ACEC Weekly NewsLine
April 06, 2011

Energy

Budget Hawks Look to Slash $41B in DOE Loan Guarantees

Land/Buildings

NRC Report Calls for Increasing U.S. Earthquake Resilience

Water

Fla. Reuse Irrigation Treatment Plant Exceeds Expectations

Transportation

Report: 69,000 U.S. Bridges Need "Urgent" Attention




Energy

Budget Hawks Look to Slash $41B in DOE Loan Guarantees
Dow Jones Newswires (03/29/11) Malik, Naureen S.; Sweet, Cassandra

Some $41 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy projects are caught up in congressional wrangling over the federal budget. A Republican proposal to slash a U.S. Department of Energy loan-guarantee program was included in a U.S. House of Representatives' budget bill passed last month. If the proposal to slash funding is implemented, DOE would be forced to withdraw six conditional loan guarantees the agency has issued to renewable projects, while 25 other renewable energy projects that are currently in the final stages of receiving their loan guarantees would not get them. One of these, the Taylor BioMass Energy project in Montgomery, N.Y., is close to finalizing terms for a $100 million loan guarantee, which the company needs to obtain a loan of that size from a separate DOE program. "We've got every cent that we own in this project on the faith and belief that it appears that [the loan guarantee] is finally going to happen," said James Taylor, who, along with his family, has invested heavily in the project. After unsuccessfully pitching the project to 150 venture capital, debt, and equity investors, DOE may be Taylor's only way for retaining control over the landfill technology that he spent more than 15 years developing. "I'm hoping I don't have to give it away," he said.
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Stepping on the Gas
Wall Street Journal (04/02/11) Yergin, Daniel

George Mitchell, a Houston-based independent energy producer, worried in the 1980s that his company was going to run out of natural gas. Almost three decades later, the results of his effort to do something about the problem are transforming America's energy prospects and the calculations of analysts around the world. Mitchell read a geology report stating that the natural gas locked into shale could possibly be freed and made to flow. At the end of the 1990s, using a specialized version of a technique called hydraulic fracturing (now widely known as "fracking" or "fracing"), his team found an economical way to create or expand fractures in the rock and to get the trapped gas to flow. Today, in an age that craves innovation in energy, Mitchell's breakthrough in the Barnett Shale has opened the door to a potentially profound change in the global energy equation. What has become known as the "unconventional-natural-gas revolution" has turned a shortage into a large surplus and transformed the natural-gas business, which supplies almost a quarter of America's total energy. This revolution has arrived, moreover, at a moment when rising oil prices, sparked by turmoil in the Middle East, and the nuclear crisis in Japan have raised anxieties about energy security. Government and producers alike have turned their attention back to domestic resources. As late as 2000, shale gas was just 1 percent of American natural-gas supplies. Currently, it is about 25 percent and could rise to 50 percent within two decades. Estimates of the entire natural-gas resource base, taking shale gas into account, are now as high as 2,500 trillion cubic feet, with a further 500 trillion cubic feet in Canada. Some proponents believe that the U.S., once thought to be short of natural gas, could even become a natural-gas exporter. Power companies have been reluctant to make a large commitment to natural gas because of worries about supply and price volatility. Over the past 30 years, natural gas has been, at different times, abundant and cheap or scarce and expensive. However, shale has changed the equation. Abundant, relatively low-priced supplies now make natural gas a highly competitive alternative to both nuclear and wind power and even to coal generation.

Transportation Chief to Unveil Pipeline Safety Effort
New York Times (04/04/11) Wald, Matthew

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has introduced a pipeline safety campaign aimed at coordinating federal, state, and local oversight and making more information available to the public about potential hazards. "I want to be able to say to people, when you throw a light switch, you shouldn't cause an explosion in your front yard," says LaHood. "We ought to have the decency to tell people there's a pipeline in the front yard, if they want to know that." He says that pipeline owners will come under pressure to assure that their pipelines, mostly out of sight and out of mind, are safe. LaHood is asking Congress to increase the civil penalties his department can levy on companies that violate pipeline rules — to $250,000 a day from the current $100,000, and to $2.5 million for a series of violations, up from $1 million. He also wants to close some regulatory loopholes, including those that allow some pipelines to escape any regulation at all. Companies that drill natural gas wells often transfer the gas to high-pressure transmission hubs through pipes that are sometimes completely unregulated, experts say. Deborah Nardone, a natural gas expert at the Sierra Club, says that to get permission to drill on private property, companies sometimes promise to deliver gas to the landowner's home, and the pipe to the home is unregulated. Despite the series of recent accidents, the Transportation Department says those that result in death or serious injury are down nearly 60 percent over the last 20 years. However, aging pipelines are considered a problem. In Pennsylvania, according to the Transportation Department, some cast iron pipes laid in the 1930s do not legally have to be replaced until 2111, when they would be 180 years old. New York State has a requirement that its oldest cast iron pipes be replaced by 2090, but many are already decades old, according to the department. LaHood says he has met with the executives of major natural gas companies to discuss better surveillance of pipelines and a new replacement schedule.
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Two-Thirds of Gulf Oil and Gas Leases Inactive
Associated Press (03/30/11) Pace, Julie

According to a new report by the Department of Interior, more than two-thirds of offshore drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico are not producing oil and gas, as well as not being actively explored by the companies who hold the leases. The report estimates that inactive areas of the gulf could hold more than 11 billion barrels of oil and 50 trillion cubic fee of natural gas. The report was ordered by President Obama due to increased pressure from the spike in gasoline prices. The report also found that 45 percent of onshore oil and gas leases on federal lands were also deemed inactive. The department recommended that extra incentives be created to encourage faster development of oil and gas resources from existing and future leases. Congressional Democrats have introduced what they call “Use it or Lose it’’ legislation that would impose an escalating fee on the oil and gas companies who hold leases they are not actively using. The oil and gas industry promptly disputed the administration findings. "The majority of these leases are always turned back because we can’t find resource in commercial quantities," says Jack Gerard, the president of the American Petroleum Institute. "To suggest that we’re sitting on our hands is a pure distraction."
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Land/Buildings

NRC Report Calls for Increasing U.S. Earthquake Resilience
National Acadamies Press (03/30/11)

A report from the National Research Council presents a 20-year roadmap for increasing U.S. resilience to earthquakes, including a major earthquake that could hit a highly populated area. While the report was written before the earthquake in Japan, the committee of experts behind the report note that the events in Japan serve as a reminder of the devastation that can occur, even in a country seen as a leader in earthquake-resilience. In recent years, destructive earthquakes in the U.S. have only been moderate to strong, and have occurred in sparsely populated areas. The committee expressed concern that many people have fallen into a false sense of security that the country is already earthquake resilient. The committee points to the results of a recent earthquake-scenario exercise in Los Angeles that suggested that a magnitude 7.8 earthquake would result in major losses, and noted the lack of disaster resilience that occurred following Hurricane Katrina. The report suggested 18 steps for implementing the strategic plan suggested by the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. Those steps include additional research to understand earthquakes and increase prediction capabilities, deploying the remaining 75 percent of the Advanced National Seismic System, testing and deploying early-warning systems, developing new techniques for evaluating and retrofitting existing buildings to better withstand earthquakes, and enhancing performance-based engineering to achieve better building design, among other suggestions.
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A Model of Efficiency
Point of Beginning (03/11) Grahl, Christine L.

The Minton-Capehart Federal Building in downtown Indianapolis was at the top of the list of buildings to receive some of the $5.5 billion in Recovery Act funds set aside for energy efficiency upgrades to federal buildings, and building information modeling (BIM) was used for the renovations. Subcontractor G.J. Berding Surveying had not yet taken the leap into BIM, with project surveyor Tim Schwoeppe saying it was “probably a little too large for us to take on alone,” but when Minton-Capehart contractor Messer Construction enlisted the firm for the project’s scanning work, it was an exciting new leap into BIM, he says. Berding got Architectural Resource Consultants (ARC) involved, as they were already skilled in creating Autodesk Revit models for BIM. There was close collaboration among all partners in the planning process, even including site visits for all firms involved. “You can always tell that a project is going to have a higher chance of success when the people you’re dealing with are responsive and open in communication,” ARC CEO John Russo says. “Ultimately, we weren’t just involved in modeling but were an active participant through the entire project.” The firms had to do interior and exterior scans and combine all data into a single dataset using both target registration and cloud-to-cloud registration in Leica’s Cyclone software, and the data was then transferred to ARC to create Revisit models. Messer was so impressed with the level of detail that it asked the firms to use their services for as-builts of the building’s third-floor plenum area later in the project. “There are just so many aspects with BIM that you need to have people from different disciplines and with different areas of expertise involved to pull it all together,” Schwoeppe says. “The collaboration was an asset to us and our clients.”
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Construction Spending Falls
Investor's Business Daily (04/04/11) P. A2

Construction outlays for February landed at the lowest level since October 1999, according to the Commerce Department. Analysts had anticipated 0.7 percent less spending for the month, but the actual decline came in at 1.4 percent. Expenditures were down 3.7 percent for the private residential market and 1.3 percent for government projects. Nonresidential private construction spending, however, bumped up 0.9 percent.
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USDA Leads the Way on Green Buildings, Use of Wood Products
U.S. Department of Agriculture (03/30/11)

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced the USDA's strategy for promoting the use of wood as a green building material. At the launch meeting for the International Year of the Forest, Vilsack presented a three-part plan addressing the Forest Service's and USDA's current green building practices. "Wood has a vital role to play in meeting the growing demand for green building materials. Forest Service studies show that wood compares favorably to competing materials," says Vilsack. "In keeping with the Obama Administration's America's Great Outdoors conservation agenda, USDA has made a strong commitment to conserving and restoring our forests to protect watersheds, recreation, and rural jobs." In the first part of the strategy, the U.S. Forest Service will preferentially select wood in new building construction while maintaining its commitment to certified green building standards. In the second part, the U.S. Forest Service will examine ways to increase its commitment to green building by reporting to Vilsack on ways to enhance research and development in green building materials. Lastly, the Forest Service will look for opportunities to demonstrate the innovative use of wood as a green building material for all new structures of 10,000 square feet or more using recognized green building standards like LEED, Green Globes, or the National Green Building Standard. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell says the U.S. has the resources, work force, and innovative spirit to reintroduce wood products into all aspects of the next generation of buildings. A Forest Service lifecycle analysis shows that harvesting, transporting, manufacturing, and using wood in lumber and panel products creates fewer air emissions, including greenhouse gases, than the creation of other common building materials.
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A Solution Upon Shifting Soils
Structural Engineering & Design (03/11) Vol. 12, No. 2, P. 42; Low, Fowler

Hunton Brady Architects will use Barrier-Bac's VBC-350, 31 mil composite vapor barrier beneath the concrete slap-on-grade portion of the Centura Health project in Castle Rock, Colo., because construction will involve shifting mountain soil conditions and high-quality epoxy flooring systems. In Hunton's experience, specifying a vapor barrier with excellent peel adhesion is critical to preventing it from separating from the bottom of the slab and keeping condensation pools from forming between these areas. The Barrier-Bac VBC-350 composite vapor barrier will remain attached to the bottom of the slab for the long-term, regardless of sub-grade settlement, protecting the moisture-sensitive epoxy floors for decades. The composite vapor barrier is composed of a 16 mil polyethylene ASTM E 1745 Class A vapor barrier membrane, which is laminated to a three-ounce-per-square-yard polypropylene nonwoven geo-textile fabric. Installed with the nonwoven side facing the concrete pour, fibers of the nonwoven material become mechanically bonded to the slab as the concrete cures. As a result, integral bonding of the vapor barrier system is ensured, and the potential problem of separation from the bottom of the concrete slab is eliminated. Hunton used the ASTM D 903 – 98, Standard Test Method for Peel or Stripping Strength of Adhesive Bonds, to test the peel adhesion to concrete.
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Water

Fla. Reuse Irrigation Treatment Plant Exceeds Expectations
Water & Wastes Digest (03/11) Vol. 51, No. 3, P. 20; Lisican, Elizabeth

Pompano Beach, Fla., is the site of a novel reuse irrigation treatment plant which was built to combat the problem of saltwater intrusion stemming from the more freshwater that is tapped from underground sources. The plant was originally built to process 2 million gallons per day (mgd), but in 2002 the facility was expanded to 7.5 mgd. "We're adding about 10,000 to 12,000 feet a year of reclaimed distribution system, and we have dual piping going through the area for irrigation and potable water," says utilities director Randy Brown. "We focus mainly on the saltwater intrusion line first, and as we fill that in, we will move toward other areas of the city where it's beneficial for the recharge because every gallon of reuse we use, we get a savings on our potable water of a gallon." The Alternative Supply Irrigation System reuse program enables the plant to further treat and reuse processed wastewater. The effluent has been reused for landscaping irrigation for medians, city plantings, and golf courses. "Since 1988 we've actually ... repelled the saltwater intrusion line back toward the east several hundred feet, so the impact of using reuse in that area has benefited and protected our wellfield as well," says water treatment superintendent Don Bayler. He continues that "we draw the water that has already been treated and we tertiary treat it through the Parkson sand filters, and then that goes into a storage tank. It's chlorinated and we draw it off every day for reuse down the medians of highways, schools, areas around the airport and residential areas." The South Florida Water Management District and the city of Pompano Beach designed another 18 Parkson filters with new and upgraded pumps and chemical feed gear, and an additional 4 million gallon storage tank was installed in 2002. Pompano Beach predicts that it will likely need more capacity in the future, because Florida has mandated that the county remove the ocean outfall so that all the water it does not pick up now will be converted into reuse.

Transportation

Report: 69,000 U.S. Bridges Need "Urgent" Attention
Reuters (03/30/11) Lambert, Lisa ; Crawley, John

Transportation for America reports that 69,000 bridges in the United States are in urgent need of attention or replacement. Cash-strapped states suffering budget shortfalls are looking to federal funding for assistance. "For bridges, lack of maintenance can lead to the sudden closure of a critical transportation link or, far worse, a collapse that results in lost lives and a significant decline in regional economic productivity," the report states. Currently, $10.5 billion is spent on bridges each year, but $17 billion is needed. Federal spending has only increased by $650 million from 2006 through 2009. Legislation was recently introduced to fund transportation projects including $336 billion for rebuilding roads and bridges over the next six years. The states with greatest need include Pennsylvania, with one in four bridges considered structurally deficient; Oklahoma, Iowa, Rhode Island, and South Dakota with more than 20 percent of bridges deteriorating; and New York with 12 percent of bridges needing significant work.
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Self-Prescribed
Roads & Bridges (03/11) Vol. 49, No. 3, P. 54; Bedsole, Lisa K.; Huie, Mary F.; Robinson, Mark R.

Performance contracting can provide a solution for states that have too many roadway projects, not enough funding to build and maintain roads, and lack an experienced staff. In performance contracting for construction (PCfC), the agency specifies performance goals (such as the maximum allowable work-zone traffic queue and dates to open business accesses) and focuses more on the results, while allowing the contractor to determine the best way to perform the work. A cost-effective, results-focused partnership, PCfC contracts are awarded based on best value factors as well as price. Agencies that may legally use an award process other than the traditional low bid can share some of the financial risk of innovation in construction with contractors through incentives and disincentives. Performance contracting works well with a design-build contract, but an agency may prefer to fully design the project before solicitation; the state should detail the process for making modification in its package. In Michigan, performance contracting has enabled DOT to reduce construction time from 127 days to 94 days, extend the expected service life of payment from 11 years to 20 years, and save $1,651,675 over the life of the roadway. Initially a pilot subsidized by Federal Highway Administration funds, performance contracting will be used independently by MDOT for a new reconstruction project this year.
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Other

Construction Employment Increases in 30 States Between January and February
Associated General Contractors of America (03/28/11)

Between January and February, construction employment increased in 30 states according to the Associated General Contractors of America, but the organization said it is too soon to say whether the improvement is related to a stronger economy or simply warmer weather. Meanwhile in the past twelve months 19 states added construction jobs. The largest one-month percentage increase was in the District of Columbia, which added 600 jobs for a 5.8 percent increase, followed by Connecticut with 2100 jobs and 4.2 percent, Georgia with 5000 jobs and 3.7 percent, and Oregon with 2000 jobs and 2.9 percent. Adding the most jobs by number was California, with 15,500 jobs and a 2.7 percent increase. Meanwhile 18 states lost construction jobs for the same period, with Maine having the largest drop of 3.8 percent and 1300 jobs, followed by Alaska, Arkansas, and North Dakota. For the year, the District of Columbia also took the top spot as having the highest percentage increase, adding 1500 jobs for a 15.8 percent increase, followed by Tennessee and Pennsylvania. And in 32 states construction employment declined over the past year, led by Nevada with a 9.4 percent drop and a loss of 5900 jobs, followed by Wisconsin, Georgia, and Colorado. The association said that total construction spending is still falling and materials prices continue to rise, so the industry overall is still fragile.
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EPA Seeks White House Approval to Exempt CCS From Waste Rules
Carbon Control News (03/28/11) Vol. 3, No. 12,

The EPA has asked the White House Office of Management and Budget to review a draft for a proposed rule that could conditionally exempt carbon dioxide (CO2) stored underground from federal hazardous waste regulations. The coal industry says enabling this exemption is critical for widespread deployment of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) by coal-fired power plants to address climate change concerns. The proposed rule appears to be intended to address ongoing concerns that owners and operators of CCS wells could be liable under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act for environmental contamination if CO2 contained in wells should leak and contaminate underground sources of drinking water. While it is still unclear what the proposed waste rule would call for, the EPA noted in a regulatory agenda summary last year that it was considering a proposed rule under RCRA to examine a variety of options, including a conditional exemption for hazardous CO2 streams to facilitate the implementation of geologic storage, while protecting human health and the environment. The EPA also says it intended to evaluate how requirements under other statues and programs, like the EPA's Underground Injection Control Class VI rule, may address potentially unacceptable risks from the capture, transport, and geologic sequestration of CO2 streams.

How to Save Billions in Building and Bridge Repair: Coat Them in Burnt Coal Ash
Fast Company (03/30/11) Eaton, Kit

Research by Florida Atlantic University and the company Blue World Crete has discovered a new use for the millions of tons of fly ash, a by-product of coal-burning power, that uses fly ash as a coating for concrete structures, resulting in significantly tougher structures better able to resist damage. Fly ash, of which about 130 million tons are created each year in the U.S. alone, is a significant disposal problem, with about 70 percent being sent to landfills. Turning fly ash into a coating for concrete to protect construction material would solve a significant problem for the coal industry while extending the life span of concrete structures. Details on the coating were not released, but it is believed to be half as expensive as existing coating materials used to coat the exterior surface of concrete to protect it from wind, temperature changes, and rain, and to cover structural steel rebar. The new fly ash coating is also useful for covering already damaged concrete. In lab tests, the researchers have demonstrated that the new coating is strong, durable, and can resist heat, cold, and simulated acid rain tests that were 100,000 times more acidic than rain usually found in the environment. The life span of material coated in the fly ash coating was over a year, compared to untreated concrete subjected to the same conditions, which lasted only a few days.
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