With MINExpo less than two months away, Energy & Mining International will run a series of posts leading up to the big show. Today's installment originally ran in the summer edition of EMI. Like a presidential election, MINExpo lures the best and the brightest into the public eye with the hopes of being the big winner. Instead of vying for power in Washington, D.C., though, the world descends on Las Vegas to win business, rekindle relationships and learn the latest about the newest trends and technologies available in the industry based on success stories from around the world. Just as in 2008, Energy & Mining International will be in Las Vegas to cover everything happening across 850,000-square-feet of indoor and outdoor exhibit space featuring more than 1,800 exhibitors from Sept. 24 to 26 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. According to the National Mining Association – which is the lead sponsor for the 2012 installment of MINExpo – attendees will have exposure to new products and services, firsthand demonstra­tions, efficiency and environmental solutions, educational seminars and networking opportunities. In Energy & Mining International’s preview section, our editorial staff profiles a number of the exhibitors who hope to make waves at the 2012 MINExpo. For instance, The Reinforced Earth Co. (REco) of Vienna, Va., is using the show as a coming-out party now that it has grown its capabilities extensively in the last eight years, as correspondent Lori Sichtermann reports. “In some ways, we’re a new company,” REco Business Development Manager John Shall says. “And that’s what we’re showcasing.” Schroeder Industries tells EMI’s Jim Harris that his company is bringing plenty of new products to MINExpo as well as its networking shoes to hear feedback from its clients about its products already in the field. Miner Elastomer Products Corp. also is taking the opportunity to bring new products to market at the international stage that is MINExpo. Terry Koehn tells EMI’s Alan Dorich the Geneva, Ill.-based company expects its dual-rate suspensions should be a hit at the big show because many professionals are demanding higher quality products that require less maintenance.

Veteran author and journalist Bob Reiss has penned a narrative non-fiction book that will reveal the ongoing struggle between energy producers and indigenous peoples throughout the world. Using the Alaska’s North Slope as the backdrop, “The Eskimo and the Oil Man” ($27.99; Grand Central Publishing) follows the implications of an exploratory well program scheduled to begin this summer from the perspectives of an Iñupiat Eskimo leader and the head of Shell Oil’s Alaska venture. Reiss spent three years traveling in the Arctic and spent time with scientists, diplomats, military planers and Eskimo whale hunters, along with traveling to remote villages and sailing on a U.S. icebreaker. He also interviewed some of the most powerful politicians in Washington, D.C. The crux of the issue is how a major player in the oil industry plans to extrude as much as 27 billion barrels of oil it believes lies off the shores of the North Slope while maintaining the culture, lifestyle and steady income of the native people who inhabit this region. “The Eskimo and the Oil Man” is scheduled for release later this month.

As reported by numerous news agencies this week including ABC News and Bloomberg BusinessWeek, a team of billionaires is pursuing asteroid mining as their latest business venture. Planetary Resources Inc. has recruited some of the brightest minds in the aerospace and mining industries as well as a stable of deep-pocketed investors that includes famed movie director James Cameron and Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt. The goal is to develop an exploration program focusing on extracting materials like iron, nickel, water and rare platinum group metals from the more than 1,500 asteroids that “are as easy to get to as the surface of the moon,” the company says. The company also states these metals are easier to extract from asteroids than Earth because they are distributed throughout an asteroid's body, not at the core like our home planet. While the mainstream media covers over the possibility of extraterrestrial exploration ad nauseam, Planetary Resources isn’t the first company to attempt mining beyond Earth’s atmosphere. In 2008, Exploration + Processing magazine – Energy & Mining International magazine’s predecessor – reported on mining on the moon. Since 1999, the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT) in Sudbury, Ontario, has developed space-mining equipment, specifically drilling units for subsurface explorations of the moon. These missions involve the search for water, ice and oxygen within lunar soil, which require drilling equipment that can survive the harsh conditions of the moon. As of 2008, NORCAT had been working with NASA on its RESOLVE (Regolith and Environmnet Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction) project, which was an experiment package designed to obtain ground truth date to confirm the presence of hydrogen on the moon. NORCAT developed an excavation and bulk regolith characterization module for the project, which is a drill with a sample capture and particle size-reduction unit.

From time to time, EMI will run posts from industry experts when news from around the world warrants it. Today, Sebastian Thaler shares a new technique that is extending the life of oil fields throughout the world. “Peak oil” theorists argue that world oil production follows a bell-shaped curve, and the maximum occurred sometime in the past. The supergiant oil fields that supply much of our oil, they write, are getting older and declining in production. Additionally, the oil fields we have already found contain most of the oil we will ever find. Yet these thinkers fail to consider the influence of new technology on unlocking new reserves. Peak oil is not about new discoveries, as these same thinkers would argue. Rather, it is about maximizing production and ultimate recovery from existing fields. Innovation in approaches to oil extraction offers new life for oil fields, making it difficult to identify a definite “peak” in production. Such insights are relevant in 2012, when the average price at American gas pumps is expected to hit $5 per gallon by summer. Yet a process known as pulsed injection offers potential new life for U.S. oil fields that were once thought to be past their productive lifetimes – allowing more barrels to be recovered domestically. In all, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that there may be up to 430 billion barrels of oil that is technically recoverable nationwide. Before pulsed injection’s development, an oil company interested in extracting more oil from an older field would inject various fluids, mainly water, underground to help recover it – an operation known as secondary recovery. But there is a general drawback to this approach: Injected fluids tend to seek the path of least resistance through porous media, tracing a different trajectory followed by the inaccessible oil and resulting in lower overall oil recovery rates. In contrast, pulsed injection is analogous to what happens when a kink is released from a garden hose. Specialized equipment oscillates water flow on and off, building up kinetic energy that will force more water to come into contact with oil. Each surge of water and energy places more oil in contact with water when it might have otherwise remained inaccessible. Wavefront Technology Solutions Inc., based in Edmonton, has been at the forefront of development of this application of pulsed injection. As repeatedly demonstrated by Wavefront, pulsed injection can increase oil recovery via two main mechanisms: First, the pulsed injection of water overcomes the path of least resistance and increases the so-called “finger density” of water through the field. Second, the momentum of the pulsed fluid breaks up residual oil globules that exist underground. Both of these mechanisms make it considerably easier for oil to be recovered from the field. The potential prize of enhancing recovery rates with pulsed injection is enormous. Worldwide, a 5 percent increase in recovery – a conservative increase thought to be achievable – would yield an additional 300 billion to 600 billion barrels. The application of pulsed injection can result in increased ultimate oil recovery from a field of between 5 and 10 percent depending on reservoir conditions. The harnessing of pulsed injection reframes the debate over “peak oil,” and can assist in maximizing ultimate oil recovery from existing and new oil fields. Sebastian Thaler is a freelance science and technology writer based in New York City. His work has appeared in USA Today Magazine and various trade journals as well as a range of online publications. He holds a bachelor’s degree in astronomy from Columbia University and a master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University.

Welcome to the first official guest blog entry for Energy & Mining International magazines website. From time to time, EMI will run posts from industry experts when news from around the world warrants it. In this installment, Richard E. Farley – partner in the corporate practice of Paul Hastings – assesses the state of the Keystone XL Pipeline project and its long-term effects on the U.S. energy portfolio. With gasoline prices well above $4 a gallon in many places, the Keystone XL pipeline project is once again front and center in the national political debate. The proposed 1,170-mile long pipeline would significantly increase the capacity to bring crude oil from the Canadian oil sands in Alberta to U.S. refineries in Texas. The approval delays resulting from the Congressional/Administration tug-of-war over the project have been universally praised by the Environmentalist Establishment. This says quite a bit more about the Environmentalist Establishment that it does the Keystone XL pipeline project. To be both environmentally responsible and opposed to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, you must believe in things that cannot happen. Yet, to not be opposed to the pipeline project is to forfeit one’s status as an “Environmentalist” in good standing with those who have the power to decide such things. If it is (and it must be) irresponsible to hold positions necessarily premised upon practical impossibilities, the only choice in the Keystone XL debate is to challenge the orthodoxy of the Environmentalist Establishment. Eighty-six environmental organizations are signatories to a letter to President Obama last year requesting that he not approve the Keystone XL pipeline – the list of the organizations on the signature pages is longer than the letter itself. The Environmentalist Establishment’s objections to Keystone XL are essentially threefold, and summarized as follows: First, the oil sands crude that will flow through the pipeline will be mined and processed in a way that is injurious to the environment in Canada; second, the burning of this oil will further contribute to global warming; and third, this crude oil, more corrosive than other crudes, may cause significant environmental harm in the event of a pipeline spill. The third objection is unquestionably the most disingenuous. No one disputes that transportation of crude oil and other corrosive and hazardous liquids by pipeline is the safest mode of transportation. For example, in a 2010 report (Building Safe Communities: Pipeline Risk and its Application to Local Development Decisions, October 2010), the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation found that rail or road transportation of hazardous liquids are all less safe environmentally than pipelines, with 15,000 hazardous materials incidents per year for road and approximately 700 for railway versus 167 for pipelines. If the Keystone XL pipeline is not built, more Canadian crude oil will be transported by less safe means – principally rail. The Canadian National Railroad is already promoting its alternative transport capabilities as a “pipeline on rails.” The first and second objections would be valid only if, without the Keystone XL pipeline, the “dirty” tar sands oil would stay in the ground. This is an outcome that will not happen. Oil sands development is expected to contribute over $2 trillion and over 800,000 jobs to the Canadian economy over the next 25 years, generating over $750 billion in taxes and royalties to Canada and its provinces during such time. Any of this crude which cannot be sold to the United States because of pipeline capacity issues (which are expected to arise within the next five years) will be sold to China, whose state oil companies have invested nearly $20 billion in oil sands assets in the last two years alone. SinoPec, a Chinese state-controlled oil company, has already committed to help finance the $5.5 billion Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project that would significantly increase the transport capacity of crude from Alberta to Pacific Ocean ports, to be shipped by tanker from there to Asia. As the environmentalist establishment is well aware, China is a bit less particular than the United States when it comes to environmental protection. In Yale University’s 2012 Environmental Performance Index, China ranked 116th out of 136 countries (the U.S. ranked 49th). It is nearly certain, then, that Canadian oil refined or consumed in China will do more environmental harm than if refined or consumed here. Responsible environmentalists should want as much oil as possible to be transported through pipelines to the United States to the exclusion of other modes of transportation and destinations. This is not to imply that pipeline safety and regulation are not in need of improvement. PHMSA is woefully underfunded and understaffed, with less than 150 inspectors to oversee over 2.3 million miles of natural gas and hazardous liquids pipelines. The agency also has a history of levying paltry fines for significant safety violations (averaging only $30,000 per incident). Our pipeline system relies heavily on self-oversight which too often can mean no oversight. Sadly, as long as the carbon prohibitionists dominate the Environmentalist Establishment, improved pipeline safety and regulation will get lost in the cacophony of orthodoxy.

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