ASEE First Bell – Breaking news in the engineering and technology field

Leading the News

Obama Administration Responds To 2010 BP Oil Spill With New Offshore Drilling Rules.

The Administration on Thursday unveiled new measures aimed at making offshore oil and natural gas drilling safer and reducing the risks associated with digging oil wells. Media coverage – which did not include attention by the three broadcast networks – highlights the rule as a response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico six years ago. The AP  (4/14, Burdeau) says the Interior Department rules “target blowout preventers, massive valve-like devices meant to prevent oil and gas from escaping when a driller loses control of a well.” The AP explains a preventer “failed” in the BP oil spill.

US News & World Report  (4/14, Neuhauser) reports the Interior Department said in a statement that the steps “represent one of the most significant safety and environmental protection reforms the Interior Department has undertaken since Deepwater Horizon.” The Washington Post  (4/14, Dennis) reports federal officials “have said that the new guidelines were drawn in part from investigations about what went wrong” in the 2010 incident. The measures create “minimum baseline requirements for the design, manufacture, repair and maintenance” of preventers. The New York Times  (4/15, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports the rules “also add tougher requirements to the design of undersea wells and the lining that coats the wells, as well as real-time monitoring of subsea drilling and spill containment.”

The Wall Street Journal  (4/14, Harder, Subscription Publication) reports Assistant Interior Secretary Janice Schneider said, “We listened extensively to industry and other stakeholders and heard their concerns loud and clear. This rule includes both prescriptive and performance-based standards that are based on this extensive engagement and analysis.” Reuters  (4/14, Volcovici) quotes Interior Secretary Jewell as saying, “There are a number of things that went wrong. It was important that we understood those things and the evolution of technology.” Jewell added, “The well control rule is a vital part of our extensive reform agenda to strengthen, update and modernize our offshore energy program using lessons learned from Deepwater Horizon.”

Think Progress  (4/14, Valentine) reports “environmental groups were generally supportive” of the new rules, with Oceana characterizing them as “a significant improvement over the status quo.” However, Think Progress says, “some groups…have taken issue with the fact that the agency has taken nearly six years to come out with the regulations.” Jewell explained the rules “took a long time because it was very important that we understood deeply the root cause of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.” Jewell added, “It takes a long time to do this right, and it takes a long time to understand what went wrong.”

Bloomberg News  (4/14, Dlouhy) reports oil companies – including Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and Anadarko Petroleum – “have lobbied against the mandates, warning they will impose potentially tens of billions of dollars in new costs, could make some drilling less safe and threaten to reduce energy development in the Gulf of Mexico, which accounts for about 17 percent of US crude production.” Bloomberg News says the impact “will be most acute for the Gulf’s top crude oil and gas producers,” such as Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chevron Riverstone Holdings, and Exxon.

The Hill  (4/14, Cama) reports the Independent Petroleum Association of America “blasted the rule,” with lobbyist Dan Naatz saying the “highly prescriptive rule could result in unintended negative consequences leading to reduced safety, less environmental protection, fewer American jobs, and decreased US oil and natural gas production.” Brian Salerno, the director of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, “said the agency loosened some standards on drilling margins and real-time monitoring in response to industry concerns but did not risk safety in the process.”

The New Orleans Times-Picayune  (4/14) reports that Louisiana Republicans “blasted” the mandates as “economic stranglers of a struggling oil and gas industry.” Jewell said that “she felt confident the final rule would stand up to any challenge, either from Congress or in the courts.” Meanwhile, critics have “decried the final version as a blanket punishment of an industry for the mistakes of one company.”

Also providing coverage are E&P Magazine  (4/15), Politico Pro  (4/14, Subscription Publication), Greenwire  (4/14, Subscription Publication), Politico Pro  (4/14, Subscription Publication), Politico Pro  (4/14, Subscription Publication), The Hill  (4/13, Cama), EuroNews  (4/15), the Brownsville (TX) Herald  (4/15), Salon  (4/14), Voice of America  (4/14), the Akron (OH) Beacon Journal  (4/15), and Seeking Alpha  (4/14).

Higher Education

Senate Bill Would Eliminate Forgiven Student Loan Tax Liability In Some Cases.

MarketWatch  (4/14, Berman) writes that at present, “a forgiven student loan comes with a surprise tax bill,” and “a bill introduced by a bipartisan group of senators Thursday is looking to change that for some.” The legislation would eliminate tax liability “for families who have student loan debt wiped away after the death of their child and for borrowers who have their debts discharged because of a disability.”

UT Marks 10th Anniversary Of Freshman Research Initiative.

The Austin (TX) American Statesman  (4/14, Toohey, Subscription Publication) reports the University of Texas is marking the 10th anniversary of the Freshman Research Initiative, intended “to get students interested in science, technology, engineering and math with more hands-on experience through a separate set of coursework.” It was intended to overcome the drain of “the early years when coursework is often focused on thick textbooks, esoteric labs and grinding preparations that drive as many as 60 percent of interested students out of those fields.”

Two Purdue University Northwest Calumet Campus Teams Took Three Victories At NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge.

La Porte County (IN) Life  (4/14) reports that “two teams of Purdue University Northwest Calumet Campus engineering students claimed three first places against a field of national and international competitors” in the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge last weekend. Thirty-nine teams took art in the competition at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Rice University Scientists Use Tesla Coil To Create Force Field To Manipulate Nanotubes.

The Houston Chronicle  (4/14, McGuire) reports Rice University scientists “have found a way to make carbon nanotubes self-assemble, possibly the futuristic first step in creating force fields that can move larger objects.” The Rice team discovered that a reconfigured Tesla coil “could produce a force field that’s strong enough to cause carbon nanotubes to form into long wires, a phenomenon they are dubbing ‘Teslaphoresis.’”

SPECIAL SECTION: Prism Magazine on Whistleblowing
ASEE’s Prism magazine features engineering educators using their expertise to challenge authority when needed.

Research and Development

Dow Chemical Invests In Water Treatment Technology.

Environment and Energy Management  (4/14) reports that Dow Chemical announced on Thursday its investment in OxyMem Ltd to “accelerate the commercialisation of OxyMem’s promising wastewater treatment technology – the Membrane Aerated Biofilm Reactor (MABR).” Snehal Desai, global business director for Dow Water and Process Solutions, said, “OxyMem’s MABR technology shows excellent promise in lowering operational costs for the wastewater treatment process due to reduced energy demand. This also makes the technology a strong sustainability value proposition – it can help encourage greater adoption of water reuse and as a result, advance a circular economy that makes water a well-managed resource, sustained by advances in science and technology.” Engineer’s Journal  (4/14) also reports on the story.

Toyota Chairman Calls On Industry To Help Develop Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars.

The Detroit Free Press  (4/14, Snavely) reports that Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada on Thursday discussed the potential of hydrogen fuel cell cars during his “keynote speech before several hundred engineers at SAE World Congress” in Detroit. He said, “Toyota firmly believes the benefits of a hydrogen society are enormous for a healthy global environment. … That is why we are playing a leading role in bringing together automakers, energy companies, government agencies and others to help build the required refueling infrastructure.” He added, “We want to encourage others to participate in creating the hydrogen society.”

Researcher Investigates Whether Carpool Apps Can Eliminate Traffic Problems.

TIME  (4/14, Steinmetz) columnist Katy Steinmetz ponders Berkeley engineering professor Susan Shaheen’s research into whether apps can solve traffic problems in the US, including her team’s ongoing “landmark study examining” app-driven carpooling.


Report: Clean Energy Jobs Growing In Rhode Island.

Drawing on coverage from the Providence Journal the AP  (4/14) reports a state of Rhode Island “report released this week shows that clean energy jobs” in the state have risen “40 percent since last year.” The report “by the Office of Energy Resources and the Executive Office of Commerce found that 84 percent of Rhode Island’s nearly 14,000 clean energy jobs are in energy efficiency.” Gov. Gina Raimondo said Rhode Island has made “extraordinary strides in promoting renewable energy.”

Industry News

Tesla Hire Indicates Model 3 Might Have HUD.

BGR  (4/14, Heisler) reports that Tesla recently hired former Skully Systems principal engineer Milan Kovac, whose expertise in heads up displays could mean Tesla intends to incorporate a HUD in the Model 3. Some were concerned about the apparent absence of an instrument cluster in the concept car, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk “alleviated concerns about the peculiar design choice via Twitter, noting that everything will make more sense soon.”

Tech Companies Scramble For Lithium As Prices Skyrocket.

USA Today  (4/14, Stafford) reports that lithium prices continue to climb, driven by soaring demand from tech companies that are making the commodity “the world’s new gasoline.” According to USA Today, tech companies, including Tesla, Faraday Future, and Apple, are facing off in the race to secure new lithium supplies to “capture the most electric vehicle market share and the best engineers.” Lithium has begun attention from “noteworthy investors in the mining sector” like Frank Giustra, and Goldman Sachs predicts “lithium demand will rise by 70,000 tons per year” for every 1% “rise in EV market share.”

Engineering and Public Policy

House Panel Warns Fed Aren’t Prepared For Attack On Power Grid.

The Hill  (4/14, Fong) reports lawmakers expressed concerns to federal officials at a hearing of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management about the government’s lack of preparation in the event of a cyber or physical attack on the nation’s electrical grid. Chairman Low Barletta (R-PA) said, “Virtually all critical infrastructure is dependent upon the electrical grid, particularly lifeline sectors, telecommunications, transportation, water, and financial services,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) fears a coordinated attack could be as crippling as an earthquake or tsunami. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate “said they have learned a great deal from responding to natural disasters about the need to have long-term resources in an area.” Fugate added that in a widespread blackout from a cyberattack, FEMA would operate on the state level to get in contact with citizens.

A second article by The Hill  (4/14, Williams) article reports Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) “pushed Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary of the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, to describe whose bailiwick federal coordination would be in the event of an attack on the grid.” Meadows said, “With regards to national security, who’s in charge of the power grid? Is it [the Energy Department] or [the Defense Department]?” Despite the legitimate concerns expressed by the congressmen, the Department of Homeland Security said in a recent report that a massive, power grid-disabling cyber attack is “possible” but “not likely,” while hinting that media reports have overstated the risk.

MidAmerican Energy Company Launches $3.6 Billion Wind Turbine Operation In Iowa.

The AP  (4/14, Vujicic) reports MidAmerican Energy Company announced plans to spend $3.6 billion on a wind turbine project “that would generate enough energy to power about 800,000 Iowa homes.” The utility’s CEO and president Bill Fehrman revealed the wind project at an event Thursday on the Iowa State Fair Grounds attended by Gov. Terry Branstad and other state officials. Branstad said, “Once the project is complete, the state will be on track as the very first state in the nation to generate more than 40 percent of our energy from wind power.” MidAmerican officials did not say where the nearly 1,000 turbines will be built, but Fehrman “said he hopes to have the project approved by mid-September.”

The Wall Street Journal  (4/14, Sweet, Subscription Publication) adds that MidAmerican expects to build up to 2,000 additional megawatts of wind turbines with a goal of generating 85 percent of its power from wind. The company already operates 3,500 megawatts in Iowa, equal to nearly 58 percent of the power it supplies to in-state customers. Fehrman said the project will be economically feasible thanks to renewable-energy tax credits that Congress extended last December.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Study Shows Arkansas Students Who Take CTE Courses More Successful In Long Run.

Diverse Education  (4/14, Abdul-Alim) reports that “while career and technical education, or CTE, may have historically been maligned as a ‘dead end,’ a new study based on students in Arkansas shows students who took more CTE classes were slightly more likely to finish high school, attend a two-year college and earn a little more money than those who don’t.” The study found that 89% of Arkansas students “take at least one CTE class, but those who took more CTE or concentrated in certain areas enjoyed better educational and employment outcomes.”

Iowa STEM Students Take Part In Lego League.

The Oskaloosa (IA) Herald Online  (4/15, Holland) reports on the Mahaska and Jasper County, Iowa Junior FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League, which “participated in an expo, showing off eight weeks of work and learning.” Lego leagues “emphasize science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and ‘makes sure those kids understand how things work, how things go together and just kind of looking outside of the box and getting more in-depth as they go along,’” said Amy Brainard of Iowa State University’s extension program.

New Indiana Science Standards Could Focus On Research Process.

Chalkbeat Indiana  (4/14, Cavazos) reports that Indiana science teachers could soon “be much more focused on how kids learn about biology and engineering – and less focused on what they learn.” New science standards that the Indiana State Board of Education will vote on “stress the investigative and research skills that kids need to learn at every grade level as they explore physical science, earth and space science, life science and engineering.”

Thursday’s Lead Stories

Chip Implant In Brain Allows Paralyzed Patient To Regain Some Complex Hand Movements.
Center For American Progress Report Faults ED’s Oversight Of Colleges.
Tech Entrepreneur To Grant $250M For Immunotherapy Research.
EV Firm Faraday Breaks Ground On Nevada Plant.
Interior Set To Release Final Offshore Drilling Rules.
Obama Touts Importance Of Science At White House Science Fair.

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