Leading the News
Texas Refineries Begin Reopening.
Reuters (9/2, Scheyder, Parraga) reported Texas refineries began reopening on Saturday, after closing due to Tropical Storm Harvey. Openings include Exxon Mobil’s 560,500 barrel per day facility in Baytown – the second largest refinery in the country – and Phillips 66’s 247,000 bpd refinery in Beaumont. The Houston Chronicle (9/3, Eaton) reported seen major refineries, with more than 8 percent of the nation’s refining capacity, have started the reboot process. However, nine facilities, which produce 2.4 million bpd remain closed, four are operating at reduced rates, while one has returned to full production. Damage to seaside ports and major railways will continue to hamper operations. Bloomberg News (9/4, Stillman) reports president of Lipow Oil Associates Andy Lipow said, “We have seen a fair amount of refinery capacity return online but there still is a significant amount that is still offline between the Houston-Beaumont-Port Arthur region. … The market is pricing in a rather quick recovery in the Houston area but it might still be several weeks for the Houston area refiners to return to full production.” The Financial Times (9/1, Subscription Publication) reported the impact from Harvey should not last long as imports are coming to the East coast and refiners work to fill the supply gap. Reuters (9/3, George) and the AP (9/4) also provided coverage.
Reuters (9/4, McWilliams) reports the US Coast Guard allowed some barge traffic on Monday to enter Port Arthur, and is considering allowing ships to enter on Tuesday. Director of the USCG’s Vessel Tracking Service Scott Whalen said ships are not yet allowed to enter the port because of extreme river currents. Whalen said survey results of the port are due Monday evening, after which an assessment will be made if the port can reopen on Tuesday. Reuters (9/4, Trotta) reports Colonel Lars Zetterstrom, head of the Army Corps of Engineers’ regional office in Galveston, said most ports in Texas were open on Monday, with some restrictions on traffic and vessel size.
Exxon Restarting Baytown, Oil Spills From Beaumont. Reuters (9/2) reported ExxonMobil was restarting its Baytown refinery on Saturday, six days after it was initially shut down. The company said it started the reboot on Friday night. The Houston Chronicle (9/3, Eaton) reported the refinery only needs minor repairs after flood waters entered the facility. Spokeswoman Suann Guthrie said, “We’re making good progress. … But the timing depends on the availability of transportation infrastructure” to get fuel to markets. The Houston Chronicle (9/3, Eaton) reported that Exxon is working with the Port of Houston to increase tanker traffic in the Houston Ship Channel, and is helping coordinate repairs to nearby railroads. Guthrie said the logistical problems will need to be fixed before the company’s refineries can restart. Reuters (9/4) reports Exxon said Monday that its pipeline division was starting to supply gas and other fuels to the Houston area after progress on restarting the pipelines.
The Houston Chronicle (9/2, Teitz) reported Exxon Mobil’s Beaumont refinery has spilled some oil “onto a nearby county road.” According to spokeswoman Charlotte Huffaker, the plant is “monitoring a sheen. There is not a reported oil spill.”
Valero Returning Refineries To Full Production Levels. Reuters (9/4) reports Valero said its Corpus Christi and Texas City refineries had recovered to pre-hurricane levels of production. The company said the Texas City facility hit full production over the weekend. Valero is making preparations to restart the Port Arthur in refinery, as it was in the “final stages” of assessing the storm’s damage. The Houston Chronicle (9/4, Blum) reports Valero said its Three Rivers and Houston refineries are also resuming production. Flint Hills Resources and Citgo Petroleum are also in the process of restarting major refining complexes.
Bloomberg News (9/1, Dlouhy, Blewitt) reported that while Valero’s refineries on the Gulf Coast kept operating throughout the storm, Colonial Pipeline would not accept the extra barrels of fuel. Valero sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott saying, “Valero is nearing containment and is having to hold the refineries at reduced rates or potentially even shutdown. … Valero cannot get Colonial to take product.” The EPA waived fuel specifications to allow for refiners to ship winter-grade gasoline two weeks early, but Colonial told its shippers that it would only take the fuel if customers would accept that quality. A Colonial spokeswoman said, “The supplier of the product would need to get approval from the customer who is receiving the product.”
Phillips 66 Applies For Jones Act Waiver To Supply Alliance Refinery. Reuters (9/3, Ngai) reported Phillips 66 requested a Jones Act waiver so it can use foreign vessels to transport crude or products to and from its Alliance refinery. Phillips 66 said it was also preparing to resume operations at its Sweeny refinery, along with its Old Ocean and Beaumont oil terminals and its Pasadena refined products terminal. The company said its fractionation plant in Mont Belvieu suspended operations over the lack of storage capacity. Reuters (9/1) reported the US Customs and Border Patrol said it had received and is reviewing the request to waive the Jones Act. Argus Media (9/1) reported the agency could not say when a decision would be reached. The CBP approved a waiver in 2012 following Hurricane Sandy to transport petroleum products to the northeast US.
ConocoPhillips Nearing Recovery Of Eagle Ford Output. Reuters (9/4) reports ConocoPhillips’ oil production in the Eagle Ford shale hit roughly 50 percent of its pre-hurricane output on Monday, and is expected 80 percent by the end of the night. The company said production in natural gas liquids would be the slowest to recover because of offtake restraints.
North Carolina A&T Professor Gets NSF Grant To Overhaul Engineering Department.
The Greensboro (NC) News & Record (9/4) reports the National Science Foundation has given North Carolina A&T engineering professor Stephen Knisley a $2 million Revolutionizing Engineering Departments grant, intended to help “universities to look for different ways to teach engineering and computer science.” The grant will “fund a five-year project to improve A&T’s undergraduate engineering curriculum.” Knisley “will lead a team that includes professors from A&T’s engineering, education and health and human sciences colleges.”
Navient Facing Backlash Over Treatment Of Borrowers.
The Chicago Tribune (9/2, Yerak) reports that student loan giant Navient, “which services $300 billion in student debt — about a quarter of all federal and private loans nationally,” is “facing lawsuits in Illinois, Washington state and elsewhere from federal and state regulators, as well as consumers, over a range of business practices, including allegedly making unauthorized robocalls, doing a poor job of tracking payment processing errors, steering borrowers into costlier repayment options and misapplying payments.” The article reports that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has sued the firm, accusing it of “systematically and illegally failing borrowers at every stage of repayment.” Meanwhile, “CFPB echoes other consumer advocates, who say the U.S. Department of Education is stalling on critical protections for borrowers.”
Research and Development
UNLV Getting New Laser-Scanning Microscope.
The AP (9/4) reports that next spring researchers at UNLV will be “getting a new laser-scanning microscope, which officials said might help recruit researchers and will be available to other Nevada students.” The $1 million device was “paid for through a grant from the National Science Foundation” and will “allow researchers to document what living cells do in real time, as it can take time-lapse images of cells throughout several hours.”
NSF Gives Penn State Professors Grant To Develop Tech To Fight Fake News.
The AP (9/1) reports that the National Science Foundation has given two Penn State professors a $300,000 grant “to develop technology that will enable digital devices to weed out fake news.” The researchers “plan to investigate ‘characteristic indicators of fake news’ and develop complex formulas that will enable digital devices to recognize those indicators and purge stories that contain them.”
NASA Orion Spacecraft Undergoes Splashdown Test.
The AP (9/1, Helber) reported that NASA conducted a simulated ocean splashdown test in late August for its Orion spacecraft at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The vehicle is scheduled to conduct unmanned test flights beginning in 2018, and crewed flight in 2023.
New Qualcomm Auto Chipset Advances Vehicle-to-everything Communications.
ZDNet (9/1, Condon) reports that Qualcomm’s 9150 C-V2X chipset should be available for commercial sampling in the second half of 2018 and as a Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) chipset, it “should bring automakers one step closer to deploying the communications systems needed for fully autonomous vehicles.” The chipset has reportedly been endorsed by multiple industry partners, including Ford, Audi, the PSA Group, and SAIC. Durga Malladi, SVP of engineering at Qualcomm, reportedly told ZDNet that with the ongoing advancement of the standards for C-V2X, “there is an increasing appetite to say, ‘Let’s test it out.’ … And for that, we need a chipset.”
Silicon Valley Loses Grip On Tech Talent As Other Cities Sprout Internet Companies.
In a piece for TechCrunch (9/3), Hans Tung, managing partner at GGV Capital, explains that “the growing diaspora of Silicon Valley-trained engineers” is being combined with the “local strengths” of other cities to fuel proliferation of innovative consumer Internet companies outside of the traditional silicon Valley setting. Entertainment in Los Angeles, food tech in the Midwest, and media savvy in New York are deteriorating the “absolute monopoly on tech talent” that Silicon Valley has enjoyed, especially as “college graduate engineers opt to live in urban areas near their alma maters, and tech giants from the San Francisco Bay Area are consequently expanding the size of their offices in these cities.”
Duke Cancels Nuclear Plants; Promises $6B Billion In Investments.
Engineering News-Record (9/4, Russell) reports that “Duke Energy is officially pulling the plug on proposed nuclear plants in Florida and North Carolina following the cancellation of one under-construction nuclear plant in South Carolina, and the rising costs of another in Georgia. Instead, in Florida, the company says it will invest $6 billion in solar power and grid upgrades.”
Engineering and Public Policy
DOE Proposes Expediting “Small-Scale” LNG Exports.
The Hill (9/1, Cama) reports the Energy Department on Friday published a proposal to streamline approvals for “small-scale” liquefied natural gas exports. Under the new rule, “companies would get automatic approval of gas export applications as long as the proposed exports are 140 million cubic feet per day or less,” and would not require an “extensive environmental review.” In a statement, the DOE said that “facilitating small-scale natural gas exports will allow for greater diversity and competition in the natural gas market.”
BLM To Offer Drilling Rights Near Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument.
The AP (9/1) reports the Bureau of Land Management on Friday said it will offer oil and gas drilling rights on 145 square miles of public land near Dinosaur National Monument in northeastern Utah, citing “President Donald Trump’s goal of increasing domestic energy production.” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert “expressed concerns in July about potential drilling in the area, saying it could be disruptive for visitors to” the monument.
UT Arlington Engineering Professor Helps Protect Texas Medical Center From Hurricane.
The Dallas Morning News (8/31, Kuchment) reports that in the run-up to the landfall of Hurricane Harvey, University of Texas at Arlington engineering professor Nick Fang began getting calls asking “what should the world’s largest medical complex, Houston’s Texas Medical Center, do to protect itself from the ominous storm spinning in its direction?” Fang, “an expert on storm water management,” helped design “a flood-alert system that helped some of Houston’s most critical institutions survive Harvey’s onslaught.” The piece reports that “TMC hospitals never lost power and continued caring for patients throughout the ordeal. Years of planning and preparation, including the collaboration with Rice and UTA, underlie a quiet success story that stands in contrast to the storm’s otherwise tragic narrative.”
Texas Wind Farm Quickly Resumes Operations After Hurricane Harvey.
The Wall Street Journal (9/1, Gold, Subscription Publication) reported that within days of being hit by Hurricane Harvey, the Papalote Creek Wind Farm near Corpus Christi, Texas, was back up and running. The storm was the first major test for how U.S. wind-power installations can withstand extreme weather. The wind farm experienced winds of about 90 miles an hour, which was far short of the 140 mile per hour winds that engineers say would cause serious damage to the turbines. However, the farm’s ability to resume operations so quickly after the storm’s damage indicates that the design being used right now is effective.
Shaheen: Kaspersky Lab Software Must Be Prohibited For Federal Government.
US Senator Jeanne Shaheen writes in the New York Times (9/4, Shaheen, Subscription Publication) that federal, state, and local governments are “unwittingly inviting” the threat of Russian cyberwar into their networks by using Kaspersky Lab products. Shaheen says, “To close this alarming national security vulnerability, I am advancing bipartisan legislation to prohibit the federal government from using Kaspersky Lab software.” Shaheen declines to disclose classified information supporting her position, when “there is ample publicly available information to help Americans understand the reasons Congress has serious doubts about the company.” Furthermore, “Kaspersky Lab has committed missteps that reveal the true nature of its work with Russia’s Federal Security Service.” ABC News (9/1, Levine) also provides coverage.
Chertoff: Blanket Ban On Kaspersky Products “Threatens Innovation.” GLOBSEC Policy Institute cybersecurity research fellow Philip Chertoff writes in Wired (9/4) about the possibility of banning Kaspersky products within government, saying, “While Congress certainly has a responsibility to maintain the security of government systems, such a blanket ban contributes to a growing protectionist trend in government technology procurement and threatens innovation.” Chertoff says, “There has been no demonstrable evidence that Kaspersky is influenced by Russian authorities, nor that Russian intelligence services have cajoled the company into installing backdoors.” Chertoff concedes that “Russia’s relationship-based business climate means that it’s unlikely Kaspersky Lab could have succeeded without relationships with senior government officials,” but that charge “could be levied at many technology companies, especially cybersecurity firms.”
Columnist Calls For More Focus On STEM For Girls To Promote Workplace Diversity In Tech Sector.
In a column in the Denver Post (9/1), Vincent Carroll writes that while much of the blame for a lack of gender diversity in the tech sector has been placed on tech firms, “maybe critics should swivel their attention to the education system, and particularly the K-12 grades where girls might be exposed to possible career paths in tech before they gravitate in other directions. Joanna Bruno, science content specialist at the Colorado Department of Education, told me recently that this is precisely what several initiatives in the state, some quite new, are seeking to do — and especially in collaboration with the state’s growing tech industry.”
Stabenow Addresses Expected Manufacturing Workforce Shortage.
In an interview with the AP (9/3, Eggert), Sen. Debbie Stabenow said “that the pendulum has swung too far toward emphasizing four-year college degrees over vocational training.” To address the issue, Stabenow will “soon reintroduce a bill – which previously stalled but may be changed – to expand a program that lets community colleges offer free training for growing employers that add new jobs.” The schools would “recoup their costs by recapturing the new employees’ income taxes.” Stabenow explained, “We’re now looking more broadly at ways we might add some more flexibility so it’s not just community college, so we could add some other choices for students as well.” According to the National Association of Manufacturers, 3.5 million new American manufacturing jobs will be available over the next seven years, but there will only be enough skilled workers to fill 1.5 million of those positions. “It’s both a great opportunity for people and it’s also an urgent need for businesses,” Stabenow added.
Second Major Coding School Announces Closure.
The AP (9/3, Schechter) reported The Iron Yard, a coding “boot camp” and programming school in South Carolina, will cease operations by the end of the year. The coding school founded by Peter Barth “once boasted between 20 and 25 campuses stretching across the United States,” and it is “the second major coding school to announce it was closing this year.” The Phoenix-based Apollo Education Group, “which owns for-profit colleges, including the University of Phoenix,” acquired a 62 percent interest in The Iron Yard two years ago, and it has recently “found itself entangled in growing financial issues, declining enrollment and lawsuits.” Barth “said he couldn’t speak about the board’s deliberations related to the decision to close or whether the board’s vote was unanimous,” but he clarified “that increased regulations did not play a direct role in the decision to close Iron Yard.” The AP notes that in June, ED “sought to freeze Obama-era changes that would speed up erasing federal loan debt of student borrowers.”
Kentucky Pushes Computer Science Education With New Standards.
The AP (9/2) reported that on Aug. 22, Kentucky state Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt announced “that students will have more quality computer science instruction and requirements” under state-based computer science standards. The new high school Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles class can “count as an elective, a fourth mathematics course, and could meet a science requirement for high school graduation.” It also “counts toward a career and technical education computer science pathway and could earn a student college credit” with a passing AP exam score. The state Department of Education will work with 34 “school districts and seven Area Technology Centers this year to provide access to expanded computer science learning opportunities.” Meanwhile, “Code.org is working with its local partner AdvanceKentucky to prepare 50 teachers each year for three years for the high school AP Computer Science Principles course,” and “expanding preparation for its middle school course, Computer Science Discoveries, and its elementary school course, Computer Science Fundamentals.”
Indiana Education Official Discusses STEM, CTE On Statewide Tour.
The Columbus (IN) Republic (9/1) reported Indiana’s new superintendent of public instruction, Jennifer McCormick, “visited the C4 construction engineering lab at Columbus North High School on Wednesday as part of a statewide tour to meet with parents, teachers and administrators about education issues.” She told a gathering of more than 40 school administrators, principals, and high school students that roughly 175,000 jobs in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields – or STEM – are expected to go unfilled this year. “During the meeting, McCormick highlighted work being done at the state level concerning the federal Every Student Succeeds Act,” and said Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office is currently reviewing the state ESSA plan. It will then be submitted to ED for final review. She added that the state “Department of Education is focused on career technical education,” and that “state officials are concerned about being able to find enough people who are licensed to teach in particular fields such as welding.”
Friday’s Lead Stories
• Some Arizona Schools Use Students Smart Devices In Class.
• NSF Awards Grant To Professors To Help Digital Devices Purge Fake News.
• Right Work Environment An Asset To STEM Organizations.
• DuPont Finalizes Merger With Dow.
• House To Vote On Autonomous Vehicle Bill Next Week.
• Most Wyoming Schools Met State’s Expectations.