fukushima upgrades are thought to cost around $3.6 billion over the next few years, according to a Platts survey.
With all of this potential danger for catastrophe, how can nuclear power still be a viable option? Lochbaum, for his part, says he’s not pro-nuclear or anti-nuclear -- just pro-safety.
“There’s no totally good or totally bad way to generate electricity,” Lochbaum says. “Nuclear has some certain advantages -- we basically recognize that it’s better than fossil fuel in terms of [contributing to] global warming. The key is to extract as many benefits from the technology that we can, while minimizing opportunities for bad things to happen.”
Reporter covering the green technology space, with a particular focus on smart grid, demand response, energy storage, renewable energy and technology to integrate distributed, intermittent green energy into the grid.
5.3 From Truthout News, March 14, 2011
Tokyo Electric to Build US Nuclear Plants: The No BS Info on Japan's Disastrous Nuclear Operators
Monday, 14 March 2011 13:38 By Greg Palast, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis | name.
Texas nuclear plants planned by Tokyo Electric (Image: NINA)
I need to speak to you, not as a reporter, but in my former capacity as lead investigator in several government nuclear plant fraud and racketeering investigations.
I don't know the law in Japan, so I can't tell you if Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) can plead insanity to the homicides about to happen.
But what will Obama plead? The administration, just months ago, asked Congress to provide a $4 billion loan guarantee for two new nuclear reactors to be built and operated on the Gulf Coast of Texas - by TEPCO and local partners. As if the Gulf hasn't suffered enough. Here are the facts about TEPCO and the industry you haven't heard on CNN:
The failure of emergency systems at Japan's nuclear plants comes as no surprise to those of us who have worked in the field.
Nuclear plants the world over must be certified for what is called "SQ" or "Seismic Qualification." That is, the owners swear that all components are designed for the maximum conceivable shaking event, be it from an earthquake or an exploding Christmas card from al-Qaeda.
The most inexpensive way to meet your SQ is to lie. The industry does it all the time. The government team I worked with caught them once, in 1988, at the Shoreham plant in New York. Correcting the SQ problem at Shoreham would have cost a cool billion, so engineers were told to change the tests from "failed" to "passed."
The company that put in the false safety report? Stone & Webster, now the nuclear unit of Shaw Construction, which will work with TEPCO to build the Texas plant. Lord help us.
Last night, I heard CNN reporters repeat the official line that the tsunami disabled the pumps needed to cool the reactors, implying that water unexpectedly got into the diesel generators that run the pumps.
These safety backup systems are the "EDGs" in nuke-speak: Emergency Diesel Generators. That they didn't work in an emergency is like a fire department telling us they couldn't save a building because "it was on fire."
What dim bulbs designed this system? One of the reactors dancing with death at Fukushima Station 1 was built by Toshiba. Toshiba was also an architect of the emergency diesel system.
Now be afraid. Obama's $4 billion bailout in the making is called the South Texas Project. It's been sold as a red-white-and-blue way to make power domestically with a reactor from Westinghouse, a great American brand. However, the reactor will be made substantially in Japan by the company that bought the US brand name, Westinghouse - Toshiba.
I once had a Toshiba computer. I only had to send it in once for warranty work. However, it's kind of hard to mail back a reactor with the warranty slip inside the box if the fuel rods are melted and sinking halfway to the earth's core.
TEPCO and Toshiba don't know what my son learned in eighth grade science class: tsunamis follow Pacific Rim earthquakes. So, these companies are real stupid, eh? Maybe. More likely is that the diesels and related systems wouldn't have worked on a fine, dry afternoon.
Back in the day, when we checked the emergency backup diesels in America, a mind-blowing number flunked. At the New York nuclear plant, for example, the builders swore under oath that their three diesel engines were ready for an emergency. They'd been tested. The tests were faked; the diesels run for just a short time at low speed. When the diesels were put through a real test under emergency-like conditions, the crankshaft on the first one snapped in about an hour, then the second and third. We nicknamed the diesels, "Snap, Crackle and Pop."
(Note: Moments after I wrote that sentence, word came that two of three diesels failed at the Tokai Station as well.)
In the US, we supposedly fixed our diesels after much complaining by the industry. But in Japan, no one tells TEPCO to do anything the Emperor of Electricity doesn't want to do.
I get lots of confidential notes from nuclear industry insiders. One engineer, a big name in the field, is especially concerned that Obama waved the come-hither check to Toshiba and TEPCO to lure them to America. The US has a long history of whistleblowers willing to put themselves on the line to save the public. In our racketeering case in New York, the government only found out about the seismic test fraud because two courageous engineers, Gordon Dick and John Daly, gave our team the documentary evidence.
In Japan, it's simply not done. The culture does not allow the salary men, who work all their lives for one company, to drop the dime.
Not that US law is a wondrous shield: both engineers in the New York case were fired and blacklisted by the industry. Nevertheless, the government (local, state, federal) brought civil racketeering charges against the builders. The jury didn't buy the corporation's excuses and, in the end, the plant was, thankfully, dismantled.
Am I on some kind of xenophobic anti-Nippon crusade? No. In fact, I'm far more frightened by the American operators in the South Texas nuclear project, especially Shaw. Stone & Webster, now the Shaw nuclear division, was also the firm that conspired to fake the EDG tests in New York (The company's other exploits have been exposed by their former consultant, John Perkins, in his book, "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man."). If the planet wants to shiver, consider this: Toshiba and Shaw have recently signed a deal to become worldwide partners in the construction of nuclear stations.
The other characters involved at the South Texas Plant that Obama is backing should also give you the willies. But as I'm in the middle of investigating the American partners, I'll save that for another day.
So, if we turned to America's own nuclear contractors, would we be safe? Well, two of the melting Japanese reactors, including the one whose building blew sky high, were built by General Electric of the Good Old US of A.
After Texas, you're next. The Obama administration is planning a total of $56 billion in loans for nuclear reactors all over America.
And now, the homicides:
CNN is only interested in body counts, how many workers burnt by radiation, swept away or lost in the explosion. These plants are now releasing radioactive steam into the atmosphere. Be skeptical about the statements that the "levels are not dangerous." These are the same people who said these meltdowns could never happen. Over years, not days, there may be a thousand people, two thousand, ten thousand who will suffer from cancers induced by this radiation.
In my New York investigation, I had the unhappy job of totaling up post-meltdown "morbidity" rates for the county government. It would be irresponsible for me to estimate the number of cancer deaths that will occur from these releases without further information; but it is just plain criminal for the TEPCO shoguns to say that these releases are not dangerous.
Indeed, the fact that residents near the Japanese nuclear plants were not issued iodine pills to keep at the ready shows TEPCO doesn't care who lives and who dies, whether in Japan or the USA. The carcinogenic isotopes that are released at Fukushima are already floating to Seattle with effects we simply cannot measure.
Heaven help us. Because Obama won't.
Disclaimer: This briefing paper was compiled primarily by Dr. James M. Rine, who accepts responsibility for its content, but was reviewed for content and format by members of the OilPatch Democrats Executive Committee.
Reviewing OilPatch Democrats Executive Committee Members:
John R. Behrman
John W. Preston
Tom Rowan, Jr.
For questions or comments regarding this document, contact Jim Rine at email@example.com or 281-414-1386.
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