Friday, February 29, 2008

At a loss...

It is particularly difficult to blog this week. Maybe the test burned me out, or maybe the news is just as drab as usual. There was a huge gas explosion somewhere in Europe (I already forgot where). In the title linked article, BBC reports on Russia supporting Iran's purely "civilian" nuclear program (yeah right). And oil prices are at an all time high today (predictable).

I know next week we have to write about the election and such - so I want to save the candidates' energy policies for that blog. I know if I don't get it out now, next week could turn into my own personal anti-war blog...

The death toll for American soldiers in Iraq is close to 4000 now - but there are many things to consider with this number. Include the deaths in neighboring countries where we are also fighting (5000). This doesn't include the thousands (millions?) of Iraqi deaths. And also consider the times. In WWII, when a man lost both of his legs he was almost guaranteed to be a casualty. Today, that same man has a good chance of living in a wheel chair the rest of his life (or lucky enough to be given prosthetic legs). Either way, he is moved to the list of nearly 30,000 wounded soldiers. It got me thinking about how many of the wounded men and women fighting in the Middle East are airlifted to our military bases in Germany. The hospital I was born at (while my father was serving the USAF) in Landstuhl is now a huge medical center for the war!

The other day, I spoke with several people about Obama's promise to withdraw all the troops from Iraq. They were either strongly for him and his plan or very strongly against it. Nobody commented on the obvious absurdity of his promise. Do people not realize we have consistantly had troops in Germany since WWII?!? We will be in Iraq until the end of our lifetimes.

War is like a tatoo, it is permanent. There are ways to remove it, but they are painful and leave scars.

When will a candidate be brave enough to step up and say, "Look, we may or may not have messed up here but it is too late to debate. Let's be strong and do the best we can for all parties involved. Let's finish the job we started and leave the World a better place because of this..." Wow, I sure do dream big ;)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Water and Ethanol

There has been a lot of attention brought out in the media recently bringing attention to the troubles in making biofuels – in particular corn based ethanol. There are concerns about the energy intensity of ethanol and questions of how green the production of ethanol is. Using corn based ethanol is also driving the price of corn up. Additionally, producing corn based ethanol requires a lot of water despite technology improvements in plant efficiency over the last 10 years. An article in the Economist – Ethanol and Water Don’t Mix discusses how ethanol plants are being built and then requesting insane amounts of water. The Florida plant discussed in the article requested 400 million gallons per day. Citizens in other states are also stepping out against ethanol plants being built. I hope this starts to get noticed by our politicians, and they realize this does not make any sense! Ethanol is already driving up the cost of food, what next? I don’t want to see the cost of water and availability of water increase because we’re making bad energy choices.

Exxon Valdez

I read this on

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard the famous Exxon Valdez case. We all know what happened back in 1989, and now the issue is the amount of punitive damages being assessed to the company. The initial amount was $5 billion, which was then reduced to $2.5 billion, and is now being appealed again in the Supreme Court. The article states that the justices "seemed inclined to reduce the $2.5 billion award of punitive damages to victims of the Exxon Valdez disaster."

Exxon argues that it has already paid about three and a half billion dollars in fines, cleanup costs, etc., and does not see the punitive damages as fair. Also, they argue that the ship's captain, Joseph Hazelwood, is not their responsibility, and they shouldn't be liable for his actions.

The spill severly damaged the water, wildlife, and fishing and shipping industry in that area of Alaska, and many residents claim they are still feeling the effects of the spill, many financially, and some even emotionally. Many residents lost jobs, some lost their marriages, and someone even lost their life. (I believe it was the mayor who committed suicide, but if someone could correct me if I'm wrong, please.)

Anyways, after reading about it, I tend to favor the Alaskan residents on this one. To be honest, I don't know if $5 billion is too much, or $2.5 billion is to little, but I don't think it should be reduced any further. I know Exxon denies responsibility for Hazelwood, but there are some reports by the prosecution that the company knew about his drinking before taking the helm, and whether this is true or not, I still feel it's negligence on Exxon.

It was bad enough that the environment suffered from this, but the people seem to not have recovered from it, and I don't think I can blame them, not without actually living through it myself and seeing it out. Maybe I'm being naive; I'm not a law student, but this is just my opinion. And besides, didn't these guys just post $40 billion in profits? Please, $2.5 billion is nothing.

AZ: The Persian Gulf of Solar Energy

Today I read an article on CNN about a solar plant in AZ in the early stages of production. A company called Abengoa Solar, which has plants in Spain, northern Africa and other parts of the U.S, plans to build a 280 MW plant outside of Phoenix. Instead of photovoltaics, this plant plans to use the solar thermal approach. This makes sense because from class we learned that PV technology is currently much more expensive and efficiency is not all that great. The company is unfortunately holding its breath, waiting for the extension of the federal solar investment tax credit.

I like any article I see about solar or wind energy. Especially when it's my home state (Maybe someday we can challenge TX in a solar vs. wind battle for renewable energy supremacy) You really can't go wrong. Hopefully congress gets its act together and extends these important tax credits on renewable energy. They are currently held up on whether we should tax American oil (see Rob Petter to pay Paul). Maybe they should first pass the important uncontroversial items in one bill and then debate the controversial items. At least that way we can move forward.

Low wind and cold weather causes electricity shortage in Texas

Reuters reports that on Tuesday night a combination of low wind conditions and cold weather, which boosted demand at a peak time in the early evening caused a shortage in electricity available to the Texas grid.
ERCOT immediately cut off supply of 1100 MW to its interruptible customers ( industries, who the utilities can cut power to in an emergency).
ERCOT reports that wind power quickly dropped from 2300 mw of generation to less than 300 mw, leading to the crisis.  
This is interesting because it is the first grid (near) failure I have read about due to alternative energy.  It is also a powerful reminder that though wind power may be trendy at the moment, it is intermittent and can never be counted on to supply our base load.

Get your news at Burger King

I went for routine physical on Tuesday around 2:00 pm, and was a little early for my appointment. There was a Burger King across the street and I was hungry so I decided to get a Big Fish value meal. This includes a tasty big fish sandwich, a medium coke, and medium fries. (BTW, this is probably one of the least healthiest meals on BK's menu, or any other menu).

In any case, as I sat there enjoying my food, my eye caught the flashing red "NEWS FLASH" sign going across the BK dinning area plasma screen (Yes, the BK on 35th street and Jefferson has plasma!). The story of the Florida blackout being covered live on CNN. They kept showing live aerial footage from helicopters of what was happening on the street, as cars were trying to get past each other at traffic intersection, and people were aimlessly meandering on the street. They also kept showing some taped footage of a nuclear power plant off the coast.

As I watched the news story and the aerial footage that they were showing I could not stop thinking that if all the roofs that the helicopters kept flying over were covered by solar panels much of mayhem caused by this outage could have been avoided.

Sure there is the issue of, how the traffic lights would work, how xyz could have worked, but if each building was served by a solar panel, and if the power generated was either supplemented by the electrical grid or fed back to the electrical grid, or if the solar panels served as a electrical standby with battery storage and back-up so they could work if there was a problem with the distribution grid or if the problem occurred at night, that would be a good thing.

Any thoughts? About the idea or your experiences at BK.

Eskimo village in Alaska sues for $400 million.

In an article in cnn a small village comprising roughly 400 prople close to Anchorage has sued 14 oil companies and a coal company for reportedly being the major cause for the global warming in the area. Their operations have caused such a drastic change in the weather pattern that the ice now forms later and melts earlier. The main livelihood for the villagers is fishing and the hunting of whale, shark,caribou etc. which has been greatly affected due to the irrepairable damage that has been inflicted on the ecosystem.

This reinforces the severity of global warming as we had stressed in class. We are living in a part of the world where the effects have not been felt yet and hence more extensive measures have not been implemented. I hope that the government now wakes up to the concerns of thousands of specialists who have been preeching the horrfying effects of climate change. Who knows, maybe 40 years down the line the places like Galveston and Freeport and New Orleans would be inundated in water. I just pray that it doesnt get down to that. We need to act now. Quoting Barack Obama -- this is the "time for Change"!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rob Peter to pay Paul

The House passed a bill that would basically increase the tax burden for oil companies. The news media claims it’s new taxes but actually most of it will come from rolling back taxes credits oil companies receive now. The House bill amounts to $18 billion over 10 years and it only targets the 5 largest US oil and gas companies.

The vision is to use the money to provide tax breaks for alternative energy sources (wind and solar) and for energy conservation programs. In order to justify the measure targeting those 5 companies, analysis was done by the House Ways and Means Committee and they estimated that those same 5 companies earned $123 billion last year.

The White House has signaled that it will veto the bill because it unfairly targets the oil industry. Some critics of the bill argue that it will not reduce gas prices and in fact it might cause them to increase in the short run. Others argue that this might cause gas prices to fall in the future because the funding from this bill will speed up the development of alternatives to gas thereby reducing its price.

Going back to the logic of energy independence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the bill would increase energy independence and lower energy costs because it directs new funds to clean technology. On the other hand, the oil industry feels that such a bill in fact reduces energy security and independence by discouraging new domestic oil and gas production. The White House agreed with the energy industry.

Well this is the raw data – now what? I agree that we should invest in clean technology and we should do that aggressively. However, I disagree with the notion of rob Peter to pay Paul. Of course I’m biased towards to the oil and gas industry but at the same time when the industry fell on hard times (80’s and early 90’s) no one came to the rescue saying here’s a bail out right? What people fail to realize is that an oil company invests billions of dollars on a project today that will return money 10 years from now. That’s part of the reason they’re making money now (ok maybe lots of money). Most of the projects making money today were developed in the late 90’s when oil was trading around $20 or so. I can’t blame them for doing that! Does Congress realize that when Exxon or Chevron today finds a field they will price oil at around $30 to $40 and then see if it will be economical? Of course they’ll be happy if oil stays at $100 but at the same time they’ll shell out billions of dollars before they see a drop of oil. Who knows what the price of oil will be in 3 years? Is Congress willing to guarantee a price of oil at $100 a barrel? I’m sure the oil companies wouldn’t mind giving up $18 billion then.

Like I said, I’m not against investments in clean tech but we should do it in a smart way and this to me doesn’t seem to be too smart.

A link to the article on Yahoo news can be found below:

What China needs government participation...sweet government participation

I understand that this is difficult for China because they are a huge country, frankly it is expected that they have more emissions that the US...they've got over 3 times more people, they are still developing (this period is the industrial revolution for China in my opinion). If they ever want to compete on a world scale now is the time for them to step up in terms of productivity.
They must strongly believe that somehow, environmental restrictions will hinder their growth...but what they really need to know is that now is the time to start to control emissions and their governments need to create ways by which they can do so without killing their economy. It is important for them to know that they too, can create "green collar jobs" (Hillary Clinton, 2008 presidential campaign ).
The startling fact that they build 1 coal powered plant a week (from reading, China's coal future) gives a scale of their problems...They need the electric power (essentially to make their lives better), but are doing a great deal of harm as a result.
Maybe I'm uninformed but I hear about all these issues with Chinese production (in general) and their lack of regulations but I don't hear anything about their government's efforts to improve things. If possible, they should also share their measures with one of the many international organizations that are tackling climate change so the world knows their efforts, and countries can exchange ideas, etc. (Actually, the US needs to get in on that too if they aren't already).
Global warming and safety are not things that can be left for companies to tackle on their own...I say it's time for some government participation!

No Such thing as a Sustainable Biofuel

"Apart from used chip fat, there is no such thing as a sustainable biofuel." This is one of the concluding remarks in a article that was printed in a UK paper the Guardian. The author, George Monbiot, writes a very interesting piece that describes why biofuels in any form are not the answer (although he does not address algae). The article discusses how forests are being cut down at an alarming rate, especially in the tropical peet forests. The solution to this is to only allow the biofuels to come from current farmland which is great but the problem is that now the forests are torn down to grow food while the biofuels come from current farmland. He then addresses the current thinking that we can use crop wastes and switchgrass for biofuels. The problem with this, Monbiot writes, is that using these takes nutrients from the soil and increases soil erosion 100 fold. "Our addiction to the car, in other words, could lead to peak soil as well as peak oil." His conclusion is that biofuels cannot be the answer and that the oil companies are hiding the fact that oil production is starting to decline and we will not be able to meet demand. The only solution to our problem is to reduce consumption. One last great quote -- "Global supplies of political courage appear, unfortunately, to have peaked some time ago."
Is this man right? Is political courage gone? Can Obama or Hillary not say to people to "Get out of your SUV and take the bus". Can McCain not say "Sorry gas prices are rising and they will never come down, get used to it and ride a train." Would these candidates not be electable if they said what needed to be said. I wish that George Bush would take these last few months in office and tell the American people what they need to hear. People need to stop driving their cars so much, take the bus, walk, amtrak, carpool. It may be inconvenient but if everyone does it we will see a huge change which alternative fuels will not be able to bring about for years. Bush does not care about opinion polls so tell us the truth. Oil production will not be able to meet future demands. Maybe he could propose raising the cost of gasoline on individual consumers to force people to take another form of transportation. Use that income to give subsidies to the public transportation industries to keep the fares of buses low and to implement the "15 year transportation goals" in 5 years. In Austin, we could use the money from the increased tax on gasoline to get the light rail down Mopac started and get the Amtrak to stop being so slow and unreliable and be more like up in the northeast. Stop trying to relieve traffic on roads and shift that money into public transportation in order to force people to take it. The less convenient driving is, the more likely people will be to try something else. But no politicians can afford to do this because they will lose the election. Anyone else feel this way?

Dedicated Ethanol Pipeline

Despite all the criticism and scrutiny directed towards biofuels these days—and corn-based ethanol in particular—a dedicated ethanol pipeline has been proposed to be constructed in the U.S.. Magellan Midstream Partners, L.P. and Buckeye Partners, L.P. made an announcement last week that they are conducting a “joint assessment to determine the feasibility of constructing a dedicated ethanol pipeline”. The preliminary cost estimate is in excess of $3 billion. The pipeline will span 1,700 miles from Iowa to the New York harbor with a capacity to transport 10 million gallons of ethanol per day (>3 bgy). According to Magellan, the assessment should be completed later this year.

The key reason to construct dedicated pipelines, rather than using existing petroleum pipelines, is primarily related to the corrosion potential of ethanol. If water contaminates a batch of gasoline, it will quickly separate and can be easily drained off. Not the case for ethanol; water is very soluble in ethanol enhancing the potential for corrosion. In addition, if ethanol were transported via existing pipelines there is concern that it could contaminate some petroleum products that cannot tolerate even trace amounts of ethanol (e.g. jet fuel). A dedicated pipeline could resolve these issues and could drastically reduce the cost and energy expenditures currently associated with transporting ethanol via railcars and trucks.

Coincidentally, a Brazilian consortium, led by state-owned Petrobras, has announced their intention to construct a massive ethanol pipeline. According to a posting on Green Car Congress, the pipeline would run from the central state of Goias to a refinery in Paulinia, near Sao Paulo, through Brazil’s main producing centers of sugar cane and ethanol. With a cost of $226 million, the pipeline will be capable of transporting 4 billion liters of ethanol per year (~1 bgy). Brazil has plans to export ethanol to Venezuela, Nigeria (apparently these countries don't have enough oil), and possibly China, South Korea, India, and the US (what about the import tariff?).

If one considers the basket of state and federal policies that currently prop up the U.S. ethanol industry, it is obvious that the construction of a dedicated ethanol pipeline is very risky . The existing tax incentives and subsidies have expiration dates that may or may not be extended. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which was increased in December with the passing of the EISA bill, will require a huge expansion of the biofuels industry (36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2020). The RFS includes provisions requiring the mix of fuels to be derived from sources other than starch-based ethanol. Therefore, the center of biofuels production could (and should) shift away from King Corn. The article posted on Magellan’s website states the risk clearly:
"Congressional support and assistance is necessary for a project of this nature given the changing federal policies associated with renewable fuels.”

Biofuels on Maiden Voyage

An article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal by Scott McCartney covered the maiden voyage of a Virgin Atlantic Airlines Boeing 747 testing an 80% jet fuel/20% biofuel blend over the weekend. The fuel (oil) was derived from "naturally grown plants". The article states that the airlines are under mounting pressure to reduce GHGs that contribute to global warming, even though aviation's pollutants amounts to less than 3% of all emissions. The article points out that "...scientists have concerns that pollutants dropped directly into high altitudes may be more dangerous than those released on the ground."

Mr. McCartney points out an important technical distinction in the use of biofuels for aviation, in that the biofuels do not burn any cleaner in jet engines than kerosene (basis for jet fuel), with emissions approximately the same. "But proponents say biofuels can reduce total environmental damage by 20% because it is less harmful to produce." This reader believes that time will tell as the technology to mass produce these fuels gets better developed.

Interestingly, the article makes another comment regarding trends in thinking: "Environmentalists in Europe have begun to question whether ultra cheap tickets lead to frivolous travel and unnecessary pollution." This thought could synch with the notion put forth in the same article that suggests that airlines are not realizing that environmental issues, more than economic slowdowns or airspace congestion, may be the greatest threat to the future of air travel.

I can imagine a day when a tax on carbon emissions has an impact on the airlines' choice to burn release fewer GHGs emissions, but not until then. Or, worked another way, Mr. Branson of Virgin has called on the UK government to reduce taxes on passengers with airlines that reduce emissions, with savings passed directly to passengers. Mr. Branson's desire in this regard is kinda like the fuel hedging concept that Southwest so famously worked to their advantage until recently. My hat is off to him for trying, and maybe he will save some GHG emissions in the process of becoming more competitive.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

2008 Olympics in (cough) Beijing

Reading this week's assignment, I was stunned to learn that air pollution is the leading cause of death in China, killing one million people each year.

I am reminded of the New York Times' doomsday "China: Choking on Growth" series. In a recent installment, the Times elucidates the challenges Beijing is having cleaning up its air in time for the Olympics this summer. Beijing apparently secured the 2008 Olympic games by making promises of cleaning up its skies. Yet despite its best efforts -- moving or shutting down polluting factories, for instance -- pollution continues to skyrocket thanks to rising auto emissions and rampant construction, neither of which look to subside any time soon. I can think of no bigger spotlight (or PR tool) on the dangers of fossil fuel than watching athletes gasping for air. How embarrassing would it be for China if a country withheld its athletes from participating in the Olympics out of protest over air quality?

I'm aware that the US media tends to be hypercritical of China -- and perhaps the thought of athletes suffocating in mid-stride is sensational -- but the fact that the city periodically issues stay-inside warnings during heavy pollution days isn't exactly reassuring.

If I recall correctly from our readings, coal plants spring up in China at a rate of one per week. Even using low-sulfur coal, there is as yet no such thing as "clean coal," and China's solution so far has been to sweep things under the rug rather than do things right from the outset. This will come back to haunt them -- more so than it already has -- perhaps in time for the summer games.

Oil and Gas Secrets Theft in Brazil

This topic has appeared in the Economist the last several weeks. Most recently as "Whodunnit?" in Feb 23rd issue.

Following Petrobras' recent announcements that they had discovered vast new oil and gas discoveries in the deep waters off their Rio di Janeiro coast . . . .

Four laptops and two hard disks were reported stolen from a contianer ship while traveling at sea. Apparently the stolen material consisted of test results obtained for Petrobras by Haliburton for their new deep gas field. The cost for such a field is unknown, and the technology to develop it, unproven. But it must have been interesting to someone!

The most interesting question however would be; why was commercially sensitive material being transported in containers on a ship? and; how the theives knew exactly where to look (i.e. which container on the ship, which disks and laptops). This incident is 'being investigated' and Brasilian President Lula da Silva has commented on the apperance of industrial espionage!

rising inflation in oil rich nations

With oil prices hovering around the $100 mark one assumes that the oil bearing nations are rolling in the dough and not worrying about such things as inflation. To the contrary, even with huge profits from oil, many Middle Eastern nations are facing rising inflation and poverty. See here.

The NY Times article mainly focuses on Jordan, where inflation has risen due to a weakened American dollar but also because of the lifting of government subsidies. It almost seems absurd that oil producing nations have trouble providing fuel to their own citizens, but the reality is that as these subsidies are lifted, the prices increase dramatically. From the Times:
…in Jordan, the cost of maintaining fuel subsidies amid the surge in prices forced the government to remove almost all the subsidies this month, sending the price of some fuels up 76 percent overnight. In a devastating domino effect, the cost of basic foods like eggs, potatoes and cucumbers doubled or more.

We’ve seen stuff like this before though. Remember the riots in Iran last year? They’re oil rich but have limited refining capabilities, so while they produce ~4.3 billion barrels/day1, they’re forced to import gasoline. So while they make money selling crude at high prices, they take a hit from importing gasoline.

In the case of rising inflation, some theories have been thrown out there mainly focusing on corruption within the government. I would suspect that these are part of the problem, but you have to look at the increasing costs of energy on the world market. The problem will only get worse as a lot of these countries don't invest in long term infrastructure (minus the U.A.E.) that will benefit them when the rest of the world isn't dependent on their oil. With that said, I don’t see a shortage of silver plated cars or Saudi Palaces.

1 For 2006, BP Statistical Review 2007

Solar Energy: for cooking!!

When we analyze ways to augment energy production, I think we should spare a moment to focus on activities having major energy demands. Then effort should be directed toward creating a number of viable options for people to use. Awareness about the available choices will definitely lead to sensible energy consumption patterns

Thinking on these lines, I guess, creating viable alternate fuels for cooking would benefit a lot of people. What works for a certain area may not work else where because of availability of resources/logistics; but solar cooking definitely works in India--with India receiving daily solar energy of 5 to 7 KWH/M2 for 300 to 330 days in a year, using the sun’s rays as fuel is turning out to be a successful proposition

A vast majority of people in the lower economic strata in India have been facing problems of cooking fuel and forage in nearby wooded areas for firewood leading to depletion of forest cover. However, since 1982, the Indian Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources has taken up popularizing a method of using solar energy for cooking. When sunlight falls on a black surface it is absorbed and transformed into heat. Glass has the property of letting in light but not heat. If a shallow glass covered chamber coated black inside and insulated all around is exposed to sunlight the temperature inside exceeds 100 degree Celsius, sufficient to cook food. More heat can be achieved by having an exterior reflector. The solar box cooker incorporates these features(

A solar cooker is a box shaped slow cooking device which can cook four dishes at a time. It is an ideal device for domestic cooking in India during most of the year except the monsoon season and cloudy days. Cookers with electrical back up could be used even during non-sunshine hours. This cooker is made available for around the equivalent of 25$ (it’s being subsidized by the government) and has no recurring cost thereafter (

This is slowly changing rural India and seems a viable option for third world countries in the African continent for instance, as they too enjoy hot tropical weather with bright sunshine for most of the year!!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Competitive Renewable Energy Zones- Texas leads the way

Texas, is now the national leader in wind production.  Yet it still faces the problem that many other states do, the wind isn't where the people is.  Let me now add a thought onto that.  If few people or industry are in area, it is unlikely that there will be a topnotch electricity transmission grid.
With the rapid development of wind farms in these sparsely populated areas of Texas this is fast becoming a problem.  Many of the transmission lines that can bring the power from the areas it is produced to the areas it is consumed are at full capacity.  This in turn lead to a catch 22, wind developers could not build wind farms where there is no transmission, and the states would not build transmission lines where there was no wind farms.
Texas is again leading the way in energy policy with the creation of Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZs).  This was part of TExas Senate bill 20, meant to facilitate renewable energy development.  These zones were named by a study done by the Electricity Reliability Council Of Texas (ERCOT) and the Public Utilities Commission of Texas (PUCT).  They identified 25 zones where wind power could be profitably developed, which were grouped into 4 zones: the panhandle, mid-western Texas, the gulf coast and the McCamey area.   
Under the CREZ plan, the state will build high voltage transmission lines out to these areas to facilitate development of the in place wind assets.  Senate Bill 20, mandated large increases in the production of renewable power.  however, unlike a lot of legislation it also included mechanisms such as CREZ to enable that to happen.  This is a true public private partnership.  The state takes the necessary steps to allow development, and trust that the market will take care of the rest.
I think this is a great public-private partnership, and a innovative way to solve a problem that has been hamstringing wind power.

OIL! Texas Museum Visit

I was really quite excited about my visit to the museum. I had wanted to go for quite a while and now I had a great excuse to go. While I was there, I noticed that behind the many exhibits touting the accomplishments of Texans there was a great sense that oil in Texas has made it a national and international leader over the past century like no other state in the Union.

I think what has made this possible is the entrepreneurial nature of Texas. Texas has quite a history of risk and adventure. It is a wild land with a dicotomous appeal. On the one hand it is rich in mineral resources, but on the other hand it is completely without natural water resources. It is a desert of riches if you will.

Because of the this reality, Texans have long had a keen since that risks were not simply worth taking, but that they were a necessary part of daily life. I felt that in the exhibit and also felt a great sense of pride to at all be a part of that as a student here that is himself focused on energy. I think that everyone should be proud of this great exhibit (as notorious as the word oil is becoming) . It's a part of what make our time here GREAT.


"A Pollution Scorecard" by the NY Times....

Looks like the SMART FORTWO (think DaVinci code, running through the streets of Paris) is competing for the title of "greenest" car in the US. Fighting for the highest rank with Toyota and Honda (Nissan managed to get the #6 slot), the SMART runs a very respectable race at #4. This little car is a 2-seater, with just enough room behind the seats to put a bag of groceries and (if you aren't an engineering student with 50 lbs of books in your bag) your backpack. You can park it nose-first into the curb, since it is as long as the texas-typical truck is wide. It gets just under 50 mpg, meets all US safety standards, and runs around on its 1-liter 3-cylinder engine like gasoline is going out of style (oh wait... it is!).

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Texas Oil!

I was able to successfully sneak myself and my 9 year old neice into the Texas History Museum. Not necessarily ethical, but after previous reviews of the exhibit I didn't feel like spending the $12. After making my way to the third floor I was trying to find something to write about rather than taking in the scenery. Not being a native Texan, I actually learned quite a bit about Texas history and the role oil played in the mid 20th century. I did not know that all of my trust fund friends live off money that was fairly recently aquired. I did not know that oil was the catalyst for Texans moving from rural to urban areas, or the reason for Texans transition from agriculture to manufacturing. My neice was more impressed with the clothing from Neiman-Marcus than the drill bits or the life-size "Give me water, not oil" farmer raking oil in his crop. We did however analyze the material the "oil" was made of. Final remarks: the sample of actual moon rock next to the mock-astronaut was the highlight of the third floor exhibits.

Howard Hughes and Texas

To be honest I wasn't super pumped about having to go the museum. Between finding the time to get over there during the day and the cost of admission I had a pretty negative mindset about this experience.

Someone in a previous blog mentioned the drill bit exhibit in the museum and the connection to Howard Hughes. It is interesting that a relatively simple product was so innovative to the drilling process for rotary oil drilling rigs and generated so much wealth for the Hughes family. I think most people don't realize that the Hughes Tool Company in Houston, Texas is the vehicle that provided the wealth for Howard Hughes, Jr and allowed him to pursue his fascination with Hollywood and aeronautics. So in a sense, Texas energy and oil provided the capital that produced motion pictures and generated the Hughes Aircraft Company which became one of he largest American defense contractors.

Hughes Tool was eventually sold and merged with Baker Int'l to become Baker Hughes, Inc. I actually worked 5 years for Baker Oil Tools, a division within Baker Hughes. The manufacturing plant I worked was the site of one of the original Hughes Tool Company facilities in east Houston.

A modern boomtown...sort of

There is not much else to say about the museum exhibit. However, the Texas oil boom reminded me of a modern day boomtown…sort of (Dubai’s current growth is not directly financed by oil). Initially built with oil wealth, Dubai’s now makes its fortune in trade, manufacturing and financial services. Petroleum and natural gas make up less than 6% of Dubai’s revenue. A quick Google image search will show the astounding transformation of Dubai in less than 20 years. Today we see many countries benefiting from “oil booms” (i.e. Venezuela). Some are even using oil revenues to prepare for a world after peak oil, something the US companies should consider.

Texas History and Oil

Today was my first time to visit the Bob Bullock Museum during my five years as an Austin resident. I've been to the IMAX theater quite a few times but never had any reason to visit the museum portion, and I was pleasantly surprised. After reading previous posts, I expected to be disappointed with the exhibit; however, I felt the oil exhibit was adequate with respect to the general outlay of the museum, set up as an informative overview rather than in depth history lesson. As other posts have mentioned, students in Texas take a Texas history class typically during middle school (7th or 8th grade). I vaguely remember any mention of oil and how it changed the course of Texas history, only the Alamo and Stephen F. Austin; I learned more in the few hours of walking around the museum than I did through an entire year of Texas history.

I found the transition from farming to oil particularly interesting. The third floor begins with a journey through the lives of ranchers out in the wide expanse of the Texas frontier, gradually plotting land and settling down through the use of barbed wire. Then there was the history of rice and cotton in the 1880s (I do remember learning quite a bit about this in Texas history). The timber boom hit in the 1880s through the 1930s resulting in "timber towns" such as Diboll and Lufkin, TX. After walking through the Mining Quicksilver and Sheep exhibits, I started realizing a common theme that Texans strive to be the best in any occupation. Texas became the #2 quicksilver producer in the nation by 1940; more sheep and Angora goats were raised in Texas than any other part of the country. In the 1870s, Texans were the largest users of windmills in the USA due to pumping water out of the Ogallala aquifer for wheat farming. Then came the oil boom, and Texas became the largest producer almost overnight. Texans reinvented the industry by pioneering new tools such as the Texas Poor Boys and Christmas Trees. as well as new firefighting technique to quench the dangerous explosions and fires on the oil fields. Perhaps its the large expanse of Texas or just the innate exploratory nature of Texans, but it seems to me there is a common thread throughout Texas history which I hope continues into the next generation of alternative energies - innovation and the desire to be number one.

Energy in Texas

Permit me an attempt to illustrate the future of energy in Texas, and by extension that of the whole nation.

Wind power will keep on increasing, and Texans will be proud of leading the nation, especially since we don’t have the environmental stigma that is pinned on Californians. Eventually solar will become cost-effective, first popping up in various places that provide additional rebates, and then statewide as the incentive to invest becomes obvious. Geothermal in Texas will be hampered for a long time by permitting, regulations, and uncertain engineering relevant to the long-term economic and energy potential of various sites. It may never develop to its full potential because of preferred investments in renewable solar and wind. Energy efficiency, continually recognized as providing the most low-hanging fruit, will never be sexy enough to fully capture public attention and thus never play as effective a role as it could.

Natural gas, coal, and oil will continue to be our life-blood for as long as they are economical and likely even after this point. We have no alternatives right now. There is a chance that we will build more nuclear plants, but if we choose not to, it will be more because of the economics and the unrealistic fears of terrorism and catastrophe than because of concern for the implied responsibility to deal with the waste products. In the end, whether or not climate change becomes increasingly apparent and detrimental to society, we will not phase out coal and gas until we can do so without hurting the economy. This fact will continue to appear very reasonable given that climate change impacts may cripple an already unsteady economy, making significant expenses too costly to citizens to be politically viable. Carbon capture and sequestration, as hopeful as it is, will probably be too little too late. Overall, significant reductions in carbon emissions will likely occur at a much slower rate than is needed.

Likewise we will continue to use oil to fuel our cars, and this convenience will likely increase in price over the long term further hobbling an already weakened economy. But we will continue to drive everywhere, because we don’t particularly want to change. And we will continue to build sprawling cities dependent on driving everywhere, and the economic and social costs of doing so will become increasingly apparent yet just as certainly, completely intractable. Gas prices may eventually rise high enough that our society will face serious obstacles in providing basic human services. At the least, prices will rise high enough to contribute to an economic depression – even today, the price of transportation (buying a car and all the gas) cannot be separated from the debt-driven consumer society that has been over-extended credit.

Most hopefully we will manage to cobble together enough biofuel energy and vehicle-to-grid services along with depleting oil supplies that we can maintain our society at its current levels and avoid catastrophic social problems. If we manage this, it will come at an extreme cost to the environment – ecosystem services such as clean air and water will begin to diminish as biodiversity drops. This collapse will be related to continued CO2 emissions with their concomitant, unpredictable climatic results as well as the necessary increased agriculture production and land use, misuse of water resources, and pollution impacts.

A time frame for when and exactly how all of this will happen is pure speculation. Even less certain is how we might react to such problems. Major oil fields in Saudi Arabia won’t likely fail tomorrow, but production could drop significantly from demand with major economic consequences anytime in the next 50 years. Less predictable climatic events will occur more regularly over time, and the aggregation of such events will put additional strain on our political and economic systems. We choose this path, knowingly or unknowingly, because we are unable to redirect the inertia of 150 years of modern society. We have neither the necessary land ethic to treat the Earth as we would like to be treated, nor the ability to recognize the inevitable results of our current habits or foreswear the conveniences that we now consider our inalienable rights.

And Texas will be an energy leader through all of this.

Texas State History Museum: Oil Changed Texas

Before Texas became known for its oil production, Pennsylvania held the title of largest oil producing state in the US. Tides quickly changed with the discovery of Spindletop. Spindletop jump-started the Texas oil boom, at peak production it was said to produce 17.5 barrels annually. Texas soon thereafter produced boomtown after boomtown filled with speculators and those eager to get in on quick oil money. During the early 1900's Texas' population more than doubled, there seemed to be oil everywhere and even more people searching for it. Southern Coastal boomtowns like Corpus Chrisiti and Luling came about, while in North Texas there was Wichita Falls, Eastland, and Ranger. The biggest boom however was in East Texas, where things became so out of control Governor Sterling placed it under martial law, sending the National Guard to restore order. Between 1900-1950 the percentage of the population who lived in rural Texas went from 83% to 40% due to the search for oil. During this time span Texas also went from a farming and agricultural society to one based on oil production. As oil became more popular life for Texans went through drastic changes. Cars became popular, high end shopping such as Nieman Marcus became available, and oil tycoons like Jesse H. Jones and Stephen Hogg began their road to riches. Texas became a leader in oil production by learning to control, transport and retrieve oil. Technology also helped Texas in its quest, as Texas engineers learned how to make drills bigger and better. Oil truly did change Texas forever, and it is one reason that Texas is the state it currently we now know and love.

"Forget the Oil! I want water!"

What stood out to me most in the exhibit was a quote that went along the lines of "Forget the Oil! I want water!" At the time the man was quoted, there was presumably oil everywhere, yet no water nearby. We've seen the significant effect oil has had on every region it’s found and exploited in, whether that effect be positive or negative, or a mix of both. That oil, and the money it brings in, doesn't mean anything though, until the basics needs of people are met first. Which also brings me to what many think is the next big fight over a natural resource: the fight over water.

Texas State History Museum

We took a field trip to Bob Bullock when I was a senior in high school. I remember being very impressed by what I saw back then. So maybe the difference now is that I have four more years of education under my belt, and I went and looked at one specific exhibit this time rather than the whole museum, but I can't help but feel that the oil exhibit is not up to par with the rest of the museum. Normally I would have been bugged that I had to go all the way down there just for a mediocre exhibit, but luckily I was going to the U2 3D Imax so I wasn't too disappointed.
I agree with what most other posts have talked about, but one small thing that caught my eye was the sign talking about the baseball teams oil companies formed. It was interesting because the league was so competitive that companies would go to college and semi-pro players to recruit them to come work for them. It seems like we still have the same kind of cometitiveness in Texas sports.

"Oil Changed Texas" and so can Renewable Energy

Well after reading your blogs about your disappointment with the Oil Exhibit at the The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, I was all set to be disappointed, and with that expectation, the exhibit did not disappoint me.

There was something that found very interesting. There was a map of Texas with the regions colored where oil was discovered. It appeared that oil was discovered in about 50% of Texas, with the noted fields such as:

- Permian Basin and Big Lake Fields
- Panhandle Fields
- North Texas Fields
- East Texas Fields
- Sourlake Fields
- Spindletop Fields
- Humble Fields
- Southern Coastal Fields

Interestingly enough there were some maps that Dr. Webber had shown us during class where solar and wind would be effective technologies in Texas, and if I recall correctly those areas covered about 50% of Texas as well. As noted in the oil video in the museum, all the oil entrepreneurs needed was "creativity and a risk taking attitude" to make this industry grow, and maybe that is exactly what we need to make renewable energies grow. Hopefully 20 years from now, nicknames such as Wildcatter, Boll Weevil, Roughneck, and Roustaout will be uttered in fields of wind turbines and solar panels.

What's Next for Texas?

As my wife and I took in the exhibits at the Bob Bullock Museum today, I found myself amazed, as a non-native, how Texas continues to manage to live up to its own legend, building itself up from desert over and over again in different ways. Whether as frontier settlers trying to carve out their own destinies in a territory claimed by Mexico, trying to decide whether to join the Union or form an empire of their own, and discovering both the oil in its backyard and innovative ways to bring it up... Texas seems determined to always stake out its own path.

Oil in Texas particularly resonated with me, because we're standing at an energy crossroads now as much as we were at the turn of the previous century. Oil was on the verge of being used more and more, as renewables are poised now for greater market penetration. Wildcatters and workers came to Texas looking for oil because it represented the best opportunity in a fairly new economy, and the renewable energy entrepreneurs of today are looking for their own opportunities in Texas for establishing solar installations and wind farms, algae bioreactors and sites for CO2 injection/sequestration. This time, however, the potential for change seems even greater, because the resources we're seeking to tap -- solar, wind, algae -- aren't as exhaustible as oil.

The great oil influence positive or negative?

I went to the museum today and I have to say it surprised me to learn that how much the history of Texas ties with oil. As one of you guys said in your posting it is amazing that when I personally took my Texas history class in high school I never learned about the great impact of oil in Texas history and development. It is also amazing to note that Texas growth was built based on development of oil industry. I don’t know if anybody noticed but the room with the short movie and all its displays was from ExxonMobil, the only American oil company that I like to call it really a Texan company inherited from Humble Oil and Refining Company. I noticed that it said in the displays that “ In 19th century Pennsylvania was the leader, but by 1901 Texas struck oil at Spindeltop Beaumont which made Texas the leader in oil industries.” I can’t help it to wonder if this is a good thing or bad thing. One side of the story is the great impact of oil in the life of many people and in development of amazing industries and on the other side are all the environmental impacts it carries. I would like to summarize reasons oil is considered to have a great impact on Texas as a state:

1) Oil changed population distribution in Texas. From 1900 to 1950 agriculture and so rural living gave it’s place to manufacturing and urban living.

2) Not only that oil effected Texas but Texans affected the way oil was taken out of the ground and refined. They invented tools and techniques to meet challenges of Texas oil fields they reinvented the industry, which made Texas a national and international force in economics and policy.

3) Texas oil industries (refineries) were responsible for fulfilling the great military needs the United States had during the World Wars by shifting their production to meet military needs. For all these reasons, Texas was in the forefront of national defense and politics.

4) Oil industries promoted a great base for other industries and manufacturing.

5) The industry need for manpower drew workers from farms and ranches to jobs in factories and offices.

6) At this time Texans had better standard of living and enjoyed leisure time and could afford cars, which expanded possibilities of where they could work and live.

It was OK

I imagined to find more antique tools used in the oil boom, nevertheless, how is condensed the information is very useful, everybody can understand in a very practical form one of the more important chapters of the history of Texas.

Personally for me was a different experience because I have been living here since one month ago, so the museum it is a good way for me to get involved with the city and with Texas. It struck me how the oil businesses radically changed the way of life of people, from farmers to manufacturers in a very short period. How the levels of Oil increased exponentially. While a few years ago oil was a fashion, today we are seeing the transition to a new era. I am sure that soon we will be part of those new statistics toward to the new technologies and ways of production and consumption.

Money should motivate an energy technology boom

The oil exhibit at the Texas State History museum gives an overview of how oil has changed Texas, particularly from approximately 1900-1950. There are interesting parallels and differences between the Texas oil boom of the early twentieth century and what could be a similarly profound energy technology boom in the U.S. in the early twenty-first century. If our country takes the lead in developing technologies that can rapidly diversify and strengthen the world’s energy portfolio in an environmentally and socially responsible manner, then we can reap the benefits of different type of energy boom for the foreseeable future.

The Texas oil boom was motivated completely by money. As we now know, the abundance of domestic petroleum resulted in many profound benefits (and some detriments) for our country’s society during the twentieth century. However, the people extracting oil from the Texas ground were only interested in stable jobs and/or getting fantastically wealthy; they were not at all motivated by the positive changes they were enabling for society. The oil was plentiful, but difficult to get to, so there was a natural economic incentive to develop technologies to get to more oil to market more efficiently. Private industry innovates best when there is massive economic potential in doing so, and the oil waiting in the ground provided that incentive for the technological innovations of the Texas oil boom.

Conversely, if we are to reap the benefits of an energy technology boom in the upcoming century, it would not be fundamentally motivated by money. Instead, it will be motivated by very serious concerns about environmental problems, security threats, and diminishing energy supplies. However, these good intentions cannot motivate our society (or any society of humans) to the same degree as economic security and/or fantastic wealth. The way this motivation must be created is through the use of government policies to either economically encourage or outright require more sustainable energy systems to be used. With so many competing economic interests, these strong government policies would obviously be difficult to craft; they should be as robust and straightforward as possible. If these policies can be enacted in a responsible manner, then it would open up massive economic opportunity for private industry to develop energy technologies. All of this could result in great successes for our society, but the boom will only be as strong as our government’s energy policies are intelligent.

My Great-Great Grandfather, The Wildcatter

When visiting the Bullock museum, I couldn't helpt but think about the story of my great-great grandfather who discovered natural gas in the Humble field many years ago.

Around the turn of the century, my great-great grandfather, James Holliday Slaughter was floating logs down the San Jacinto river to a mill. On the side of the river, he noticed bubbles coming up out of a puddle in the sand. Slaughter guesses this to be natural gas, and tested this theory by letting it collect in a hollowed out cow horn, and then burning it out of a hole in the top. (I asked one of my petroleum engineering professors if this was possible, and he confirmed that it was)

Slaughter then proceeded to drill rank wildcats. After numerours dry holes, (one of which is behind my grandmother's house) Slaughter invented a casing pulling machine, and worked in oilfield services.

Even though current production is minimal, the Humble oil field is considered one of the most prolific fields in both Texas and the US. It was the birth place of Humble Oil Company, which has since been acquired by Exxon.

I, along with many of my relatives, have selected careers in the oil industry, and up or down, it will always be dear to our hearts

Bullock Texas Museum Tour

This was the first time I visited Bullock Texas History Museum even though I have been in UT for three years. The museum tells the story of Texas, right upon entering, the mosaic floor portrayed the landscapes and Native Indians with vivid colors that capture everyone’s attention.

My understanding of Texas is limited because I have only been here five years. I was impressed and enlightened by this Bullock Texas Museum tour. The third floor depicted how Texas became the land of opportunity by showing Texas ranching, oil discoveries, and aircrafts. I knew Texas was interrelated with oil and was the place for energy related job opportunities, but I did not know the history of cities was related to oil as well. I learned Houston’s boom was built on the business of oil immediately after the discovery of Spindletop, where Houston was swamped with oilman and speculators and became one of the top cities in the nation. I learned towns like Burkburnett, Wichita Falls, and Ranger doubled or tripled overnight upon oil discovery. It was also informative to know that between 1900 to 1950, jobs shifted from agriculture to manufacturing (from 90% agriculture and 10% manufacturing to 40% agriculture and 60% manufacturing). Texas also shifted from a mostly rural state to an urban state and became the leader in producing crude oil in the world.

Spindletop, located near Houston, was found by Higgins and Lucas. The oil embedded under Spindletop was determined by the smell of sulfur, signs of surface gas, and the large mound (salt dome) appearing on the ground back in the 1900s. New equipment such as cone-shaped revolving cutters with steel teeth was invented to drill oil in Texas since the standard tool did not work well. Drillers also learned to adapt a cap over the flowing oil which they called it “Christmas Tree,” the valve fittings that controls the flow. Wildcatter, risk taker using their own money to find oil, were everywhere in Texas, towns and cities were built, wealth were brought to Texas. World War II also helped Texas the oil industry to be the forefront. Texas not only “re-invents” the new oil industry, but they were transformed into the leading state in the nation.

Is Texas better off with oil?

After visiting the oil exhibit at the Bob Bullock museum, my first response was disgust at how the excessive oil exploration in our state had also damaged our state's ecosystem. The pictures of a panorama covered with innumerable oil derricks was so ugly to me. I could only imagine the amount of oil runoff and other contaminants that flowed from oil exploration sites in this pre-EPA
period. Though oil brought many benefits to Texas in the form of economic growth, I don't think it benefited the environment in the least. Even today, the landscape of our state is dotted by rusting oil wells and abandoned boom towns.

After leaving the Oil exhibit, I promised myself I wouldn't write an angry environmentalist post to the blog. Yet throughout the exhibit, all I could think of was how ugly those derricks looked and the destructive nature of oil exploration in our state.

Even Neiman Marcus...

I feel basically the same as most people who saw the exhibit – it was interesting to learn a little more about the history of Texas and its oil connection.

My boyfriend informed me that all children in Texas take a year of Texas history. Strangely, he learned virtually nothing about oil and Texas. It has been long time since he took the class and he can’t remember much detail, but I learned much more about Texas’ oil history at the exhibit than he ever while in school. Maybe someone with a better memory can fill me in on what children do learn during their year of Texas History?

Three things that struck me during the exhibit: The ingenuity and strength of the people who settled this country (and the particular type of people who chose to move west of the Mississippi River), that there was a clothing display in the oil exhibit and that Texas was the largest wind user in the US back in 1900. I’m sure virtually everyone knows what I mean when I comment on the type of people who founded this country. I am particularly amazed by the way they were willing to confront head-on the unknown.

The clothing display featured clothing once sold at Neiman Marcus and bought by the women with new oil money. It looks like even Neiman Marcus has some oil in its history.
According to the exhibit wind was used to pump much needed water to Texans for drinking and crops. The Rail Roads found them to be useful when they wanted to lay track across the US and needed to provide food and water for their workers. I have to wonder what the early entrepreneurs would have done with wind had oil not been discovered.

Biofuel jet test flight

I just read an article in "" that the world's first biofuel jet had been tested but not surprisingly without any passengers. I would not call it even much of a test as the Virgin craft which had a B20 mix of coconut oil and babassu oil was used in only one of the four main airline tankers. This whole extravaganza was in order to promote the whole cleaner flying campaign which I'm pretty sure is a government scam to cover up the major subsidies that have provided for development of biofuels. Its good to see active criticism in the article against the whole process about how were not really solving the carbon emission process and how the whole thing can be counter-productive.


I have mixed feelings about my museum experience.  I was slightly disgruntled by the cost, though it's consistent with other museum pricing.  The museum itself was a little disappointing.  The items were interesting, but not intriguing.  What really did not help was that I seemed to go during a prime field-trip time.  There were tons of kids everywhere and it was quite chaotic. 
The oil exhibit was stinky -- literally.  One of the kids kept turning the sulfur wheel.  

Perhaps I am slightly immune to oil basics.  Everything there I already sorta knew, so it was a little disappointing.  I liked that they had a few bit types.  I don't think a lot of people know that Hughes made his big money off the tri-cone bit.  

There were two things that caught my eye.  One was a comment about oil and water, and the other was a comment about oil and cows.  Some of my undergraduate background is in groundwater hydrology, so oil and water are both near and dear to me.  I heard once that the next big war will be about water, not oil.  I guess we'll see.  

There was a quote that said that oil and cows are the perfect mix.  During a summer internship I worked on a field on the King Ranch in South Texas.  Oil and cows are such an integral part of the culture, it's hard to think of Texas without them.  And anyone who has been to the King Ranch can share my pain on the infamous bump gates.

oil is magic

I spent a solid 45 minutes meandering through the Story of Texas Saturday afternoon. By the time I finished the 3rd floor, I felt like I was finally up to speed on the magic of Texas history, along with the 10-year-old kid standing next to me. I guess I forgot to read the Museum's mission statement, including "Support education of school-aged children by creating and providing learning experiences...." Nevertheless, I still found a couple of interesting displays in the end.

The Big Inch pipeline display caught my eye, first by the captions about the magnitude of the project and how quickly it was built and, second, by the strange-looking route the line took to reach the Northeast coast. The facts were short and sweet like everything else in the museum, but at least sparked me to look up more details online. The pipeline began construction in 1942 in the midst of World War II. By 1943, the first crude had been transported through the line from Texas and showed up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It took only a year to build, but then only functioned for 2 years before it was retired. Off and on for a few years it was attempted to transport natural gas instead of oil, before it was, I guess, finally taken out back and shot. Still, in its short lifetime, it had a capacity to deliver 300,000 barrels of oil a day and was considered by Duke Energy to be "the most amazing government-industry cooperation ever achieved." It really is amazing what the U.S. was able to do in times of war in the middle of the 20th century.

As for the second part of the display that caught my eye, look at the map of the pipeline:

It seemed to take a bit of a roundabout route to the Northeast. On first look, I guess a straight line was avoided to bypass the Appalachian Mountains as much as possible. But on second look, it looks like Tennessee and Kentucky were purposefully avoided. Does anyone have an idea as to why? What kind of politics were at play here, if any?

A Museum: The Rightful Place for an Outdated Education

I agree with all of you who are concerned about the level of detail, or the upkeep of the oil exhibit at the museum. Developments in the energy sphere in the last 30-40 years have been rapid. Encompassing the scope of development, even if it is limited only to Texas' role, in a simple museum exhibit for laymen or young children is a challenge. However, I argue that a museum is where we should go to learn about the distant past. The recent, the present and expectations for the future belong in the classroom.

My visit to the museum 5 years ago and again last week made me realize that neither my knowledge (pertaining to energy) of the past nor of the present is as robust as I would like it to be.

Some rhetorical questions I have struggled with during my time at UT:

Why is this class the only academic opportunity I have had for discussion about energy history in my five years as an undergraduate mechanical engineer at UT? If there were others, I may have been unaware of those opportunities but definitely not ignorant.

Do we assume that an undergraduate education focuses on summarizing the past, and a graduate education on developing prospects for the future?

Some solution oriented questions:

Can we build a wind mill near ECJ plaza with it's own audio recording, signifying that we have been harnessing wind energy for centuries and that we still continue to do so?

Can we have stand alone PhotoVoltaic powered parking lot lights at UT with a sticker on the pole explaining how they work?

Can we have a History of Energy Technology class as an introductory class for engineering majors?

I think it's time for creativity in education and information, if we really want to educate ourselves about our energy past and energy future.

Turn Turn Turn

After visiting the energy exhibit at the Texas History Museum, I thought I would be talking about oil...not wind. But I can't seem to get this picture out of my mind.

The area just before entering the movie portion of the exhibit featured the history of "Boomtowns". It talked about the first few oil strikes in Texas and the consequent squatters who took over the surrounding towns with their rigs - all desparately wanting their piece of the dirty pie. The background of the whole exhibit was enlarged pictures of towns filled with oil rigs. I thought it was a reproduction of the same city block over and over, but I was wrong. City block after city block went something like this - home, rig, store, rig, rig, school, rig, home. Needless to say, it wasn't the most attractive sight (not to mention potentially dangerous.) I looked at these "Boomtowns", then said to my good friend Erin, "and we have people complaining about ugly wind turbines out in the country."

The title linked article speaks about the complaints people have with wind turbines visually. It amazes me that people oppose clean, free sources of energy because they think it might not look pretty. Isn't that a little ridiculous? Americans sure have gotten spoiled in the past hundred years. I don't think most people wanted an oil rig in their backyard near Spindletop or Texas City - but I guess they didn't have much of a choice did they? The overabundance of regulations that exist today were unheard of in those times. Nobody was going to stop you from doing what you wanted to on your land. Nowadays, you have to get a permit to plant a tree in your own backyard...

I guess it goes back to that same old thing of freedom and individual rights as long as they don't infringe upon another's freedom. At what point do we have a say in what our neighbors are doing? In Florida, where my mother was raised, there was an unspoken rule that you didn't build privacy fences along the water. Everyone was up in arms when Northerners moved in and built a fence around their pool blocking the view of the beach and water. Why did they need a pool anyway?! Now there are all sorts of laws about what you can and cannot do if you live on the water.

The reason I bring up this story is that times have changed. I don't think energy developers are looking to fill every inch of our country with wind turbines. They are going to try and build them where wind is strong and steady. If that happens to be out in the middle of nowhere - great! But if by chance it is close to where I live - I want to be the first person to look out and feel proud my city is doing something GOOD. We should look at those pretty wind turbines and say turn turn turn...

I agree with J.T. Marsh

I agree with you, J.T. Marsh. The oil industry was demonized before people started worrying about climate change. So will any large entity (even a "green" one) that affects people, but seems to run on its own terms rather than the people’s. In Texas, arguably the most confident state in arguably the most confident country, I see ire for the renewable energy industry soon coming from this odd set of statements and facts from here:


“Texas has been looking at oil and gas rigs for 100 years, and frankly, wind turbines look a little nicer,” said Jerry Patterson, the Texas land commissioner, whose responsibilities include leasing state lands for wind energy development. “We’re No. 1 in wind in the United States, and that will never change.”


Much of the boom in the United States is being driven by foreign power companies with experience developing wind projects, including Iberdrola of Spain, Energias de Portugal and Windkraft Nord of Germany. Foreign companies own two-thirds of the wind projects under construction in Texas.

Texas is number 1? How about foreign companies are number 1? I’m confident that in the near future renewable energy is going to be the biggest and most important industry in the world. If that’s true, then we’re in trouble. Texans and Americans will have little to be confident about if we don’t step up and take a lead on this. We might start by knocking that two-thirds down in our own state.

In agreement with J.T. Marsh, I think we might see some negativity towards Big Renewable Energy because it has become big. I predict we’ll also see some negativity if our new energy is controlled by foreigners because I’m pretty sure I’ve heard complaints about foreign controlled energy sources before.

Texas’ Oil Obsession

I went to the Texas History Museum after about 4 years. At first, it was actually funny to see a whole entire section dedicated to the oil industry at a museum since you would not see something like this in any other state. When I thought about it again, I realized that my family came to Texas because of the oil companies.

I was born and raised in California and the oil industry moved my dad’s job to Houston. I still remember asking my parents why we had to move to Texas, and they said it is very good to live here since all the oil companies are based in Houston. We left a beautiful state for the humid, hot and flat land of Houston, but the southern hospitality kept us hooked.

Surprisingly, the history of oil and energy related items at the museum stopped in the 1950s. The developments of new technologies after that time were very important too. They never mentioned the offshore oil rigs or how Texas has the largest amount of wind farms in the US. The museum only focused on the discovery/obsession of oil, and the beginning of how oil changed Texas from the rural to urban life style.

Although I felt that the museum was lacking in some ways, I still thought the entire exhibit was well done.

Oil Exhibit and Saved By The Bell

After reading through many of the previous blogs, we all seem to share the same feelings on the oil exhibit. It is good, but it could be and should be better. I did notice the sign, "This exhibit proudly sponsored by Exxon Mobil". I would think with them making record profits, they could afford to spruce up the exhibit a bit. Oil in TX was like gold in CA. It brought a lot of people here and changed the culture of TX. It would have been nice to see a little bit more. Being a Mech E, I would of liked to see some more of the mechanical type artifacts from the time period. Some giant drill bits or a big counter weight pump and some explanation how they operated.

As a side note, right before I went to the museum on Saturday morning, I was watching one of those old reruns of Saved By The Bell. It turned out to be the episode where they discover oil on the Bay Side football field and a company promises to pump it out and make improvements to the school. Meanwhile, the students are taking care of some animals they plan to release (frogs, fish and Becky the Duck). Of course, an oil spill happens and Becky the Duck dies. The show concludes with an oil man (dude with slicked back hair) making a presentation to the school board with a model of the new and improved school. Zach (now against big oil because of Becky), makes a passionate counter presentation by placing a bunch of oil derricks all over the model then covering the model with oil. The school board says no to big oil.

Ahhhhhhhh how times have changed. 60 years ago those derricks were a sign of prosperity, modernization and the great state of TX. Now they represent old fashion, polluting sleaze balls who just want to make a buck no matter the cost.

Smells Like Money

The part of the exhibit that struck me most was a detail regarding the way in which oil fields were discovered. Supposedly, the smell of sulfur, or rotten eggs, would permeate the air surrounding an oil reserve, pinpointing the spot at which drilling should ensue.

When reading about the smell of sulfur, my mind immediately drew back to childhood road trips with my family. On these trips, I would always mention the awful smell that resulted from passing an oil pump in the Texas countryside. In response to my complaints, my mother, mimicking my deceased grandfather, would say that "it smells like money!"

Instead of sticking his nose up at the smell of sulfur, my grandfather considered it a blessing. It might be unpleasant in the short-run, but when realizing its long-term connotations, the smell brought golden eggs rather than rotten eggs to my grandfather’s mind.

Just as my grandfather spun the smell of sulfur positively, could people realize that converting waste to biofuel is a dirty, but overall beneficial, process? Austin has foregone this practice because of complaints regarding the smell it entails. I wonder if I will ever hear people say that the stench "smells like savings?" If personal preference was replaced with a focus on conserving resources, I might get that chance.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Oil Exhibit

Like many of the prior posts, I felt the oil section of the Texas history exhibit did not do justice to the importance of oil in the vitalization and modernization of Texas industry after the plantation era. The problem is understandable- the exhibits are separated roughly into pre-Texas revolution (first floor), Texas revolution-early 1900's (second floor), and modern Texas history, relegating the oil-boom into a fairly small portion of the third floor. The most informative part of the display for me was the chart of urban development that spanned the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th (the implication being that the oil boom was what built Houston, Dallas and other Texas cities into what they are today). I did not know that there was a whole separate oil stock exchange in Texas, which I thought was pretty interesting. I also liked the progression of Hughes drillbits chronicled, but I'm sure they certainly could have included more tool development without enlarging the exhibit space; compared to the Famous Texan athletes display adjacent, the information density in the oil section seemed very sparse. I was very impressed with the complexity of some parts of the museum such as the imprisonment of Stephen F. Austin, where extensive light effects were coordinated with dynamic walls that revealed parts of the exhibit at a time to create a great transition effect. In contrast, the top floor as a whole seemed to have been put together with much less effort. A display on the evolution of oil drilling or the companies that fueled the Texan economy would have been a great addition.

Bob Bullock Museum--Oil Exhibit

I felt like the museum had a moderate amount of details discussing the history of Oil in Texas. I personally liked the museum as a whole and learned some interesting tidbits about Texas History. Some information that I found interesting in the Oil Exhibit was:

- Jan 10, 1901 Spindletop erupted
- Geophysicists Everette DeGolyer and J. Clerence "Doc" Karcher figured out ways to find oil in the ground, and invented the refection seismograph which is used to find oil today.
- When drilling was first attempted they would use "Fishtail" Rotary Drill Bits and the Texas "Poor Boy" Fishtail Bit, and were used in the early 1900s.
- Eventually Howard R. Hughes Sr. created the new bits that have rotating, rock crushing bits and received a patent for this idea.

Another part of the exhibit that I liked was the movie titled, Oil Changed Texas. A quick synopsis was:

- Many of the early Texans were ranchers and farmers and only 10% of the inhabitants lived in the cities
- When oil was first found in Spindletop it took over the economy, and Texans reinvented the oil drilling industry. They developed new methods to drill, refine, and store oil.
- In 1935, Texas produced more oil than most countries
- This industry transformed the state, and made the state more urbanized. This also created suburban society because people were able to drive to work from their homes.

There was a good, not great, amount of information if you wanted to read all the little details.

Oil Exhibit

I thought that the oil exhibit was very dissapointing. For a state with as much history, importance, and influence in the oil industry as Texas, I thought the display vague and lacked a lot of substantive content.

Nonetheless, the exhibit did bring up one important point which I feel is worth commenting on. The boomtowns that result from oil rushes (and all extractive industries for that matter) cause a unique set of social, economic, and environmental problems for the communitites which host them. Many of these problems are much longer lasting than the associated boom that caused them and some only appear once prices change and down-times come.

These boomtowns are not historical problems either; they still follow the extractive industry booms and busts throughout the world. Does anybody have experiences living or working in a boom? Places like Gillette, WY; Ft. McMurray, Alberta; Palisade, CO; Winnemuccaha, NV; are all currently seeing the effects of high mineral prices and commodity booms on their communities. I dont know much about Texas or Oklahoma but surely similar communities exist?

I spent the last several years living in such various places; maybe thats part of the reason I ended back in school now?!

Wind turbines are pretty!

The New York Times published an article today discussing wind power in Texas. It spoke of the potential for wind to reach 7-8% of our national energy generation capacity (though some believe we can rival Denmark at >20%). I wanted to share one statement in the article that I particularly identified with regarding Texas opposition (or lack thereof) of wind power based on aesthetics.

“Texas has been looking at oil and gas rigs for 100 years, and frankly, wind turbines look a little nicer,” said Jerry Patterson, the Texas land commissioner, whose responsibilities include leasing state lands for wind energy development. “We’re No. 1 in wind in the United States, and that will never change.”

I have to agree that I'd rather look at a wind turbine that an oil rig. Though, as an engineer, I have an appreciation for both.

oil exhibit

I went to the Texas State History Museum yesterday. The museum is overpriced at six dollars, but is worth a quick visit. I was a little disappointed at the oil exhibit there. I've seen a few 'exhibits' in my day and I guess I had built it up so much in my head that I was destined for a let down. I was hoping for a more intense or more lengthy look at Texas and oil. There were a couple points of interest though.

What I took from the exhibit was how much oil defined Texas. I suppose that it was our relatively recent oil market oil fortunes that made us and Louisiana some of the leading petro-producing states in the nation. The short movie didn't provide much information other than; "Texans found oil. The market blew up overnight. It totally redefined Texas." Just after stepping out of the movie, there is a visual example of how much influence oil had on Texas from 1800-1850(or was it 1850-1900?). The graphs showed the the transformation of a state mostly dominated by agriculture to one that was very heavily industrialized. In fact, oil (energy) was what changed Texas from a rural/agricultural to a modern/industrialized state. The need for better equipment created great markets for those in Texas. One example shown in the exhibit was the competition and specialization of drill bits.

The early techniques used to find oil were interesting as well. The use of ground penetrating signals is still used today to model the earth and its various strata. So, I was quite impressed to find that the methods were being employed even early on in the industry.

Texas & Oil

First of all, the 7 dollar ticket for the State History Museum is worth it. My favorite part of the museum was the new exhibit "Eyewitness" that has many audio recordings and manuscripts from events in American history and you really felt like you were getting a first hand perspective on these events. Eventually I made my way to the third floor "Oil!" exhibit and I certainly enjoyed it. Not being from Texas it gave me a better understanding of why Texans relate to oil so greatly and also a better understanding of how oil changed the lives of all the people that wanted to get in on the boom. As Texas begins to accept its role as an energy innovator for the future, it is important to remember and understand how Texas came to be on the energy forefront in the past.

Energy=Power: Oil and natural gas in Texas, now Wind Energy in the lead

Being a recent arrival in US the visit to the Bullock museum was quite interesting for me—though I must confess I was more fascinated by the music exhibits!! The black and white images and relic drilling tools in the oil exhibits did bring out the early oil scenario and the story I viewed on the TV screens complemented the info session. The exhibits have been confined to the early part of the oil boom --I guess for a look into the modern side of the picture, we can always visit active oil fields/oil rigs and so the museum plays an adequate role in what it has chosen to do on the third floor

It’s a fact that no state or any other worldwide region has been as heavily explored or drilled for oil or natural gas as Texas. Currently 151,605 oil wells and 66,951 gas wells are actively producing in Texas—give or take a few!! Texas has produced more oil and natural gas than any other state in US and today is still the largest producer. Oil and natural gas are found in virtually every part of the state. I was curious about natural gas and looked up a few facts: In Texas Oil and Gas, Dr. Eugene Kim (Bureau of Economic Geology) gives the following information: “natural gas in Texas was discovered as a byproduct of oil. The form of natural gas that is in contact with crude oil in the reservoir is termed associated gas, and in earlier years it was wastefully flared and vented off without being produced. (Nonassociated gas is natural gas that is not in contact with or dissolved in crude oil in the reservoirs).As oil exploration and discoveries increased in Texas, annual natural gas production rose steadily and peaked also in 1972 at 9,603 billion cubic feet ( Texas oil production was at 1,263 million barrels (MMbbl) in 1972. Production has, however, declined rapidly thereafter). However, unlike oil production, Texas gas production has maintained a steady production level as the result of several large field discoveries, such as Newark, East field, as well as a multitude of smaller fields that required application of advanced exploration and development technologies. New exploration activity and discoveries are currently natural gas and not oil.”

Yes, oil has shaped lives in the state. But, somehow I got the feeling that I was only looking into the past (though oil has played such a significant part and made Texas what it’s now, the future is definitely going in a different direction). Now the buzz is about wind energy in Texas and Texas is the highest producer of wind energy in US. I guess energy translates into Power (in the figurative sense as well) and Texas definitely has got what it takes in the Power category, be it the past or the present and the future!!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Dont Mess with Texas!! part deux

I must admit that I’m not much of a museum person but my trip to the Texas museum turned out far better that I expected. Walking past years of Texas history with the native Americans and how culture evolved in this part of the world was pretty exciting. Finally we reached the section on Texas’ own kryptonite, “Oil”!

I knew that oil was an integral part of Texas’ prosperity but I was taken aback by the enormity of it. After hearing quotes like “Oil changed Texas”, “It changed everything it touched” it hit me as to why people are so emotionally attached to the oil industry here. It revolutionized and defined the Texas way of life recharging the agricultural economy and springing up good ole Ranches. I also learned that Texas has been at the forefront developing technologies in the oil industry since the 1920’s. The oil industry would not be what it is today if had not been for the enthusiasm and ingenuity of the Texas oilers. Without their exploits in the mid 1900’s our lives would have been completely different.

Oil has given us soo much over the years that I think its unfair to give it so much bad blood. I’m extremely proud to be associated with an industry that has so much history and heritage behind it. As a part of the new generation of oil men I believe we have huge responsibilities on our shoulders to take this industry to the next level.

Exhibit: Oil!

To be quite honest, from what I know of Texas oil history from other classes, I was surprised that there was only one corner of one floor dedicated to it. In fact, there were times I was more interested in some of the other exhibits in the museum. Although not that great, there were a few tidbits of information, along with an interesting quiz (1 out of 4, unfortunately), that were informative.

I personally enjoyed reading about Joiner's exploration and discovery of the East Texas field. What amazes me is just how risky new endeavors can be, especially discovering oil. We know oil today is a risky business, and that's with all the technology we have now. Just imagine how hard it was back then. It takes a lot of guts and being stubborn to push forward with ideas like this, but for this guy, it fortunately paid off, and not without some luck, too. There was a statement that had Joiner drilled something like a few miles east instead, he would have missed the reservoir completely, and who knows how long, if ever, the field would have been discovered. Small things like that can really change the development of the society and economy of Texas.

I also enjoyed reading about the settlers who were looking for water, but disappointed when they got oil. It's understandable that water is a primary necessity when settling, but it's ironic that they weren't as happy with the oil discovery, obviously not knowing how important it would be in the future.

That being said, I didn't find too many other things that intriguing or new. Going to this museum kind of reminded me of visting the OceanStar rig in Galveston, which is now a museum. In there were many more exhibits of drilling structers and cross sections of fields and much more history about discovery and the people that were part of it. I was expecting something like that, but what I got was ok, so I won't complain too much.

Just some other observations: I was always under the impression that you needed to be an outlaw to have nicknames like "Doc" and "Dad" and whatever else. Maybe the way some people view oil companies as evil shows that they were on to something back then.

And one more thing, who else thought the Texan oil tycoon from The Simpsons is a perfect copy of Governor Hogg?

East Texas Oil Field and Oil Price Regulation

After visiting the Bullock museum, I’d have to admit that I agree with some of the previous bloggers in that I wasn’t super impressed either. My impression has also been colored by the fact that I have been reading the Prize (although I’m only through page 300 – I keep getting distracted with other books/assignments). The Prize is an excellent collection of oil history from the beginnings of oil industry in the 1850s to present day (copy write 1991).

One of the parts of the oil exhibit in the Bullock is the east Texas field that was discovered/developed in part by Marion ‘Dad’ Joiner. This field discovery was enormous – oil prices fell from above a dollar a barrel to 15 cents per barrel (based on information in the Prize). The effect of vast increases in production were wreaking havoc on the oil industry – many companies were unprofitable based on the low price of oil (cost of production was higher than the cost of the oil product). This is a major reason that the Texas Railroad Commission was put in charge of regulating oil production (to stabilize prices). Oil had already become a global commodity at this point in time and the east Texas field was having global implications on the oil market.

This brings me to something that I’ve been thinking about after learning about the Texas Railroad Commission in class and in reading about it in the Prize. Since we live in a country that has mostly capital markets, cases where a government body steps in and sets prices (for oil in this case) seem misguided. I would tend to think that markets work best when they are allowed to operate freely – price and supply will automatically stabilize based on demand and the market dynamics. We know what happened in the 1970s when the US government put a ceiling on gas prices – supply shrank and folks waited for hours to get gas as the United State experienced a gasoline shortage. However, we have experienced times when deregulation hasn’t gone as well as planned. California provides a good example of this when electricity was deregulated (although there were mitigating factors that exacerbated problems during the summer of 2000 and 2001). Any thoughts on government price controls of commodities (such as oil)?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

texas' role in the future of energy

Texans are fond of letting you know exactly what we’re thinking and why we’re the best and when it comes to energy there is no exception. We know what we’re talking about it when it comes to energy as we have been the leader in the past and it should be no different in the future as we move away from oil. Texas can and should lead the way as we move our dependence off of traditional sources.

As we’ve seen with the Texas State History Museum’s Oil! exhibit, a lot of our prosperity can be attributed directly to the discovery of oil and the subsequent industries that sprang up afterwards. Houston became the capital of the energy world and is poised to provide the necessary experience when taking on the world’s energy problems.

It would be foolish for Texas to be left behind in the transition away from oil, however long it takes, since we have the expertise and knowledge in place to lead us into the future. We should capitalize on the transition away from oil just as we did with its discovery here over a century ago.

This isn’t a new idea and as we’ve heard in class and read on our own, energy companies are diversifying and preparing for a future that is not dominated by petroleum. Texas can use all of its resources (educational, industrial etc..) to maintain its dominance and hopefully revolutionize the way we produce energy. Texas is in a great position to lead in all areas of energy including wind, solar and biofuels.

To incite some pride in you, and also because I just love it so much, I’ll leave you with a quote from Davy Crockett:

“You may all go to hell, I’m going to Texas.”