The map above (a snap from Luke Whyte’s click-and-zoom-able original version, published this week by the Texas Tribune) shows the abandoned oil and gas wells scattered in and around the Houston area, per the official accounting of the Texas Railroad Commission. The state agency (which has had nothing to do with railroads since 2005) regulates pipelines, oil, and gas, and keeps tabs on so-called “orphaned wells” whose original owners have stopped keeping tabs on them for one reason or another, writes Jim Malewitz this week — the ones that were reported in the first place, that is. Kerry Knorpp, formerly on a defunct state committee overseeing oilfield cleanup efforts, also tells Malewitz that “there is about to be a tsunami of [newly] abandoned wells — wells were drilled at $110 oil that you would have never completed otherwise.”
The shaded hexagons above are meant to help show the density of those holes, not the degree to which they might pose a pollution hazard (though the agency ranks each well by its hazard potential, too, to help it decide which ones to plug up first, of the more than 10,000 currently on the docket).
Just what kind of hazards can a bunch of abandoned holes pose, anyway?
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Boom and Bust
CONOCOPHILLIPS TO LEAVE 62-ACRE ENERGY CORRIDOR CAMPUS FOR SOMETHING MORE COZY ACROSS I-10 ConocoPhillips told its employees at the 62-acre complex at 600 N. Dairy Ashford Rd. today that the energy giant will be pulling them out of its 1980’s campus and moving them across I-10 into that empty 22-story Energy Center 4 highrise the company has been trying to sublet since earlier this year. Nancy Sarnoff says that the move is planned for mid-2018 after the highrise gets built out, noting that so far, the new building “has remained an empty shell as ConocoPhillips has tried to sublease the space.” Before then, the campus will be getting some new nextdoor neighbors, as Shell’s nearby Woodcreek campus takes on some of the employees being moved out of One Shell Plaza downtown. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Energy Center 4 at 925 N. Eldridge Pkwy.: CBRE
PERMITS ISSUED TO STORE TEXAS WIND ENERGY IN GIANT UNDERGROUND SALT CAVE, TOO Meanwhile, in Tennessee Colony: As Fairway works on retrofitting some of those giant salt caves south of the Astrodome to store crude oil, a company called APEX says it has the permits all lined up to outfit a cavern in Anderson County’s Bethel Salt Dome to store some of Texas’s excessive wind energy. The plan, if the company gets the rest of the necessary funding, is to buy excess electricity from the grid to run an air compressor, pumping air into a salt chamber as deep as the Empire State Building is tall. That compressed air (with a boost from some natural gas combustion) would then be used to turn a turbine when needed. Energy analyst Paul Denham tells David Fehling that only a few spots in the US along the Gulf Coast have the kind of salt dome geology being put to work by the Bethel project (and by the only other major compressed air plants in the world, currently operating in Germany and Alabama); a few other companies, however, are now working on taking underground caverns out of the equation. [Houston Public Media; previously on Swamplot]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: YOU CAN LOVE THE BAY YOU’RE WITH AND STILL HARBOR SHIP CHANNEL FANTASIES “I know that Galveston Bay is the economic engine of the Houston area, but it’s fun to ponder what 42 prime bayside acres could be other than a barge staging area, or what the bay woulda/coulda been had oil not been discovered nearby. Coulda been San Francisco, got Can Cerisco.” [JoeDirt, commenting on Kirby To Lease New Ship Channel Barge Parking Area, Pay for Barge Collision Oil Spill] Illustration: Lulu
EMPTY HOUSTON OFFICE SPACE HITS 20-YEAR HIGH WITH MORE IN THE PIPELINE “The damage has been done,” writes Ralph Bivins this morning: although developers in the city have mostly stopped starting new office buildings, the past quarter “was the first time in 21 quarters that Houston had negative absorption, meaning more office space was emptied than filled.” And the office space availability rate, brushing up against 20 percent, is also higher than it has been at any time since 1995; real estate scrutinizer CBRE estimates that the rate could shoot past the 20-year record to 21 percent in 2017 as more sublease space hits the market (and more of the space already under construction, on the order of 4.2 million sq.ft., wraps up). [Realty News Report] Photo of 609 Main construction: Katherine Feser (bottom)
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE ART OF SLIPPING AWAY “The luxury real estate article says that a lot of owner/CEO’s of small oil companies are selling their mansions to help save their companies. That’s an assbackwards way — there’s a reason you stash a few million in your homestead: It’s exempt from creditors and bankruptcy. Let the dying company fold, file bankruptcy, sell the house later, and boom, you’re liquid again and start with fresh paper and zero liabilities.” [commonsense, commenting on The Typical Home Buyer’s Salary; Getting Creative in the Luxury Housing Market] Illustration: Lulu
DUBAI’S ENERGY PLAN WOULD PUT SOLAR PANELS ON EVERY ROOFTOP BUT WOULDN’T CUT CONSUMPTION Meanwhile, in Dubai: The United Arab Emirates, long a global symbol of extravagant wealth derived from the oil industry, is hoping to step into an equally dramatic role in the green energy scene — the recently-announced Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 calls for 25 percent of Dubai’s energy to come from clean sources by 2030, ramping up to 75 percent by 2050. The plan calls for solar panels to be placed on all rooftops in the city, and for a 5,000 megawatt solar energy park, which will generate nearly 10 times as much electricity as the next-largest such park currently in existence, California’s Solar Star. The push comes alongside neighboring Saudi Arabia’s movement toward solar energy, rooted in efforts to reserve more oil for export and remain a dominant fossil fuel force. [CityLab, the Atlantic]