Energy Department

Solar to continue growth in electricity generation: EIA

The relatively big growth of solar power in the U.S. over the last four years is expected to continue, the Energy Department reported this week.

Total solar generating capacity from residential, commercial and utility projects more than quadrupled from 2010 to February, the Energy Information Administration said in its monthly electricity update issued Tuesday, to 1.13 percent of domestic capacity.

Management, safety cited for WIPP radiation release

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Poor management, an eroding safety culture, ineffective maintenance and a lack of proper oversight are being blamed for a radiation release that contaminated 21 workers and shuttered the federal government's nuclear waste dump two months ago in southeastern New Mexico.

The series of shortcomings are identified in a report to be released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Energy's Accident Investigation Board and are similar to those found in a probe of truck fire in the half-mile-deep mine just nine days before the Feb. 14 radiation release from the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) near Carlsbad.

Oil

NTSB head: Action needed now on oil train safety

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration needs to take steps immediately to protect the public from potentially catastrophic oil train accidents even if it means using emergency authority, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman said Wednesday.

The Transportation Department is in the midst of drafting regulations to toughen standards for tank cars used to transport oil and ethanol, as well as other steps prevent or mitigate accidents. But there isn't time to wait for the cumbersome federal rulemaking process — which often takes many years to complete — to run its normal course, Hersman said.

Wyoming gas explosion prompts evacuation of town

OPAL, Wyo. (AP) — Residents and emergency crews were waiting for a fire to burn itself out after an explosion at a natural gas processing plant in a small town in southwestern Wyoming.

No injuries were reported in the explosion Wednesday in Opal, a town of about 95 people about 100 miles northeast of Salt Lake City. All of Opal was evacuated.

China to open 8 state industries, many in energy, for investment

BEIJING (AP) — China's government says it will open 80 projects in eight state-run industries to private and foreign investors as part of efforts to make its slowing economy more productive.

The announcement late Wednesday is the latest in a series of policy changes aimed at carrying out the ruling Communist Party's pledge in November to give entrepreneurs and foreign investors a bigger role in the state-dominated economy.

It made no mention of the politically volatile issue of whether private investors would be allowed any control over entities in newly opened industries such as oil and hydro power that previously have been deemed strategic. Other industries cited were wind power, natural gas storage and distribution, production of photovoltaic equipment for solar power, coal, railways and port operations.

Ky. Sen. hopeful Grimes wants Keystone pipeline OK'd

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergran Grimes called Wednesday on President Barack Obama to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, joining 11 incumbent Democrats as the party tries to keep control of the Senate this November.

Grimes' statement came on the same day a group committed to blocking the pipeline's construction announced plans to spend $500,000 setting up field offices in Kentucky to defeat U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. And it comes after McConnell and Republican party officials have repeatedly criticized Grimes for delaying her opinion on the project, which has become a key issue in Senate races across the country by pitting the value of economic development against protecting the environment.

"The administration should rule now and approve the project," Grimes said. "Putting Americans back to work in good-paying jobs that strengthen the middle class is my top priority and it should be the federal government's as well."

Candidates similar on issues in NC Senate debate

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The four leading candidates in North Carolina's Republican U.S. Senate primary differed little from each other on issues important to the conservative base Wednesday night during their second televised debate in as many days.

Greg Brannon, Heather Grant, Mark Harris and Thom Tillis were largely in sync at a Raleigh TV studio on their answers dealing with illegal immigration, repealing the health care overhaul law and considering any government response to climate change.

On a question about whether climate change deserves action by the federal government, Brannon said such proposals are a way to control the use of carbon.

La. bill to derail parish 'big oil' lawsuits stalls

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A New Orleans law firm launched a new Web page Wednesday aimed at refuting arguments by supporters of legislation that could scuttle a New Orleans-based flood board's lawsuit seeking damages from the oil and gas industry over the loss of coastal wetlands.

The "Sunshine Squad" Web page was announced in a telephone news conference by attorney Bessie Daschbach, a member of the Jones, Swanson, Huddell and Garrison law firm hired by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East to pursue the lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies.

NM offers help with uranium mine cleanup

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico is offering to help the Navajo Nation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency figure out how to best use $1 billion for cleaning up abandoned uranium mines throughout the region.

The offer was made public Wednesday as the state scrambles for a seat at the table of what is expected to be a massive undertaking.

NASA
Oil

National Research Council calls Arctic oil spill response 'inadequate'

The available resources to deal with a large oil spill in the Arctic Ocean remain inadequate, a National Research Council panel concluded Wednesday, in a report that raises new questions about the safety of drilling off Alaska's North Slope.

The committee, sponsored by the federal government and industry, among others, called shortfalls in personnel, equipment, and Coast Guard presence a "significant liability" if a large spill takes place.

Oil

Oil price falls as US supplies rise by 3.5M barrels

The price of oil slipped Wednesday as a government report showed U.S. oil supplies rose more than expected last week.

U.S. crude for May delivery fell 31 cents to close at $101.44 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Tuesday, the Nymex contract fell $1.90 a barrel.

Brent crude, an international benchmark for oil, fell 16 cents to $109.11 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Oil

Canada to phase out old rail tank cars in 3 years

TORONTO (AP) — Canada said Wednesday it was phasing out the type of rail tankers involved in last summer's massive explosion of a runaway oil train that incinerated much of a town in Quebec, killing 47 people and prompting intense public pressure to make oil trains safer.

Canada's transport minister announced that the DOT-111 tankers, which are used to carry crude oil and ethanol and are prone to rupture, must be retired or retrofitted within three years.

Oil

US rail safety effort marred by squabbling

WASHINGTON (AP) — Spurred by a series of fiery train crashes, a push by government and industry to make safer tank cars used for shipping crude oil and ethanol has bogged down in squabbling and finger-pointing over whether they're needed and if so, who should pay.

The Department of Transportation, worried about the potential for catastrophic accidents involving oil and ethanol trains that are sometimes as many as 100 cars long, is drafting new tank-car regulations aimed at making the cars less likely to spill their contents in the event of a crash. But final rules aren't expected until late this year at the earliest, and it is common for such government rulemaking to drag on for years.

Norfolk Southern railroad 1Q profit falls 18 pct

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Norfolk Southern's first-quarter profit fell 18 percent as severe winter weather slowed the railroad's shipments and coal revenue dropped 15 percent.

The Norfolk, Virginia, railroad earned $368 million, or $1.17 per share, during the January-March period. That's down from $450 million, or $1.41 per share, a year ago.

Last year's results were helped by a one-time $60 million real estate gain that boosted profits by 19 cents per share.

Labor Dept. cuts levels of allowable coal dust

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration said Wednesday it is cutting the amount of coal dust allowed in coal mines in an effort to help reduce black lung disease.

"Today we advance a very basic principle: you shouldn't have to sacrifice your life for your livelihood," Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said. "But that's been the fate of more than 76,000 miners who have died at least in part because of black lung since 1968."

Perez was one of several top government officials to announce the long-awaited final rule Wednesday at an event in Morgantown, W.Va.

Fracking foes challenge Ohio earthquake assurances

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A citizens' group isn't taking the word of state regulators that new permitting guidelines will protect public health after earthquakes in northeast Ohio were linked to the gas drilling method of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Youngstown-based Frackfree Mahoning Valley says the science behind the finding is suspect and new permit conditions won't prevent future quakes.

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