A new (black) gold rush?

With the passing of the tax bill last month there has been a strong prognosis that ANWR will open up and contribute to the U.S. becoming energy dominant.  The Interior Department oversees the area and has made about made 16,100 square miles available now for leasing per oil drilling; yet at this point there are bids on 125 square miles, or .7% of the available allotments.

Still, the bids that have been submitted are over a million dollars and were offered by Conoco and Arco. There is quite a set up for oil companies to identify and drill on plots that they estimate will be cost effective.  Much of what has been put out there for bidding will be viewed by a number of companies in the upcoming year- not only for location, resources and transportation considerations, but no doubt they will be examined n light of other competing  firms bids.

There is still a long way to go until any oil from the area is refined and goes to market, and there will be more developments no doubt.



Why is Home Insulation Warm- and Pink?

While teaching a class last night on wood gasification (per emergency energy stoves) I talked about insulation.  It was an on-hands class and I was applying vermiculite noting that it has a 1.5R value per inch and mentioned that the vintage 1915 log home on our ranch (while growing up) had vermiculite filled between the studs in the attic in the ceiling rather than the fiberglass. A young gal student asked- “why is it (fiberglass insulation) pink”?

To tell the truth, only some is pink and it is dyed as such by a vendor as a way to match with their  marketing.  Owens Corning has the Pink Panther as their mascot and dyes the resin so you will think this company which up with fiberglass almost 90 years ago. Fiberglass itself doesn’t have a hue, and some other minor companies die theirs green (and I’ve even seen brownish fiberglass).

What makes it warm? Glass itself is a poor conductor of heat and it is non-combustible. The spun glass has little pockets of space to hold the air and its warmth.  Vermiculite has some similar qualities as the extruded mica (tannish silica) has air pockets in its light layers.  Perlite is another mined material per se which when baked at the manufacturing plant expands it and has heat retention value; it is a white substance. Blow in cellulose is the brown color of cardboard and it has pocketing for warm retention as well.

So there are several substances that can insulate and color is variable, not really making a difference in the insulation value itself.  A good question though, as many from engaged attendees are!

Successful biomass forum is completed

The UAF Experimental Farm (Palmer) was buzzing over the weekend with activity.  Friday, our soil scientist in the School of Natural Resources and Extension, Mingchu accompanied just over a dozen tribal environmental workers for a tour of the farm.  They were able to see the Gasification Experimental Kit (GEK), biochar producing auger as well as the vegetable bio-oil processor.  (The cows came out and for some it seemed to be the first time on a farm….).

Saturday evening there were a couple dozen folks or so present for a two and a half hour set of presentations and discussion with UAF College of Engineering, UAF School of Natural Resources,  Oregon State University, and NUST (a Pakistani engineering university) faculty.  We also had State of Alaska officials from the Alaska Energy Authority as well as Forestry join and share what their divisions provide which was a great resource for all present.  One highlight was a wood gasifier that could produce a kW of electricity an hour when run off a 6.5hp engine for 12v battery charging.  This unit was demonstrated by the inventor on Sunday as many Saturday night attendees returned and assisted setting the unit up.  (Monday we worked with the GEK and learned several lessons on cold weather starts and moisture).

There certainly is an interest among some who are looking for a way to provide electricity from an abundant fuel source that is accessible and cost effective in South Central Alaska- wood.

Alaska drilling again?

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has been looking at  Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) per a budget resolution that was passed by Congress (as the resolution pointed the Senate Energy Committee to make up the “deficit reduction”). This may very well make a new path for tax reform intertwined with Arctic oil drilling.

So while it is not yet decided as to whether sufficient national revenues would be brought in from leases/royalties on oil lands, Alaska’s fossil fuel resources are being viewed in a national light focusing on fiscal budgets.  Many in the state view the resources in a personal (or community) scale, per the number of jobs and individual salaries brought in.  Of course others will weigh in who will be viewing the prospect of  drilling in ANWR from environmental, social and regulatory points of view.  This new budget resolution could as a side bar determine Alaska’s role with national energy resource inventories for decades to come.


Gas lines running

Recently there was quite a stir when it was discovered how much an Alaska gas line group was getting in the continual preparation and scouting for an Alaska natural gas line.  It has been in the works for some time and people were surprised to hear of the amount of spending with no visible results of a gas line as of yet.

Meanwhile, South Australia has been working on a gas deal by a major utility in the south, to stem blackouts.  At the same time  European Union is increasing it’s demand for imported gas which will probably not change as their production decreases.   In fact with bringing in 70% of it’s gas (consumed) from outside the EU, 42% is coming from Russia, 34% from Norway, and 10% from Northern Africa.  42% of overall imports in 2016), followed by Norway (34%), and 10% from Algeria. In the Middle East-Asia,  China is helping to build gas transport down into Pakistan so that it can deal with its energy crisis with Chinese natural gas

Natural gas seems to be a way of transitioning off the high carbon fossil fuels and will most likely continue to increase in demand in the near future with various lines being built around the world.

Oil prices rise from potential Middle East conflict



Oil has gone above $51 a barrel and may be continuing upward. Yesterday it hit the highest pricing level for the last past half a year.  This last spike had geopolitical causes and supply expectations written all over it. In particular, the Kurds in Iraq had cut back production by about a third of a million barrels per day (generally they put out a half million a day).  Adding to this reduction a general concern over the recent allies of Iraq and Kurdistan now possibly squaring off against each other, the markets are somewhat jittery.

In generally, when looking over the last half decade or so it seems the markets have been taking hi’s and low’s and not rocking over.  It was just a little more than 6 yeas ago when oil hit a high of almost $115 a barrel; and then in early 2016 it was down to $26 a barrel (at the beginning of the year it was $54 a barrel).  So with all the instability in Iraq since 2011 we have seen some fairly dramatic price ranges percentage wise.  Yet it hasn’t just been Iraq which has effected prices obviously.   OPEC’s moves the past couple years in changing their output supply has had an effect also.  In addition the destabilization of Venezuela in the Southern Hemisphere has most likely effected prices as well.

For those buying bulk fuel, what has been the changes you have seen in #2 (or #1) diesel for heating fuel? If you get regular deliveries, take a look back on your receipts and see how much they have changed.  Right now #1 is just over $2 a gallon.  Have you seen the general  trends in your overall deliveries over that past half decade as are reflected above for the fuel oil derivative?

A new grid for Puerto Rico….?

With much of the infrastructure gutted out of Puerto Rico, this may be the best place to apply some of the latest microgrid technology.   There has been talk of of rebuilding the island per electrical generation and transmission.  One person who is weighted in through twitter is Elon Musk of Tesla.

Brian Kahn wrote on earther.com on 10/4/17 about Puerto Rico taking this opportunity to rebuild its electrical structure as thus far it has been reliant on imported oil for almost half of its electricity.  The public utility had been bankrupt in 2017, and there have been difficulties with the increase of the price of oil about a half decade ago.

Mr. Musk has responded to the idea by tweeting on 10/5/2017:  “The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too. Such a decision would be in the hands of the PR govt, PUC, any commercial stakeholders and, most importantly, the people of PR”.  Apparently Mr. Musk has sent hundreds of power walls with employees to install them to Puerto Rico.  So the work on rebuilding from a power perspective has begun, and time will tell how Puerto Rico’s grid is rebuilt.

Fish over fuel?

Here is a story that has come out within the past day (forgive me, those who are regular readers, for being absent this past month (you will be reading from me at least once a week now).  Alaska Public Media has an article about the recent proposal to put teeth into protecting salmon and their habitat.  This would have restricted the extraction industries dealing in oil and mining, yet Lt. Governor Mallott rejected putting out a ballot vote on the topic.  (It has gone to the courts to see if such a priority is a possibility).

Regardless of what comes out of the legal realm, this is a new twist on “food vs. fuel”.  Usually we think of this competition in terms of grains or agriculturally grown products which will in essence be used to manufacture ethanol or some type of bio oil.  This may be somewhat removed a step as the arguments here are about potential degradation as well as animals rather than agricultural plants, yet it still is looking at a balancing of resources with the main consideration being a feedstock (fish) vs. extracted fossil fuels.

On a side note, similarly to ethanol, fish has been used to provide calories/BTUs to heat projects….There have been experiments in Palmer in the past looking at salmon (waste) mixed with cedar sawdust, and dried for combustion!  A study out of the School of Natural Resources and Extension looked at the efficiencies.with different mixes of the two.  Though our agricultural sector is very small, food vs. fuel doesn’t escape us.



Humid homes and mold treatments


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With the wet weather we’ve been experiencing in the Interior this latter summer, there is quite a bit of moisture on the ground- as well as a high ambient humidity.  Pressure tanks from wells are often weeping condensation, windows may show signs of beaded moisture in the corners (especially early in the mornings) and on grass along walkways soak shoes that go off the beaten path, even when not raining.  With such conditions, there are concerns with drywall and tile grout being growth areas for mold within homes, thus decreasing the air quality.

What can you do?  The first thing to do once you detect mold is to stop the ambient moisture from collecting -especially in corners, transition of materials used and around sweating water tanks as well as pipes.  Trays under pressure tanks or water treatment tanks can help.  Towels around metal faucet bases that run water for considerable time help to reduce condensation.  Even running a dehumidifier can help in daylight basements to assist to make the environment dryer.

Once locating the source of moisture and putting an end to it,  killing the mold by applying a solution with a wet cloth is the next step- which may require a stiff brush and follow up with a clean damp cloth wiping the area down. Drying the clean area with a fan allows you to then use a primer (best if containing a biocide) to make the area resistant to further mold growth.  The solution used to kill the mold early on depends on people’s preferences.  Governmental agencies used to suggest watered down household bleach but there were concerns over respiratory reactions to the bleach.  Some people use laundry detergent made into a slurry, while others suggest using mixtures of natural elements such as vinegar and baking soda.  Read various reputable sources before making your own cleaning solutions or buying off-the-shelf solutions.

And most of all, keep the known troublesome areas as dry as you can with fans and open sources of air movement.

Norway points the way


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Norway has long been held up as a model for how to hold common petrol resources.  It is one of the wealthiest nations, and has made investment decisions from proceeds of national revenues coming from oil extraction in the north sea for the most part.  They have been able to drill vast reserves with little spillage.  And they have been able to put together, in a smart way, a lucrative national fund that is similar to Alaska’s permanent fund.

Norway has at the same time had a keen eye on environmental protection and recently put aside a large preserve in the northern portion of the country- thus declaring near by oil fields as out of reach from current drilling. (This same part of Norway has been utilized to house a vault/bank of world seeds as well as a international data center in case of a global catastrophe.)

And with these sustainability concerns, the country still protects its oil interests and right to extract.  A case in point is the latest interception of Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise and 35 volunteers by the coast guard near the farthest north exploration area.  The attempt seemed to be to stop drilling by gaining ferrying access from rubber rafts and kayaks. Their reasoning was that they had the right to protest in international waters, and they proceeded within a third of a mile from one of the rigs.

Norway bases it’s right to protect such exploration under its petroleum act and at the same time has entered international agreements such as the Paris Accord to commit in reducing carbon and greenhouse gasses.  Expectations are that the exploration will continue with drilling for approximately another month. We will see shortly if there are more protesters who join in this short time frame, or whether they will find other avenues in the country short of going to drill rig venues to air their concerns.