Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tesla’s Elon Musk is out of Cash

I was out of town for a week hence the radio silence from the Green Machine. A couple of news items beside the Bayou Polluters (BP). First one of my readers emailed me that this disaster should not be called a leak but rather a blowout. A leak occurs from a vessel of known size. The blowout size can only be estimated. Right now this estimation is between 20 and 30 million gallons. Engineers love units of measure and we have the Richter Scale for earthquakes perhaps we could use the EV scale for oil disasters. I am not referring to Electron Volts but rather Exxon Valdezes. This BP disaster is equal to as much as 3 EVs and is still growing as we do not know if the top kill of heavy mud has stopped all the oil from leaking. Yesterday, President Obama visited one of the beaches that is affected by the oil. A nice speech was made and some workers were busy cleaning up the beach for the photo opportunity. The workers left the beach as soon as the Pres was gone. The Pres suggested that Americans vacation in Louisiana on the beaches. I have one question for him? Why did he not vacation there instead of flying onto Chicago for the beginning of his family’s summer vacation, he was already there and he could have lowered his carbon footprint by not having Air Force One fly more than 1,000 miles to the windy city. My guess there are some political goings on in Chicago and the Pres needs to be there to assist in persuading candidates not to run for the senate by promising them some high level job in the administration. Well Mr. President please find someone with some capability to run the Minerals Management Service for the US. One expects politicians and CEOs of big oil to pull wooly sweaters over our eyes but this blow out is so big they have run out of yarn.

Now let’s return to the title of the blog. Elon Musk the founder of Tesla Motors has admitted he has spent all of his cash on the startup. The Betamax technology has run him dry. Poor Elon his wife is also divorcing him. I guess the Red Roadster was not a turn on for her. If only the BP oil well was as dry as Elon’s wallet, the blowout would stop. Perhaps we could try blast some Teslas into the leaking pipe and shut it that way. They are the same junk as golf balls and bits of rubber. Toyota will put $50 million into Tesla and let Tesla take over the assembly plant here in Northern California. This is a brilliant move by Toyota. They get out from under of being the bad guys who shut the only auto assembly plant in California. The union contracts will end and when Tesla short circuits and the $500 million of US (your) money is lost, the facility will assemble Toyota vehicles with workers being paid half as much as they were previously paid. The workers will be able to use the Tesla stock as wall paper on their foreclosed homes. I have included an article from VentureBeat below:

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk seems to have it all. The electric-car entrepreneur is the toast of Silicon Valley, Sacramento, and Tokyo after unveiling a plan to revive Toyota’s shuttered NUMMI plant last week. And deal-hungry Wall Street bankers are angling to take his company public. He’s even a Hollywood star, with a cameo in the hit Iron Man 2 movie, said to be based on his life story.
The one thing he doesn’t have, by his own admission, is money.
“About four months ago, I ran out of cash,” he wrote in a court filing dated Feb. 23, reviewed by VentureBeat. That’s a problem not just for him but for Tesla, where he is the lead investor and chief product architect, as well as CEO. Musk’s willingness to funnel his own cash into Tesla has for years sustained the faith of fellow investors and reassured would-be car buyers in 2008 when the company’s finances were in perilous shape.
According to the filing — part of his pending divorce case from sci-fi novelist Justine Musk — Elon Musk has been living off personal loans from friends since October 2009 and spending $200,000 a month while making far less. Musk confirmed this in an interview with VentureBeat.
Tesla, likewise, is dealing with its cash flow problems by borrowing money from a friendly source — the United States government, which has eagerly backed cleantech startups through a Department of Energy loan program. Tesla burned through $37 million in cash in the last three months of 2009, according to amended S-1 documents, filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission in preparation for its IPO. Tesla slowed this burn rate in the first quarter of 2010 to $8.4 million, but only by drawing down part of a $465 million loan from the DOE, while reporting a net loss of $29.5 million. Tesla’s sales were flat year-over-year in the first quarter, but declined precipitously in the U.S., according to a former Tesla executive.
Now, Toyota has agreed to buy $50 million in shares at the time of Tesla’s initial public offering — if it manages to go public before Dec. 31. But for now, the company doesn’t have access to that promised cash, and must pay $42 million to buy the NUMMI plant in Fremont, Calif., from a Toyota-General Motors joint venture.
Only one thing is certain: Tesla’s not getting more money from Musk.
Divorced from his fortune
Musk was Tesla’s first investor, and he kept the company afloat until recently through round after round of funding. After a Tesla employee leaked word in October 2008 to a reporter that the company was down to its last $9 million in cash, Musk promised to personally refund car buyers’ deposits if Tesla couldn’t deliver the vehicles — a promise he made in the pages of Car & Driver. At that time, those deposits — which Tesla calls “reservation payments” — were an important source of cash for the company.
And throughout Tesla’s history, Musk has used his entrepreneurial legend — Zip2, sold for $305 million to Compaq; PayPal, sold to eBay for $1.5 billion — to bolster his credibility as a technology executive. Musk’s personal take from Zip2 was a reported $22 million, much of which he invested in his next startup, PayPal, netting $160 million when eBay bought the online-payments startup. According to filings in his divorce trial, he had roughly $48 million in income from his investments between 2005 and 2008. But he sunk much of that money back into Tesla, as well as his other enterprises, the space-exploration concern SpaceX and solar panel finance startup SolarCity.
His finances were not always so strained. In other documents filed in the divorce case, Musk reportedly made $9,551,753 in 2008 and an average of $17.2 million a year from 2005 to 2008. As of Dec. 31, 2008, he also had extensive holdings in venture capital and private equity partnerships, ranging from Softbank Technology Ventures to Charles River Ventures to Clarium Capital. These partnerships, however, tend to be highly illiquid investments: It can take months to get out of them because you have to find a sophisticated buyer willing to bear the risks of a private sale.
As he ran low on cash, a contentious divorce — in which his ex-wife, Justine Musk, is seeking a sizable chunk of Musk’s holdings — caused him more financial problems. Justine Musk is asking a court to rip up a post-nuptial agreement she and Elon Musk signed in March 2000, which could in theory lead to much of his holdings being deemed community property. While there’s no telling how the case will turn out — it has already gone to appeal — more important is the protective order the court has slapped on Musk’s holdings in Tesla and his other illiquid assets. These include his stakes in private equity funds. He won’t be able to sell significant holdings without first getting permission from his ex-wife. And he has also been ordered by a court to continue paying her legal fees for the duration of the lengthy appeal process.
Refueling Tesla’s cash
Musk still owns roughly a third of Tesla — some 81 million shares out of approximately 250 million outstanding, according to the company’s filings. But keeping his ownership stake that high has come at a cost. In November 2007, in order to wield enough voting power to oust Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard as CEO, he converted 8 million of his preferred shares into common shares. Two months later, Musk participated in a bridge loan to rebuff a separate effort by VantagePoint Venture Partners, a significant investor, to lead a deal that would have seriously diluted Musk’s control. VantagePoint partner Jim Marver left Tesla’s board as a result. From the perspective of Musk’s board allies, the move steadied the company at a time of significant employee turnover and potential loss of morale. (A VantagePoint spokesman declined to comment on Tesla board matters.)
The moves kept Musk in control of Tesla, but it also meant that his stake kept getting diluted in subsequent financing rounds. (Preferred shares often hold anti-dilution rights, but common shares typically do not.) And there were many subsequent rounds, including a highly dilutive convertible debt round in 2008. The first sign of trouble came last fall, when Musk, for the first time, did not participate in a financing round for Tesla.
The company has not disclosed Musk’s lack of financial liquidity or the potential implications of his divorce case in its filings — only that it is highly dependent on Musk’s services. Tesla has also begun reimbursing Musk for his private-jet flights, an expense he previously paid out of pocket. And while Tesla pays Musk only a minimal salary, its board awarded him 6.7 million stock options in December 2009 — the first time he has taken this kind of equity as compensation. It seems that Musk’s compensation from Tesla has increased since his personal finances became an issue.
A matter of disclosure
Should Tesla have mentioned all these facts in its S-1 filings? Eric Talley, a professor of law at Berkeley and co-director of the Berkeley Center for Law, Business, and the Economy, notes that Section 11 of the 1933 Securities Act requires that companies registering to go public not make materially misleading statements or omissions. But it’s far from clear what’s material in these cases, he said: “It’s not a black and white rule.”
A longtime observer of the company thinks the state of Musk’s finances is worth disclosing. “It’s up to the courts to decide, but this feels like material information,” said Dallas Kachan, managing partner of Kachan & Co., a cleantech research and analysis consultancy which follows Tesla.
The easiest way for Musk to get out of debt to his friends and settle accounts with his ex-wife would be for Tesla to go public and for Musk to unload much of his stake. After an IPO, his shares of Tesla would become a readily sold asset — except for the protective orders in his divorce case and a requirement of the DOE loan that Musk hold onto a certain percentage of his shareholdings until some time after units of Tesla’s forthcoming Model S start rolling off the NUMMI assembly line.
Asked to comment on whether Tesla’s disclosures so far have been adequate, John Heine, deputy director of the Security & Exchange Commission’s Office of Public Affairs, said his agency does not comment on companies with pending registrations to the press. Ricardo Reyes, a spokesman for Tesla Motors, has previously said the company had no plans to revise its filings with the SEC to reflect the possible impact of Musk’s divorce as a risk factor.
Should the company have said more? Perhaps, argues one observer.
“Transparency is thought to be a good thing for the operation of capital markets,” said Talley, the Berkeley law professor. “Bare compliance with SEC rules isn’t enough.”

Saturday, May 15, 2010

BP CEO The Spill is Tiny in a Vast Ocean

Another week has passed and who knows how many another barrels have spewed into the Gulf of Mexico? There are big arguments on how much oil is actually leaking with a Prof from Purdue saying it could be as high as 70,000 barrels a day. The pipe is 21 inches in diameter and that is all that the estimators of leak flow rate can agree upon. Interior Secretary Salazar reported this morning the idea to thread a 6 inch mile long straw into the 21 inch pipe header is not going well. BP reported they are still trying. The problem with this particular leak is that there is also a bunch of associated natural gas and that is why the top hat failed to seal the well. The natural gas also makes the flow of oil look more voluminous than it really may be. An update --- BP has threaded a 4 inch straw into the header and is pumping some fraction of the leaking oil into a ship on the sea surface above the well head. I do not have any data on how much oil is leaking and how much is being recovered through the mile long straw

Fox news reported that the CEO of BP considers the size of the leak tiny relative to size of the ocean.

Quoting Fox:

“The chief executive of BP told a British newspaper that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is "relatively tiny" compared with the "very big ocean."

Tony Hayward, in an interview with the Guardian newspaper at the company's Houston crisis center, said:

"The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume," he said.

U.S. officials estimate that at least 5,000 barrels of oil per day are leaking from a pipeline more than 5,000 feet deep that was damaged more than three weeks ago by an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which later sunk. Eleven workers died in the disaster.

Hayward told the Guardian that BP would "fix" the disaster, which could become the biggest ecological disaster in U.S. history.

"We will fix it. I guarantee it," he told the newspaper. "The only question is we do not know when."

I say that it is not a question of when but a question of why and how? I also do not know why BP has not tried the methanol top hat trick. They have the smaller top hat filled with methanol in place but are still trying to insert the 6 inch straw into the 21 inch riser. It was good to see that the President who has initials (BO) that are very similar to BP got a little mad with all the three ring circus type finger pointing between BP, Halliburton, and Transocean.

I also see that A-One’s stock was up on news from a reporter at Forbes that Navistar Trucks will deploy A-123 batteries in short haul city trucks. Well the truck will cost $150,000 instead of $50,000 per Navistar but they have been promised by A-123 once the very large factory that the US Government funded is up an running the cost of the batteries will drop substantially. The $249 million given by the US Government to A-One is going to be lost just like the 5,000 to 70,000 barrels a day of oil that are spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. The department of entropy will make a statement that the $249 million is tiny compared to the ten trillion dollars sea of debt the US is drowning under. I have been shopping at the milliner to find a hat to eat if I am incorrect and A-123 does indeed produce much cheaper batteries. I have my eye on a Stetson Ten Gallon hat. The likelihood is that I will be wearing that hat for a long time and looking like the urban cowboy till I die. In the meantime I could use the ten gallon hat to scoop up the oil spill and ten gallons will about fill up my old jalopy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A-123 almost a 10

Yeah some optimistic CNN viewer who believes their news may believe A-123 is a 10. The only thing 10 about them will be the 10 count for a knockout in a few more rounds. AONE (NASDAQ) reported their first quarter 2010 results today. Product revenues were down slightly from the fourth quarter of 2009 ($19,774,000 versus $19,900,000). Their cost of goods sold were up slightly from the fourth quarter of 2009 ($22,354,000 versus $22,022,000). These guys claim they are in a growth business. Growth business my hat! The volume of product sold expressed in watt hours of battery capacity dropped from 21,700,000 in the fourth quarter of 2009 to only 16,300,000. The spin meisters will find some way to interpret the precipitous drop in volume as a minor aberration in the long term growth for this newly publically traded wonder company. Well my third grade teacher taught me how to calculate the unit selling price and the unit cost price for items. The unit cost of producing a battery increased from $1,015 per kilowatt hour to $1,371 per kilowatt hour. The entire basis for the viability of lithium ion batteries is that there will be the rapid learning rate. Well so far A-123 has the learning rate of a patient suffering from a severe case of Alzheimer’s. Their unit costs of production are increasing not decreasing. At this cost of goods the batteries in a Tesla roadster will equal $74,000.

A-123 lost almost thirty million dollars in the quarter and at this rate of loss making they have about fifteen quarter worth of cash before they go flat like a never-ready battery. In the coming months a few more thermodynamically kaput companies will have their IPOs (initial public offerings). I urge my readers to avoid these stocks like the plague. Those who bought AONE last year when I warned against buying them have lost a pile of DPs (dead presidents). Also as predicted the US Senate session yesterday with BP, Transocean, and Halliburton was a three ring circus of pointing fingers. I promised my readers I will not blog on BP but the news tonight stated that the blow-out preventer on the leaking well had a dead battery. I wonder if this dead battery was provided to Bayou Polluter by a mistake source company. No negative opinions on A1 Steak Sauce manufactured by Kraft Foods. Kraft is not asking the government for billions of dollars to subsidize their business. Soon we will have another start up lithium battery company called Blow-out Valve Eater.

Monday, May 10, 2010

BP Listens To The Green Machine

BP will attempt to use methanol to prevent the methane hydrates from forming. The Clinton News Network (CNN) reports as follows"

Venice, Louisiana (CNN) -- BP is working "parallel paths" to fix an oil well blowout that is dumping 210,000 gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico a day, the energy company's chief operating officer said Monday.
The failure over the weekend of a four-story dome to cap the leak has led BP to move on to other options, including using a smaller chamber over the leak and shooting garbage into the gaping hole to try to plug the gusher, said Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer for exploration and production.
The company also is considering placing a valve or a new blowout preventer on top of the existing one, which is not functioning, Suttles told CNN's "American Morning" program. As the name suggests, a blowout preventer is a device that is supposed to clamp shut over a leaking wellhead.
In addition, Suttles said, BP is drilling a relief well to try to divert the flow into another pipe.
"What we're going to do is keep developing options until we get this flow stopped," Suttles said.
The oil spill started April 20, after an explosion happened on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
Eleven oil rig workers remain missing and are presumed dead.
The rig sank April 22 about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the southeast coast of Louisiana, and the untapped wellhead is gushing about 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico.
On Friday, BP lowered the massive containment vessel over the well to cap the larger of two leak points. But that plan was thwarted Saturday after ice-like hydrate crystals formed when gas combined with water blocked the top of the dome and made the dome buoyant.
BP has already built the smaller dome and it is already available, Suttles said Monday. That device would keep most of the water out at the beginning of the capping process and would allow engineers to pump in methanol to keep the hydrates from forming, Suttles said.
Methanol is a simple alcohol that can be used as an antifreeze.
The process of stopping the gusher with garbage is called a "junk shot" or a "top kill." In that procedure, debris such as shredded up tires, golf balls and similar objects would be shot under extremely high pressure into the blowout preventer in an attempt to clog it and stop the leak.
Work also has begun on the relief well, Suttles said Monday.
"That started about a week ago," Suttles said. "That work continues. The well is at about 9,000 feet. About 5,000 feet of that is the water depth. Then the rest is drilling below the sea floor. We're slightly ahead of plan here. These are complex tasks, but we're making very good progress."
President Barack Obama plans to meet with Cabinet members Monday afternoon to review response efforts by BP and others to the oil slick, the White House said Sunday.
Hundreds of thousands of feet of boom and large volumes of dispersants continued to be used in an effort to capture or break up the spilled oil moving toward the Gulf coastline. Thousands of workers and volunteers also have been skimming the water's surface to retrieve surface oil, which is pumped to a container vessel.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters warned that the Mississippi Delta, Breton Sound, Chandeleur Islands and areas directly north could see oil hit the coast by Tuesday. And scientists are analyzing tar balls found on a beach on Dauphin Island, Alabama, to determine whether they were caused by the oil spill, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Erik Swanson said.
The tar balls are "pieces of emulsified oil" shaped like pancakes, ranging in size from dimes to golf balls, but can sometimes occur naturally, Swanson said.
The Coast Guard had tallied six oiled birds that died since the slick formed last month, Swanson said Sunday. The cause of death is still being determined. Four additional oiled birds have been cleaned, Swanson said.
The stakes are high for residents of coastal Louisiana who make their living from fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil washed ashore Thursday on Louisiana's barrier islands and drifted west past the mouth of the Mississippi River.
The government has closed parts of the Gulf to fishing.
"It's killing everybody down here. Everybody is more or less getting ulcers worrying about this, and it's something we experienced five years ago with (Hurricane) Katrina," charter boat owner Tom Becker said Saturday.
Federal investigators are still trying determining what caused the explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon, which was owned by BP contractor Transocean Ltd.
BP is legally required to cover economic damages from the spill up to $75 million. But Florida Sen. Bill Nelson has introduced legislation that would raise the liability cap to $10 billion.
"If this gusher continues for several months, it's going to cover up the Gulf Coast, and it's going to get down into the loop current, and that's going to take it down the Florida Keys and up the east coast of Florida. And you are talking about massive economic loss to our tourism, our beaches, to our fisheries, very possibly disruption of our military testing and training," Nelson said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
BP already has started to pay some fishermen for lost wages, Suttles said Monday.
"We're getting them checks," he said. "People go and make their claim and leave with a check. What we're trying to do is minimize the immediate impact. Longer term, I'm sure we'll have to work that out.
"We're moving swiftly to get these people who are predominantly displaced from working. Get them money so they can buy their groceries and we can offset the impact until we get this thing resolved."

Sunday, May 9, 2010


The BP saga continues. Several readers of the Green Machine have written to me that I am biased against BP and that I am veering away from the laws of thermodynamics. I wish they would post comments below so we could have an open debate on who is a true follower of the three laws. I feel pretty confident I will be upheld as an orthodox person even under the scrutiny of a bright LED light. I guess a few of the comments came about because of my reference to Bezerkley and their tie up with the Burning Platform to produce bio-fools. Bezerkeley like the north sea oil fields is past its peak and is rapidly becoming a second tier university in engineering. This blog is about BNSP or Beyond North Sea Petroleum. The British were a net exporter of hydrocarbons for over 25 years and this all changed in 2006 when the UK became a net importer once more. The folks at the Burning Platform have been sucking hydrocarbons at a rapid rate out of the fields in the north sea. Tony Blair realized this back in 2001 and was happy to join GW in looking for weapons of mass combustion in Iraq. I would not be surprised if Bring Pesos did not help form the policy to occupy Basra (British Are Still Requiring Asphalt.

A few readers have written to me that Haliburton helped BP cement the well in the Mexican Gulf. These two companies have long been cementing deals that had massive benefit for themselves. It will be interesting now that they will each point fingers at the other and not take blame on the own.

One reader from the UK wrote to me a few weeks back that he was certain there was no global warming as he had not seen any articles in the press about a corresponding diminishing atmospheric oxygen concentration with the increasing carbon dioxide concentration that has increased by 100 parts per million. I had to help him with basic chemistry and point out that even if there was a drop of 100 parts per million in oxygen concentration in the atmosphere, who the bloody hell would collect data to show oxygen concentration declined in 200 years from 200,000 volumetric parts per million to 199,900 parts per million? Sometimes I think I should stop blogging with the nonsense I have to read from readers but then I realize the purpose of the blog is to make gringos green and most gringos have not been taught thermodynamics and believe what they hear on CNN (Clinton News Network). At least we do not have to watch the BBC that stands for the Biased Broadcasting Corporation.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Could the BP dome have worked

I was thinking how I would have deployed the dome such that methane hydrates would not form at a depth of 5,000 feet and a pressure of 200 atmospheres. Heating them is pretty impossible as hot water from the surface will cool if pumped to 5,000 below. Reducing the hydrostatic pressure is impossible as well. Therefore the only "hope" would have been to fill the dome with methanol and lower it in a manner the methanol would stay in the dome by having a valve closed on the top of the dome. The methane would not be able to form ice crystals in methanol. After the dome is placed above the well head, pipes filled with methanol could then be connected to the valve on the top of the dome and then the valve could be opened. This would have precluded the formation of methane hydrate crystals. It may have worked???? My grad work in thermo was all about phase changes (gas to liquids and solids), BP should contact the Green Machine.

How BP "owns" Washington

This Newsweek article came to me from a friend

By Michael Isikoff and Michael Hirsh | NEWSWEEK
Published May 7, 2010
From the magazine issue dated May 17, 2010
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Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, has a couple of major problems on his hands these days. One lies down near the earth's crust; the other exists deep in the muck of Washington politics. It may take many months to cap the 5,000-foot-deep oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. In the meantime, Hayward has to cap the damage to BP's reputation, and reduce its liability for what could be the costliest cleanup in corporate history. He was already hard at work last week, making the rounds of key senators from coastal states affected by the spill. Described as exhausted but wearing a "wry smile," Hayward impressed several lawmakers with his earnestness about stopping the leak. He also seemed intent on deflecting questions about responsibility. "He was candid on most of his answers," says Florida Sen. Bill Nelson. But when Hayward was pressed on how much BP will compensate businesses and fishermen harmed by the spill, Nelson says, "he dodged" and became "very lawyerly."

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The Obama administration has promised to "keep the boot on the throat" of the giant British company, as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs put it. Others will be trying to do the same. In the coming months there will be lawsuits, hearings, and investigations galore on the spill and who's responsible for it, as well as heated debates over President Obama's offshore-drilling plans and new legislation, including a bill raising a $75 million ceiling on BP's liability for compensation to injured parties. But BP will seek to leverage every penny of the $15.9 million it spent on lobbying last year (its most ever) as it seeks to fend off allegations that the company and its contractors failed to abide by safety provisions for deepwater drilling. Most of all, it will try to contain the penalties it has to pay. If the past is any guide, BP will succeed at that. The story of the company's handling of other safety problems illustrates how easily high-powered lawyers and sheer corporate muscle can often overwhelm the best efforts of federal regulators. (A BP spokesman said the company "will honor all legitimate claims" stemming from the oil spill. The spokesman declined to comment on all other questions posed by NEWSWEEK.)


Rise of the Machines
Life-saving robotic helpers.

BP was once known as British Petroleum, but the company changed its name in 2000 to project a more environmentally friendly image, saying the initials stood for "Beyond Petroleum." Hayward deserves credit for improving on the legacy of former chairman John Browne, whose efforts in acquisition and cost cutting left serious questions about BP's safety and environmental policies. Part of Hayward's effort, however, was to increase the company's lobbying "exponentially" in Washington and to dilute new laws on the prevention of oil-spill pollution in 2009, says Dave Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics. At times BP has enlisted powerful Washington types like Leon Panetta (now CIA director), George Mitchell (now Obama's Middle East envoy), Christine Todd Whitman (the former EPA administrator), and Tom Daschle (the former majority leader) to serve on its various boards of advisers and "independent" panels. In his rounds on Capitol Hill last week, Hayward was escorted by a former aide to Ted Kennedy who now works for the Brunswick Group, a powerhouse public-relations firm recently hired by BP to help it deal with the oil-spill crisis.

The company's most recent effort at damage control—before the spill—occurred after a 2005 explosion at the company's Texas City refinery (the third-largest oil refinery in the country). That was among the most deadly disasters to befall the U.S. oil industry in modern times. The blasts and subsequent fires killed 15 workers, injured 180 others, and sent 43,000 people fleeing to indoor shelters. The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board later concluded that the explosions were caused by company deficiencies "at all levels of the BP Corporation"—including repeated cost cutting that affected maintenance and safety. The Justice Department, working with EPA investigators, launched a criminal investigation that resulted in a $50 million fine against the company for violating the Clean Air Act. But EPA investigators wanted to take the case further and charge top corporate officers, who, they were convinced, had knowledge of the safety deficiencies at Texas City and failed to take corrective action. Their request to continue the investigation was turned down by top officials of the Justice Department's environmental-crimes division, leaving the EPA investigators incensed, according to two EPA officials directly familiar with the probe. "We felt like this went all the way to the very top," says one EPA investigator, who did not want to be identified talking about internal matters. "The $50 million was a laughingstock. It was a slap on the wrist compared to the profits they were making." (BP's reported profits in 2007 were $17.2 billion.)

In 2006 the EPA and the Justice Department launched a criminal investigation into two massive BP oil leaks in Alaska caused by corroded pipelines. One of the leaks spewed 200,000 gallons onto the tundra. Once again, EPA investigators pushed to charge company officials with a crime. "Everybody was convinced we had a humdinger of a case," says Scott West, the EPA special agent in charge of the probe, who has since retired. Witnesses—including workers on the pipelines and midlevel managers—had told investigators how BP executives had ignored repeated warnings about corrosion. "There was a corporate philosophy that it was cheaper to operate to failure and then deal with the problem later rather than do preventive maintenance," West told NEWSWEEK. Later that year, West says, he got authority from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Alaska for a "surgical" subpoena for internal documents relating to the company's maintenance of the pipelines. BP complied in early 2007, but in a way that made it virtually impossible for investigators to find the evidence they needed: BP set up a special server with scanned copies of 62 million pages of documents. "If you printed all of them out," says West, "it would have filled a warehouse … We only had three or four people." When he began to examine BP's response, West says, he remembers thinking, "Holy s--t, I can't breathe."

Still, West (who now works for Sea Shepherd, an environmental group) was determined to push a multiyear investigation—not unusual for a complex case that, as he envisioned it, would ultimately reach into corporate headquarters in London. But just a few months later, West says, he was told by federal prosecutors in Alaska to bring the case to a close. "We were told, 'Main Justice wants this wrapped up,' and 'All we can get is a corporate misdemeanor.'?" According to West and Bob Wojnicz, another since-retired EPA agent on the case, BP's high-powered legal team (headed by Houston lawyer Carol Dinkins, a former deputy attorney general under George H.W. Bush who had previously served as chief of the Justice Department's environment division) had gone over the agents' heads. Dinkins negotiated a "global" settlement of all Justice Department inquiries into the company's conduct—including the Alaska-pipeline case and Texas City—that was to be announced the same day. "There was no reason to shut it down at that point," says Wojnicz. Nelson Cohen, the U.S. attorney in Alaska at the time, says there was no "realistic chance of generating useful evidence" from continuing the probe and that all investigating agencies and prosecutors concurred in the decision to accept the misdemeanor plea from BP, which included a $20 million fine. Dinkins says, "I don't comment on my work for my clients."

In fact, BP's legal difficulties weren't yet over. Another set of EPA officials decided that BP should potentially face an even stiffer sanction: debarment from government contracts. But they, too, ran into a wall. Jeanne Pascal, until recently a lawyer in the EPA's Seattle office who specialized in debarment cases, decided to attempt to invoke that provision against BP—unless the company agreed to tighter controls over safety and maintenance. Pascal says her proposed agreement would have required BP to turn over invoices of its maintenance costs; it would also have had to consent to regular audits of its operations and provide better protections for whistle-blowers. "I told them if they didn't give me what I want, I would debar them," Pascal told NEWSWEEK. But Pascal quickly ran into the oil-company equivalent of "too big to fail"—and knew that her threat was essentially empty. Although this is not widely known, BP has been one of the biggest suppliers of fuel to the Pentagon in recent years, with much of its oil going to U.S. military operations in the Mideast. (It sold $2.2 billion in oil to the Pentagon last year, making it No. 1 among all the oil companies in sales to the military, according to the latest figures from the Defense Energy Support Center.)

If she pushed debarment too hard, Pascal was sure the Pentagon would simply invoke a national-security exception that would allow BP to continue to sell it oil. When "a major economic and political giant?.?.?.?tells you it has direct access to the White House, it's very intimidating," says Pascal. After nearly two years of trying, Pascal retired from the EPA in February with the settlement agreement unsigned. "I can't tell you that if my compliance agreement had been signed it would have prevented what happened in the gulf," she says. "We just don't know." Whether that unfortunate history will repeat itself, with the company facing its worst crisis ever, is also unknown. But for BP, finding its way around Washington is terrain far more familiar than the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

© 2010

BP The Dome Has a Setback

CNN just reported that the heavy dome that was lowered to the seabed and placed over the leaking well had a setback. Methane hydrates formed large crystals within the dome. The methane hydrate crystals form when the water pressure is high. Well at 5,000 feet of sea water the pressure is pretty darn high. As sea water is more dense than fresh water I estimate the pressure at 5,000 ft below the sea surface to be about 300 atmospheres of pressure. The dome capping method has worked at a depth of 300 feet or about 11 atmospheres of pressure where methane hydrates do not form. I have copied the CNN news article below. BP is now beginning to mean Big Problem. It is very interesting that the floods in Nashville got almost zero news coverage. The damage is vast and that poor city got 15 inches of rain in one day. I guess that CNN is more interested in covering the news on the oil spill and the failed Times Square terrorist.

Crews dealt setback in placing containment dome in Gulf oil spill
By the CNN Wire Staff
May 8, 2010 3:52 p.m. EDT

Crews began lowering containment dome into the Gulf Friday night in the hopes of stemming gushing oil.
Crystals accumulated inside containment dome, rendering it ineffective
Dome moved to side of wellhead while crews work to overcome the challenge, BP CEO says
Effort to place dome over well 5,000 feet underwater never been tried at such depth
Stakes high for coastal residents who make living from fishing as oil keeps washing ashore
Biloxi, Mississippi (CNN) -- The effort to place a containment dome over a gushing wellhead was dealt a setback when a large volume of hydrates -- crystals formed when gas combines with water -- accumulated inside of the vessel, BP's chief operating officer said Saturday.
The dome was moved off to the side of the wellhead and is resting on the seabed while crews work to overcome the challenge, Doug Settles said.
The move to try to cap oil leaking from the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig started early Friday. The technique has never been tried at such a depth and there are no guarantees it will work, said BP, which holds the license for the well.
"It's a technology first," BP CEO Tony Hayward told CNN's David Mattingly Friday. "It works in 3 [hundred] to 400 feet of water. But the pressures and temperatures are very different here. So we cannot be confident that it will work."
The arduous process takes time, Hayward said.
"We are proceeding with a lot of caution to make sure that we don't make what was a clearly bad situation worse," he said. "This needs to be done with a great deal of care and attention."
Casi Calloway, CEO of the environmental group Mobile Baykeeper, said Saturday she hopes the dome operation is successful, but she's not counting on it.
"I'm praying for them to come up with anything," she said. "In the meantime, though, we have to be realistic and we have to be planning, because it's still a minimum of 5,000 barrels pouring out into the Gulf of Mexico until that thing is stopped."
Video: Seafood running scarce Video: Tar balls appear on pristine island Video: The science of oil slicks
Oil reaches Freemason Island
Oil Spills
Gulf of Mexico
U.S. Coast Guard
BP hopes to connect the dome to a drill ship over the weekend and to begin sucking oil from the containment dome up to the ship by the beginning of next week, the company's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, said at a news conference Friday afternoon.
"This has not been done before and it will undoubtedly have some complications," he added.
Like BP, the U.S. Coast Guard worked Friday to manage expectations about the success of the operation.
"This is going to take a few days and this is not going to be something instantaneous," Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said. "It may or may not work."
On the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, the Coast Guard will continue its efforts to disperse and contain the massive oil slick, which has started to reach Louisiana's outer islands. The Coast Guard performed four controlled burns, dropped 28,000 gallons of dispersant chemical and skimmed 8,000 barrels of an oil-water mix on Thursday, said Petty Officer Brandon Blackwell.
Calloway said the use of dispersants is also cause for concern.
"We don't know what's in it, we don't know much about it," she said.
"All it really does is sink the oil to the bottom and kind of get it out of sight. So the public doesn't worry about it as much but the dispersant in itself is toxic," Calloway explained. "We don't know what the half-life of it is, or how it changes the composition of oil ... We don't know how long it stays in the water."
Thursday's burns consumed between 7,000 and 9,000 barrels of oil, Suttles said, and responders conducted another controlled burn Friday, with more burns planned for this weekend. Suttles said that skimming had removed more than 50,000 barrels of oil-water mix so far.
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig caught on fire April 20 and sank two days later about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the southeast coast of Louisiana. Eleven missing workers are presumed dead.
The untapped well is gushing about 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico, according to BP and government estimates.
The stakes are high for residents of coastal Louisiana who make their living from fishing in the Gulf. Oil washed ashore Thursday on Louisiana's barrier islands and drifted west past the mouth of the Mississippi River.
"It's killing everybody down here, everybody is more or less getting ulcers worrying about this, and it's something we experienced five years ago with (Hurricane) Katrina," charter boat owner Tom Becker told CNN Saturday. "But we knew it was coming faster than this thing is and we don't know what the long-term effect of what's going to happen with this if it (the oil) does get up here."
On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it has expanded the area closed to fishing to better reflect the spill's location. The restriction, announced Sunday, is being extended until May 17, the agency said.
An ominous pinkish-orange foam mixture of seawater and crude oil streaked across large stretches of water in the northern Gulf and turned up on the shores of the Chandeleur Islands, off southeastern Louisiana.
Hopes are high that the container will collect the oil. If the operation is successful, BP plans to deploy a second, smaller dome to deal with a second leak in the ruptured pipe.

The BP oil spill a possible cause

An interesting article from associated press

Methane Gas Bubble Triggered Deadly Oil Rig Explosion

Associated Press
As the bubble rose up the drill column from the high-pressure environs of the deep to the less pressurized shallows, it intensified and grew, breaking through various safety barriers.


May 7: The Q4000, center, which has lowered the oil containment vessel to the sea floor, is seen at sunset from the offshore supply vessel Joe Griffin, at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill containment efforts in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Lousiana.

ON THE GULF OF MEXICO -- The deadly blowout of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was triggered by a bubble of methane gas that escaped from the well and shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before exploding, according to interviews with rig workers conducted during BP's internal investigation.

While the cause of the explosion is still under investigation, the sequence of events described in the interviews provides the most detailed account of the April 20 blast that killed 11 workers and touched off the underwater gusher that has poured more than 3 million gallons of crude into the Gulf.

Portions of the interviews, two written and one taped, were described in detail to an Associated Press reporter by Robert Bea, a University of California Berkeley engineering professor who serves on a National Academy of Engineering panel on oil pipeline safety and worked for BP PLC as a risk assessment consultant during the 1990s. He received them from industry friends seeking his expert opinion.

Seven BP executives were on board the Deepwater Horizon rig celebrating the project's safety record, according to the transcripts. Meanwhile, far below, the rig was being converted from an exploration well to a production well.

Workers set and then tested a cement seal at the bottom of the well. Then they reduced the pressure in the drill column and attempted to set a second seal below the sea floor. A chemical reaction caused by the setting cement created heat and a gas bubble which destroyed the seal.

Deep beneath the seafloor, methane is in a slushy, crystalline form. Deep sea oil drillers often encounter pockets of methane crystals as they dig into the earth.

As the bubble rose up the drill column from the high-pressure environs of the deep to the less pressurized shallows, it intensified and grew, breaking through various safety barriers, the interviews said.

"A small bubble becomes a really big bubble," Bea said. "So the expanding bubble becomes like a cannon shooting the gas into your face."

Up on the rig, the first thing workers noticed was the sea water in the drill column suddenly shooting back at them, rocketing 240 feet in the air. Then, gas surfaced. Then oil.

"What we had learned when I worked as a drill rig laborer was swoosh, boom, run," Bea said. "The swoosh is the gas, boom is the explosion and run is what you better be doing."

The gas flooded into an adjoining room with exposed ignition sources, he said.

"That's where the first explosion happened," said Bea, who worked for Shell Oil in the 1960s during the last big northern Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout. "The mud room was next to the quarters where the party was. Then there was a series of explosions that subsequently ignited the oil that was coming from below."

According to one interview transcript, a gas cloud covered the rig, causing giant engines on the drill floor to run too fast and explode. The engines blew off the rig and set "everything on fire," the account said. Another explosion below blew more equipment overboard.

BP spokesman John Curry would not comment Friday night on whether methane gas or the series of events described in the internal documents caused the accident.

"Clearly, what happened on the Deepwater Horizon was a tragic accident," said Curry, who is based at an oil spill command center in Robert, Louisiana. "We anticipate all the facts will come out in a full investigation."

The BP executives were injured but survived, according to one account. Nine rig crew on the rig floor and two engineers died.

"The furniture and walls trapped some and broke some bones but they managed to get in the life boats with assistance from others," said the transcript.

The reports made Bea, the 73-year-old industry veteran, cry.

"It sure as hell is painful," he said. "Tears of frustration and anger."

On Friday, a BP-chartered vessel lowered a 100-ton concrete-and-steel vault onto the ruptured well, an important step in a delicate and unprecedented attempt to stop most of the gushing crude fouling the sea.

"We are essentially taking a four-story building and lowering it 5,000 feet and setting it on the head of a pin," BP spokesman Bill Salvin told The Associated Press.

Underwater robots guided the 40-foot-tall box into place in a slow-moving drama. Now that the contraption is on the seafloor, workers will need at least 12 hours to let it settle and make sure it's stable before the robots can hook up a pipe and hose that will funnel the oil up to a tanker.

"It appears to be going exactly as we hoped," Salvin said on Friday afternoon, shortly after the four-story device hit the seafloor. "Still lots of challenges ahead, but this is very good progress."

By Sunday, the box the size of a house could be capturing up to 85 percent of the oil.

The task became increasingly urgent as toxic oil crept deeper into the bays and marshes of the Mississippi Delta.

A sheen of oil began arriving on land last week, and crews have been laying booms, spraying chemical dispersants and setting fire to the slick to try to keep it from coming ashore. But now the thicker, stickier goo -- arrayed in vivid, brick-colored ribbons -- is drawing ever closer to Louisiana's coastal communities.

There are still untold risks and unknowns with the containment box: The approach has never been tried at such depths, where the water pressure is enough to crush a submarine, and any wrong move could damage the leaking pipe and make the problem worse. The seafloor is pitch black and the water murky, though lights on the robots illuminate the area where they are working.

If the box works, another one will be dropped onto a second, smaller leak at the bottom of the Gulf.

At the same time, crews are drilling sideways into the well in hopes of plugging it up with mud and concrete, and they are working on other ways to cap it.

Investigators looking into the cause of the explosion have been focusing on the so-called blowout preventer. Federal regulators told The Associated Press Friday that they are going to examine whether these last-resort cutoff valves on offshore oil wells are reliable.

Blowouts are infrequent, because well holes are blocked by piping and pumped-in materials like synthetic mud, cement and even sea water. The pipes are plugged with cement, so fluid and gas can't typically push up inside the pipes.

Instead, a typical blowout surges up a channel around the piping. The narrow space between the well walls and the piping is usually filled with cement, so there is no pathway for a blowout. But if the cement or broken piping leaves enough space, a surge can rise to the surface.

There, at the wellhead of exploratory wells, sits the massive steel contraption known as a blowout preventer. It can snuff a blowout by squeezing rubber seals tightly around the pipes with up to 1 million pounds of force. If the seals fail, the blowout preventer deploys a last line of defense: a set of rams that can slice right through the pipes and cap the blowout.

Deepwater Horizon was also equipped with an automated backup system called a Deadman. It should have activated the blowout preventer even if workers could not.

Based on the interviews with rig workers, none of those safeguards worked.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Calera and the laws of thermodynamics

I blogged a few months back that Vinod was one VC that is in need of some thermodynamic education. Old Vinod has teamed with Bechtel and Peabody Coal to capture carbon dioxide from coal fired power plants with some new “low energy” method to convert the CO2 to carbonates and bicarbonates. Yeah if this is low energy and can be done inexpensively they have disproved the second law of thermodynamics and have rewritten the third law! The third law states that as temperature approaches absolute zero entropy approaches a constant minimum. I propose a fourth law of thermodynamics that states “there is Gibbs Free Energy but there is not Vinod Free Energy, any claim that states the Vinod free energy has been maximized will result in investors earning a constant minimum that approaches zero.” Marcus one of the avid readers of the Green Machine blog asked me to opine on the thermodynamics of reacting carbon dioxide to form carbonates and bicarbonates.

Also a few months back, I blogged about Bechtel and the 1,230 megawatt ultra supercritical coal fired power generation station it was building in Wisconsin. Well Bechtel has licked its wounds in the coal fired power plant business. Their losses on the Oak Creek facility in Wisconsin exceeded $445 million, now that their arbitration claim of $517 million with Wisconsin Energy was settled for only $72 million. Bechtel is building an even larger and an even worse polluting coal fired power plant for Peabody Coal in Southern Illinois. This two unit generation station with a total capacity of 1,600 megawatts that Bechtel proudly claims is the largest green-field coal fired power project in the USA in the past 20 years. Instead of building natural gas fired combined cycle power generation stations that emit approximately half the carbon dioxide of these behemoth coal fired plants, Bechtel and Peabody are now supporting old Vinod the VC in his new company called Calera.

Their hope in Calera is that carbon dioxide will rapidly and without much energy input react with “natural water” to produce calcium carbonate. Yeah we have stalactites, stalagmites, and now Calera’s might. My other VC buddy at Draper Fischer lost a bunch in a now bankrupt startup GreenFuel that was trying to produce bio-fuel from the carbon emissions of power plants using algae. DFJ found out the hard way that the laws or thermodynamics are inviolable and the resulting chemical formation employing carbon dioxide as a raw material is slow and expensive. Mother Nature knows the laws of thermodynamics well and that is precisely the reason why the photosynthesis of carbon dioxide is a painfully slow reaction. Vinod, Bechtel, and Peabody think they are collectively smarter than Mother Nature. Combine Bechtel and Peabody and you get BP and you know what I think of that. Add the V for Vinod and we get BVP that stands for Bad Value Proposition. Talking about BP and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, with costs estimated as high at $13 billion, BP also means Bring Pesos.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Top Ten Meanings of BP

Number 10 --- Barak’s Problem

Number 9 --- Bloody Pathetic

Number 8 --- Better Pray

Number 7 --- British Pest

Number 6 --- Bicycle Please

Number 5 --- Bribe Politicians

Number 4 --- Broken Pipe

Number 3 --- Bottom Place

Number 2 --- Biggest Polluter

Number 1 --- Burning Platform

Number 0 --- Beyond Petroleum but in the mausoleum