Why are there so few oil refineries? That’s a good question asked by John Licata on AOL Energy. Even as gas prices climb, refineries have closed on the East Coast and none have been built in this country for decades. There are now fewer oil refineries in the US than at any time since someone began counting in 1949. Licata says environmental regulations and general opposition to anything industrial are probably the answer. Unfortunately, he decides that switching to biofuels may be the answer. Now that’s an interesting proposition. Why don’t refineries just label themselves “green?” That would solve the problem.
The New York Times has found yet another reason to lament the oil boom in North Dakota. Last week it was because women were being harassed in oil towns. Now it’s because health care is lagging. The work is dangerous, there are lots of accidents and many workers are uninsured. But last week The Times said those same oil workers were offering bar maids $3000 a night to serve drinks at private parties. Don’t they have enough money for medical care? It turns out the problem is many oil workers give false addresses and can’t be found when it’s time to pay the bills.
Wind energy appears to be in the doldrums as developers take stock of whether they can count on the production tax credit in coming years. Few new projects are in the works in Texas. The Vermont Legislature is considering a three-year moratorium on windmills as it takes stock of what they will look like atop the Green Mountains. Environmentalists are also opposing a wind farm in Kern County, California. But Wyoming is talking about building windmills and shipping the electricity to the Golden State. Good thing we’ve got all those Wide Open Spaces.
Nuclear received a boost as voters in Bulgaria said “yes” to a plan to build a Russian reactor. However the low turnout has made the verdict non-binding. The Swiss are also reconsidering their plans to shut down their reactors as the panic over Fukushima fades. Germany’s return to coal next door doesn’t provide a very good example. Russia is bragging of its accomplishments in Pravda, saying its nuclear technology is transforming the world. Shades of the old Soviet Pravda. And a San Francisco art student has designed a new play set – “Critical Blocks” – which allows children to put together their own nuclear station.
Finally, energy storage technology continues to creep forward. Duke Energy will open a 36-MW battery storage facility – the world’s largest - in conjunction with a wind complex. SolarReserve will use molten salts to store a few hours of electricity at its new plant in California and Belgium is considering building an artificial island (above) that will serve as a pumped storage plant to store offshore wind. But the effort to develop battery storage has hit a snag with the lithium-ion fire aboard the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. If batteries are vulnerable to overheating, the technology is in big trouble.