Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Offshore energy

That exploding oil rig in the Gulf made for a rather awkward Earth Day. With Obama recently lifting the ban on off shore drilling, this event should give us a pause to the potential human and environmental hazards that come with operation of oceanic oil wells. And the situation isn’t looking good either. The slick is currently 80 miles long and 40 miles wide with 42,000 gallons of crude oil leaking a day. Containment efforts have not yet been successful and BP estimates 90 days until the leak can be shut off. The Coast Guard has gone ahead and made the decision to burn the oil. Risky business, this is first time setting fire to an oil slick will be utilized for such a large spill. But the alternative being letting the oil reach land, it may be the best chance to curb the environmental impact.

Is it safe? More than 90% of the oil will be converted to carbon dioxide and water through combustion. But the plume of black smoke generated will contain plenty of toxic chemicals. Crude oil is primarily a nasty mix of hydrocarbons and including many carcinogenic PAHs, and burning of the oil will only result in the formation of pyrogenic contaminants and volatile organic compounds as well. As the plume of smoke is carried into the atmosphere, local weather conditions will be the controlling factor for the human and environmental health impact. This is definitely a news story that you will want to keep your eye on as the situation changes daily.


Anyways, there is some good off-shore energy news. The US has just approved the construction of the first offshore wind farm. Located 14mi off of Massachusetts, the 130 turbine station will generate enough power for 3/4th of Cape Cod, or about 225,000 residents. Energy production could start as soon as 2012.

Wind power is one of the cleanest sources of renewable energy. It requires no fuel to run, releases no emissions and has a minimal environmental impact. Offshore farms are particullaly appealing because their prohibitive set up cost is offset by high energy yields. Because the ocean surface is smooth compared to land, sustained wind speeds are on average much greater. It’s rather disappointing that the US is only now jumping on this. Off shore wind power could potentially be great additions to energy grid in coastal regions (see pic), and for this reason, I wish the Mass. farm great success. Hopefully it will encourage lawmakers to allow construction of additional wind farms around the country (I’m looking at you, Long Island).

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