Reporting from the Gulf, an offshore oil rig worker finds mundanity, a complacent obsession with safety, and the doom beneath it all
By Jasper CollumPosted 06.29.2010 at 2:00 pm 8 Comments
It's a recurring dream. I'm standing next to a machine, some giant warm Fritz-Lang-inspired monster. I live in it. I am a piece of it. But I know at any moment this machine could destroy itself and there won't be a thing I can do about it. What a mutinous thing when a machine, usually so faithful and repetitious, turns against us.
I'm afraid of this dream, and every morning I wake up in the Gulf and go to work on an offshore drilling rig the dream gets worse. Though it shouldn't.
Need a weekend project around the house? Mark Suppes, web developer by day, has built his own nuclear fusion reactor in a Brooklyn workspace. It kind of makes that project car you’ve got rusting in the garage seem lame by comparison.
It's been a big week for bacteria. Last week, a Canadian geo-scientist proposed using carbon-eating, methane-excreting microbes to turn crude into cleaner natural gas while still in the well. Now, researchers have found similar bacteria rapidly turning a CO2-filled coal mine into a veritable methane factory, blending CO2 and hydrogen atoms in the coal into natural gas, sans environmentally harmful mining.
In recent years, the U.S. military has been making small strides toward a greener energy standard – the Navy wants to create a green strike group by 2012, while the Air Force has been testing biofuels in its aircraft. But for troops on the ground relying increasingly on electronic devices, solar is the way forward. With that in mind, DARPA has assembled an industry-academic team of photovoltaic leaders to create the next generation of battle-ready solar cells that achieve 20 percent conversion while standing up to harsh combat conditions.
It's easy not to think much about oil spill remediation technology until something like the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster happens, but materials scientists spend a lot of time thinking about how different materials respond to all kinds of offending substances. In the case of one Texas Tech University professor, a cloth wipe he developed to absorb and contain agents of biological warfare for the U.S. military can absorb 15 times its weight in oil while simultaneously detoxifying it. Paging BP.
Since untold quantities of oil started flowing into the Gulf, there's been a lot of talk about bacteria that eat oil. While those microbes might help remediate those millions of barrels of crude, one geoscientist thinks we might be able to use them to keep oil in the ground in the first place.
Given the way the government is beating up on a certain foreign oil company this morning, it's easy to think perhaps this is the impetus America needs to align government, industry, and popular sentiment toward developing home-grown renewable energy sources. But a look at the charges the Bureau of Land Management levies against solar power projects on public lands tells a different tale. In fact, it seems the more efficient your power plant, the more the BLM wants you to pony up.
As BP sits down for a not-so-friendly back and forth with Congress this morning it seems the oil giant is resigned to let the Gulf oil leak flow until the relief wells are completed in August. But a nuclear physicist from California thinks he’s devised a method that could stop the gushing well by pumping steel balls into the riser. It’s likely to work, he says, and even if it fails it won’t make matters any worse. Naturally, not everyone involved is so optimistic.
First the British invented waterproof Wellington boots; now they've invented a way to derive power from those boots. Could corduroy-friction-power be far off?
The European telecom firm Orange, which sponsors the huge Glastonbury Festival at the end of June, is promoting its new "Power Wellies" as a means for festivalgoers to keep their cellphones charged.
As the Gulf oil leak continues unhindered today, BP is trying yet another tactic to stem the flow of crude into coastal waters. But amid the news surrounding this latest effort -- it's another containment dome scheme like the two that failed before, in case you're keeping score at home -- comes this interesting bit of news via the New York Times: The U.S. government has actually addressed the proposed idea of sealing off the well with a nuclear blast. Their stance on the scheme: Absolutely not.