energy | KUOW News and Information


Imagine running power lines through a cathedral. That's how archaeologists describe what the Bonneville Power Administration proposes doing in the Columbia River Gorge in Washington state. The federal electricity provider is trying to string a new transmission line near a cave that contains ancient paintings, a site considered sacred by Native Americans.

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

President Barack Obama’s wide-ranging plan for action on climate change, announced Tuesday at Georgetown University, includes regulating carbon emissions from existing coal-burning power plants for the first time. In the Pacific Northwest, relatively little coal is used, but one of the region’s biggest coal consumers is sticking with its plans to keep relying on the dirtiest of all fossil fuels.

Flickr Photo/Isaac Viel

  Washington state ranks number one in the nation for our use of renewable energy sources according to an analysis by Slate Magazine. The ranking includes hydroelectric power but the state’s own 2020 renewable energy goals do not. Ross Reynolds speaks with Jessica Finn Coven, the director of Climate Solutions, about whether Washington’s on track to meet our 2020 renewable energy goals.

TJ Guiton

Shell Oil Co. had to postpone its Arctic drilling until 2014 after one of its oil rigs ran aground off the Alaska coast this winter, but Shell’s efforts to open a new frontier of oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean continue in Puget Sound.

The oil giant passed a key test with federal regulators in March in the waters off Anacortes, Wash., north of Seattle.

KUOW/John Ryan

The Shell Oil Co. refinery in Anacortes, Wash., sprang a leak last week. Shell quickly shut down the equipment that was boiling oil to make gasoline, but the shutdown led to a release of toxic gases.

KUCB Photo/Stephanie Joyce

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had some tough words for Shell Oil Thursday as he announced the results of an investigation into Shell's Alaskan accidents in 2012. But he did not announce the tough consequences that environmentalists were hoping for in the wake of Shell’s year of Arctic mishaps.

U.S. Coast Guard Photo/Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis

Shell Oil Co. has put Arctic drilling on hold. The company announced Wednesday that it will not attempt to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean this year. The announcement comes after a year of accidents and setbacks for Shell’s Arctic drilling efforts.

The Price Of North Dakota's Oil Boom

Feb 21, 2013
North Dakota oil field sunrise
Flickr photo/Adam Schreiner

North Dakota is booming. The state's unemployment rate is just 3.2 percent — well below the national average of 7.9 percent. Officials are trying to keep pace with a population surge brought on by oil industry jobs that have made North Dakota the country's number two oil-producing state. But what will extracting millions of barrels from the Bakken oil field mean for the region's environmental and economic future? Writer and reporter Richard Manning joins us with the story of North Dakota's oil boom.

Wikimedia Commons

UPDATE: Shell plans to use three tugs to tow the damaged Kulluk oil rig to Dutch Harbor in Alaska's Aleutian Islands, where it will await a longer trip to an unnamed Asian drydock. Shell and the US Coast Guard have disbanded the joint command formed after the Seattle-bound rig broke free from its sole tugboat, then ran aground. Officials said the Kulluk's outer hull was damaged but not breached. They did not specify the degree of damage, saying only, "The outer hull did receive damage as expected with a vessel being aground during adverse weather." 

Update at 2:25 p.m. ET. It's Official:

Praising Sally Jewell as an executive who turned outdoors equipment retailer REI into one of the nation's most successful and environmentally conscious companies, President Obama just said he is nominating her to be his next interior secretary.

Noting that Jewell, who in a previous job worked as an engineer for Mobil, has also climbed mountains in Antarctica, the president joked about that being "just not something I think of doing."

Our original post:

ABERDEEN, Wash. – The Northwest is on the verge of becoming a gateway for crude oil. Three different developers have plans to use docks on Grays Harbor, Washington to transfer crude oil from trains to ships. Other projects are getting off the ground in Tacoma, Vancouver, B.C. and on the lower Columbia River.

There was a huge turnout Wednesday night at an introductory public workshop in Aberdeen, Washington. The response indicates crude-by-rail may be the region’s next big environmental controversy.

Energy expert Amory Lovins says the United States can replace all oil and coal by the year 2050, without nuclear power, new federal taxes or subsidies, or new inventions. At the same time, we can grow the US economy by 158 percent.

U.S. Coast Guard

The Obama administration launched a sweeping inquiry into Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling program on Tuesday. The probe, to be completed within 60 days, will look at the company’s mishaps in Alaska and in Puget Sound.

The announcement from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar comes a week after Shell’s Kulluk oil rig ran aground in the Gulf of Alaska.

U.S. Coast Guard/Travis Marsh

A shipwrecked oil rig that was bound for Seattle has been floated off the rocks and towed to a safe harbor in the Gulf of Alaska. A fleet of nine ships accompanied Shell Oil’s Kulluk drill rig on the 45-mile tow. Shortly before noon Pacific Time, the rig reached its anchorage in sheltered Kiliuda Bay on Kodiak Island.  

Aaron Kunz

Cloud seeding has been around for decades. It started out as a way to make rain for growing crops. But these days in the Mountain West, it’s used as a way to make more snow.

Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis / US Coast Guard

UPDATE: The Kulluk ran aground late Monday night, with 150,000 gallons of diesel and oil on board.

A floating oil rig that was abandoned on Saturday in heavy seas in the Gulf of Alaska is being towed away from land — a second time.

Historic gas pump
John Ryan

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn wants the city to get its money out of fossil fuels. He has called on the city’s two main retirement funds to divest millions of dollars invested in oil and gas companies.

T.J. Guiton

The Arctic Challenger left Puget Sound's Bellingham Bay Wednesday night and arrived at a deep-water anchorage near Anacortes, Wash., Thursday morning. The barge is part of Shell Oil’s fleet of vessels aimed at exploring the Arctic Ocean for oil.

The Arctic Challenger’s oil-spill containment system failed its first field test off Anacortes in September. Since then, Shell has rebuilt a 20-foot oil-containment dome that was “crushed like a beer can” in the first test.

Noah Berger / AP Photo

Energy expert Amory Lovins outlines a path to eliminate use of oil and coal in the United States by the year 2050 in his new book "Reinventing Fire." Lovins says the path will grow the US economy by 158 percent, and it can happen with no new federal taxes or subsidies.

Ross Reynolds talks with Rocky Mountain Institute co-founder Amory Lovins about energy independence.

Damaged oil-spill containment dome
BSEE (via KUOW FOIA request)

A KUOW investigation has led a top congressman to demand answers about Shell Oil's underwater accident this fall in Puget Sound.

As we reported on Friday, an underwater test near Anacortes left Shell's first-of-its-kind oil-spill equipment “crushed like a beer can.”

Damaged oil-spill containment dome
BSEE (via KUOW FOIA request)

UPDATE on Congressional interest in this story here.

Shell Oil has been building and testing equipment designed for the Arctic Ocean here in Puget Sound. In September, a key test of underwater oil-spill equipment was a spectacular failure.

Sierra Club Wants Coal Out Of PSE's Stocking

Nov 29, 2012

Puget Sound Energy owns and operates a coal-fired power plant out of Billings, Montana, that the Sierra Club calls "the dirtiest coal plant in the West." The Colstrip Plant meets EPA emission standards and PSE touts its green-energy portfolio, with plans to triple its renewable energy supply by 2020. How does coal fit into that equation? And with coal plants generating 42 percent of America's electricity, how much impact would closing one plant have? We take a look with PSE's Andy Wappler and Anne Hedges of the Montana Environmental Information Center.


Seattle City Light has an unexpected pot of money on its hands. The utility says it needs to give away $5 million before the end of the year.

The money is earmarked for businesses that want to become more energy-efficient. It will pay for up to 70 percent of the cost of new lighting, heating and cooling systems, or other energy-efficient equipment.

But even with the subsidy, businesses have been slow to sign on this year.

RICHLAND, Wash. – Energy Secretary Steven Chu is bolstering the scientific brain power at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation’s waste treatment plant. A memo released to employees Thursday says the aim is to solve nagging technical problems at the plant more quickly.

The massive factory at Hanford is supposed to treat 56 million gallons of radioactive waste. That goo is currently in leaking, aging underground tanks near the Columbia River.

New Report: Coal Terminal Means Traffic In Seattle

Nov 6, 2012

Government agencies have begun the environmental review process for the largest proposed coal export terminal in the Northwest. It would be located near Bellingham, Washington.

If it’s built, the Gateway Pacific Terminal would draw trains from across the region, carrying coal from Wyoming and Montana to be exported to Asia, and those trains would move through Seattle. That would lead to more traffic, according to a new report from the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Read the full story on KUOW's Earthfix

$178 Million Smart Grid Project Launches In Northwest

Oct 25, 2012
KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

The University of Washington got its launch Wednesday as the country's biggest testing ground for smart grid technology.

Smart grid is a catch-all term for something power providers are still trying to figure out — namely, how do you use modern technology, like the Internet, to manage how much power is flowing through the grid at any given time?

Read the full story on KUOW's EarthFix