About Claire

As Director of Wiess Energy Hall Programming, Claire coordinates energy education activities for schools, universities and business; promotes energy-related events, and generally works on spreading the word about the Wiess Energy Hall, the premiere energy resource worldwide. Check out her posts for all things energy – from the “Big Bang” to sustainability.

A Whale of a Tale

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Erwin Winkelman

HMNS was honored last week when Minerals Management Service  (MMS) chose our Wiess Energy Hall for an announcement about their six-year, $9.3 million study of endangered sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico. Part of the mission of MMS is to promote responsible use of energy and mineral resources on federal land and the Outer Continental Shelf. Their results indicate that the whales are only minimally affected by oil and gas exploration. You can read all the news articles written about this event by clicking here. 

The MMS partnered with several universities and scientists such as Doug Biggs,  a Texas A&M oceanographer who led the research.

Humpback Whale Breaching by Official Photographer (NOAA)
Creative Commons License photo credit: pingnews.com

As is often the case with science, we now have even more questions about sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico than we started with. In fact, most of us never even knew there were any kind of whales in the Gulf, probably because they live far from shore and spend their time diving as deep as 7,000 feet for squid and fish.

Because whales use echolocation, in the form of clicking and buzzing sounds, to find their prey, there was a concern that the loud seismic air guns used for oil and gas exploration would disorient them. However, the study showed that the noise had little affect. The study also gave us more information about the breeding and feeding patterns of the whales that can be used for future studies. The recent surge in interest in offshore drilling makes this Sperm Whale Seismic Study in the Gulf of Mexico even more important.

I love hearing that sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico are unharmed by seismic surveys, but another treat for me was the people who came to Houston from MMS for the press conference (held in the Wiess Energy Hall Explorations Theater). Caryl Fagot, and Eileen Angelico are as fun to work with as it must be playing with the whales in the Gulf! They are in the Public Affairs office in the MMS Gulf of Mexico Region Office in New Orleans. Carol Roden and Ann Jochens are research scientists on the team. I love seeing women scientists in action to prove to non-believers that YES women can be scientists.

Randall Luthi, Director, Minerals Management Service in Washington DC has a sense of humor that could even entertain a whale. He is from Wyoming and pointed out that he therefore has first-hand knowledge of whales, even though they have a different species than in the Gulf. (I hope this causes those of you who are not grinning to search a U.S. map for the humor involved.) I admire the dedication of Doug, Caryl, Eileen, Carol, Ann, Randall and all of the others in attendance, to keeping our wildlife safe from human harm.

VIDEO: Explore The Wiess Energy Hall

Energy is a topic that relates to every one of us – and with the recent spike in the price of oil, it’s something we’re all following closely. I can’t think of a better place to learn quickly and easily about the oil and gas industry than the Weiss Energy Hall, here at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

The Oil & Gas Investor agreed – and now, you can see us featured on their Web site. In her article, Meredith Cantrell does a great job of getting the point across that the Wiess Energy Hall is a great resource for all ages and for people from all walks of life.  I was excited when I heard that such a financial icon was coming to check us out.  If I were an investor, I would want to know all I could about the industries that I was investing in.  

While they were here, Meredith interviewed me and compiled a short video. The film also shows the large variety of displays in the hall.

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Explore Energy! Meredith Cantrell speaks with Claire Scoggin, Director of the Wiess Energy Hall at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, for a piece in the Oil & Gas Investor online. They have kindly agreed to let us share it here. Videography by Lindsay Goodier.

The day this was filmed, we also met Lindsay Goodier, the Online Editor for Oil and Gas Investor, who has a blog called Oil Rules which I thoroughly enjoy reading. She is always on top of what is developing in the oil and gas industry and has fun talking about it. Check it out!

Not to Be Long-Winded, But…

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Creative Commons License photo credit: __Dori__

Just can’t get enough wind energy this month. NPR featured  (recently mentioned here) T. Boone Pickens, the venerable Texas oilman, and his plans to put 2500  wind turbines in the Texas panhandle–enough to power 1.3 million homes. He is a big advocate of using more wind energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by making more natural gas–currently used to generate electricity–available for powering transportation. Pickens points out a study citing that the land available in North Dakota for wind turbines–if used for that purpose–might be enough to power the entire USA.

And for those of you who are still stuck on the idea that wind turbines are ugly, you can soon try on a hot little number designed by French designer Philippe Starck. He’s designed a plastic wind turbine that can generate 20 to 60 percent (!) of your home electricity needs. NPR reports that it will be available later this year for only $630.  Maybe you should run down to your local wind boutique to make sure you’re on the list for this one. Fashion forward AND eco-friendly. How hip are you gonna be this fall?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: CoreBurn

Speaking of wind, hurricane season is now in session, which means we’re also thinking a lot about the Gulf of Mexico – which is also closely related to our current energy crisis.

Offshore drilling on the Offshore Continental Shelf - (OCS) is an important factor in the equation which determines the cost of gasoline. Now you can actually keep an eye on the Minerals Management Service web site to see how the weather is effecting oil production in the GUlf of Mexico. For safety reasons, offshore oil rigs are shut down during dangerous conditions. But don’t worry too much, there are numerous procedures in place to make sure hurricanes don’t cause oil leaks.

Blowing away the alternative: a case for wind power

Following up on his previous post, Wiess Energy Hall Master Docent Julian Lamborn shares his case for the further development of wind power in the US: 

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Creative Commons License photo credit: s2art

If coal-fired power stations were to be forced to sequester their greenhouse gases then production of electricity from wind generators would be cheaper than from coal.  There are optimists who believe that the present USA wind generating capacity could be raised from 1% of the country’s electricity needs to 20% (although 5% to 7% by 2020 is believed by most to be a more realistic number, particularly since some of the Federal subsidy programs for wind generators are scheduled to run out at the end of 2008!)
If you are considering putting a 2 MW wind/power generating machine in your backyard (remember that it would be some 360 ft. tall!) it would set you back around $2 million but, remember, the wind resources in the United States are vast. Using today’s technology, there is theoretically enough wind power flowing across our country to supply all of our electricity needs.  North Dakota alone could supply about one third of the nation’s electricity

Adequate winds for commercial power production are found at sites in 46 states but only a small portion of our country’s vast wind potential will likely be tapped in the near future since there has to be an integrated approach to energy management with both political and industrial participation.

Here in the USA, in Iowa, at the Iowa Stored Energy Park, a $200 million system that will take surplus electrical energy from nearby wind farms and use it to compress and store high pressure air underground will go online in 2011.  When needed, this compressed air can be released into a natural gas fired electricity generating turbine to produce some 268 MW of supplemental power.

The World Wind Energy Association anticipates that the installed capacity of wind powered generators will be around 170,000 MW by the end of 2010… this represents an 81% increase in world wind generating capacity from the end of 2007. This is the fastest growing source of alternate energy the world has at present. 

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Creative Commons License photo credit: s2art

Although there are many NIMBY (“not in my back-yard”) activists interested in where to site wind-farms, many ornithologists interested in avian problems created by the rotor blades and many people that just don’t like change, the alternate of burning more and more coal and producing potentially more and more greenhouse gases has also to be put into the equation.  In the long term (as there always is) there will be an acceptable balance wherein, at least in the US, there will probably be wind generation producing between 5% and 10% of our daily electricity needs as part of our daily power grid input. But I’ll also bet with you, though, that none of these wind generators will be in or very close to a National Park!