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Oklahoma Earthquakes

justin brotton - Thursday, November 01, 2012

By Kristin Van Veen-Hincke

On Nov. 5, 2011, the talk of the Sooner State wasn’t focused on the respective football games played that day in Norman and Stillwater. Nor was it the severe and differing weather patterns hitting the state. No, the hot topic of that day occurred approximately 44 miles east of the state capital when a 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck near Prague. This tremor, believed to be the largest in the state since a 5.5-magnitude quake hit the southwest part of the state on April 9, 1952, caused injury to two people, destroyed 14 homes, and was felt from Texas to Kansas.

The quake wasn’t a surprise to Oklahoma State Representative Danny Morgan, whose family owns Morgan Well Service in Prague.

“In June, our local chamber of commerce sponsored a meeting with the Oklahoma State Geological Survey,” he said. “They talked about an uplift fault in our area. They were monitoring small movements that were registering on their equipment. They said it was like a volcano – at some point in time it was going to happen. Sure enough, we got hammered!”

Morgan wasn’t at home in Prague when the quake occurred, but he felt the tremor as he was leaving the Oklahoma State football game in Stillwater.

“It is a very unique experience,” he commented. “I had never been through one before. In fact, we had a tornado on the ground in southwest Oklahoma, flooding in the northern part of the state, and then the earthquake all in the same day. The only thing we were missing was the locusts.”

In the weeks following the November 5 quake, the area around Prague experienced almost a dozen aftershocks. In response to this activity, the city hosted a community meeting to answer residents’ questions. The nearly 900 attendees heard from representatives of the Oklahoma Geological Survey as well as the state’s insurance commissioner.

“There was a group that wanted to find fault with the oil and gas industry,” Morgan acknowledged, “wanting to know if this was the result of disposal wells pumping large amounts of water into the ground. The folks from the Geological Survey said the earthquake was several miles deeper than any fracturing or injection wells. I finally stood up and said this meeting is not to find fault. We think it was nature taking its course. We believe it was the subsurface pushing up. In Oklahoma, we don’t ask who caused a tornado. In California, they don’t ask who caused an earthquake. But earthquakes are so rare here that some people want to find fault because we had one.”

Growing concern surrounding the oil and gas extraction method of hydraulic fracturing and the disposal of the produced water that results from production activities has led doubters from Oklahoma to Ohio to West Virginia to England to question the industry’s methods.

When the November 5 quake occurred, Oklahoma seismologist Austin Holland had just completed a study of earthquakes for the Oklahoma Geologic Survey on a small cluster of tremors that occurred in January 2011 near Elmore City. He had determined that those quakes were naturally occurring.

“At present, we can link very few earthquakes to oil and gas industry activities,” he stated. “We are examining this as a possibility, but it is not a simple thing to determine because the energy to cause the earthquakes is already in the subsurface on the faults, and we do not know how oil and gas activity has changed the stresses deep within the earth. We are working to get a better understanding of what earthquakes may be linked to oil and gas.”

This is not the first time oil and gas activities have been linked to earthquakes in Oklahoma. In 1978, 70 small quakes occurred in just over six hours, leading residents and industry officials to question the extraction methods used at the time. Just a decade later, 90 small tremors were linked to fracturing. Both of these studies lacked conclusive data, and a concrete connection to oil and gas methods was never realized. It should be noted that 1.2 million wells have been fracked over the past 60 years in the U.S., with 100,000 of those occurring in Oklahoma.

In April, a group of scientists led by geophysicist William Ellsworth, a former president of the Seismological Society of America now working at the Geological Survey’s Earthquake Science Center in Menlo Park, California, presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Society acknowledging the increased frequency of earthquakes in the middle part of the country beginning in 2001. In 2009, 50 earthquakes greater than magnitude 5.0 occurred between Alabama and Montana, while 87 occurred in that same area in 2010. The 134 quakes recorded in the same area last year represented a six-fold increase over 20th century levels. The research attributed this rise in tremors to injection wells. The paper also noted that in Oklahoma, the rate of earthquakes greater than a 3.0 on the Richter scale “abruptly increased” from an average of 1.2 per year for the previous 50 years to more than 25 in 2009 alone. However, Holland’s research found that most of the state’s seismic activity did not appear to be tied to injection wells.

Conversely, University of Memphis seismologist Stephen Horton presented a paper at the Seismological Society of America meeting that did conclude that the November earthquake was “possibly triggered” by waste injection wells located near the epicenter. There are 181 injection wells in Lincoln County. Horton warned that Oklahoma officials are risking another large earthquake if oil and gas companies are allowed to inject waste near the same fault.

It has been a long held belief among scientists that injecting water underground, no matter the source, can lubricate faults and cause earthquakes. However, there are approximately 40,000 oil and gas disposal wells across the country, and only a handful have been linked to any seismic activity.

In the last year, earthquakes in Arkansas and Ohio have forced the shutdown of injection wells, as well as the development of new regulations guiding their use. Horton’s research in Arkansas caused state officials to ban injection wells in part of the state. While there is no federal law against causing earthquakes, a class-action lawsuit against oil and gas companies accusing negligence in response to the increase in earthquakes in Arkansas is now working its way through the federal court system.

Oklahoma state geologist G. Randy Keller and Colorado state geologist Vince Matthews have criticized the research conducted by Ellsworth and Horton as premature. However, University of Oklahoma seismologist Katie Keranen believes there is a “compelling link between the zone of injection and the seismicity.” She began placing seismic instruments in the ground after a 4.7-magnitude earthquake shook the Prague area just days before the November 5 event. However, she cautions that the state has naturally occurring seismic activity that “complicates things.”

There was one issue everyone seemed to agree on at the Society’s annual meeting: fracking does not refer to the entire process of shale drilling. While these experts may disagree on the part that injection wells play in the recent increase in seismic activity, they all understand and strive to clarify that there is no connection between fracking and earthquakes. Environmentalists and the media are hard pressed to accept that distinction. In a recent interview on CNBC, the host seemed frustrated when Ellsworth continued to emphasize that the link his research shows is between injection wells and earthquakes, not fracking and earthquakes.

The federal government even weighed in on the subject in June when the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on a report issued by the National Research Council. The report, sponsored by the Department of Energy following a congressional request in 2010, followed the conclusions developed at the Seismological Society of America meeting that the seismic hazard associated with hydraulic fracturing is extremely low, and that the injection of waste fluids could be linked to increased seismic activity. The committee writing the report called for additional study.

History shows that Oklahoma had naturally occurring earthquakes long before oil and natural gas were discovered in the Sooner State. So, should we be concerned? According to Holland, it is impossible to know the future.

“Certainly this is a very rare occurrence for Oklahoma that has not occurred before in historical times – 150 years,” Holland commented. “Earthquake processes in Oklahoma are very slow – on the order of thousands to millions of years – so we actually know very little about the natural processes of earthquakes. We have seen an increased number of earthquakes, but we have also seen only one earthquake as large as our largest historical earthquake, which was a magnitude 5.5 and occurred on April 9, 1952. Earthquakes have likely always occurred in Oklahoma. We may be seeing the natural earthquake process.”


justin brotton - Sunday, July 01, 2012

By Jim Stafford

Oklahoma history is dominated by tales of oil wildcatters searching for their next gusher and images of oil derricks that once littered the horizon. It is a history with stories of booms and busts, of oil-covered roughnecks toiling at well sites, and of landmark businesses built to drill, ship, refine and then market oil to a nation of automobile drivers.

Today’s state energy industry remains a driver of the 21st century economy, and major companies still drill for oil and natural gas. But they have been joined by an emerging class of modern-day wildcatters – energy entrepreneurs that are carving out a niche not by drilling holes in the earth, but by creating new technologies and strategies to more efficiently retrieve oil and gas, or smarter ways to use it to power our modern lives.

Armed with fresh perspectives, intellectual property and patented ideas, they are intent on building small companies into large ones that employ hundreds or thousands of people.

Guthrie’s Stewart Kennedy is one of those new energy “wildcatters.” He established NGV Fleet Partners in 2008 to help large companies, school districts and municipalities convert their fleets of vehicles from diesel or gasoline to cheaper, more environmentally friendly natural gas.

“When we first began, our expertise was in finance and Compressed Natural Gas station construction,” Kennedy said. “Since then, we have gained extensive knowledge of the various CNG vehicle systems and refueling equipment. We understand the pros and cons of different CNG vehicles and the various refueling equipment providers.”

Kennedy brought to NGV a background as a serial entrepreneur and a master’s degree in agricultural economics from Oklahoma State University. He served in positions with the Ministry of Agriculture in Budapest, Hungary, the National Future Farmers of America Organization in Washington, D.C., and the Food and Agriculture Products Research and Technology Center in Stillwater.

Past companies include Kennedy Foods Inc., Pristine Development and Pristine Construction. Through NGV Fleet Partners, he developed an innovative financing program for monetizing federal and state tax credit incentives to subsidize the cost of converting vehicles to CNG power.

“We provide a comprehensive fleet analysis and present an unbiased report on the cost savings that fleet owners can expect by switching their vehicles to CNG,” Kennedy said. “For fleets that travel a large number of miles per year, the cost savings over the life of the vehicles can be tremendous. Money spent on fuel can be put back into the classroom, city budget or business expansion.”

One of NGV’s first big fleet conversions was the Tulsa Public School System bus fleet of more than 200, completed in 2011. Other notable companies that have converted large fleets of vehicles include Apache Corporation, Waste Management, AT&T and Tulsa Transit System.

Rollout of natural gas-fueled vehicles has been limited by the sparse number of refueling stations throughout the nation. Currently, there are approximately 60 in Oklahoma, and Kennedy anticipates another 10 to 20 constructed annually in the state in future years.

Converting to CNG is appealing both from a cost perspective and impact on the environment – it costs less to power vehicles and pollutes less than oil-based fuels.

“CNG is cleaner and more abundant than traditional fuels,” Kennedy said. “We believe it will be the alternative fuel of choice going forward.”

Meanwhile, Ardmore’s Sam Farris tackled a problem that has long plagued the natural gas industry – corrosion of metal tubing in wells that may extend down thousands of feet below the surface. His company, Natural Gas Chemistries Corporation, provides a technology to send liquid chemicals with anti-corrosive properties down the hole to protect the metal components.

With more than four decades of experience in the oil and gas production industry, Farris battled corrosion as a supervisor of drilling, completion and production operations.

“I was in production along the Texas Gulf Coast, where I experienced massive corrosion problems associated with produced salt water that comes out with gas,” he said. “The corrosion attack was very costly and sometimes destroyed wells that cost as much as $10 million to $15 million to drill and complete.”

So, Farris devised a way to deliver anti-corrosive chemicals, winning a Department of Energy grant to develop the technology. Today, he owns multiple patents protecting the process, components and application of the system that easily installs on gas wells being produced by “plunger lift” operation.

“The installation and the operational costs of this system are more economical than all other current attempts to send chemicals down to the bottom of these wells,” Farris said. “We address all natural gas wells that utilize plunger lift systems to remove produced salt water. It’s the only one of its kind being offered to the natural gas industry.”

With only three employees currently, Farris anticipates growth as the technology is incorporated into gas wells throughout the United States and Canada.

Farris also is tackling other corrosion problems that plague natural gas pipelines and well operators.

“The future looks very bright for our efforts,” he said. “All our products have been met with extreme interest by those currently combating issues related to corrosion in natural gas wells, natural gas pipelines and process controls that are under attack by the EPA. We are very serious about doing our part to help the natural gas industry improve operations and be more environmentally friendly.”

Sapulpa’s Mike Callaway is a chemist with more than a quarter century working in the oil and gas industry. Along the way, he began to specialize in ways to filter poisonous hydrogen sulfide out of natural gas wells.

So noxious is H2S that gas produced from wells where it is present in concentrations above four parts per million is called “sour gas.” It must be removed before the gas can be transported and sold for commercial use, usually by running it through a filtering compound that must be frequently replaced.

Not satisfied with a filtering process essentially unchanged for over 100 years, Callaway began exploring ways to create better materials. The result is a patented granular filter media, called “Sulfabate,” that Callaway produces and markets through a company he founded called CalTech Global.

Sulfabate has been demonstrated to filter out H2S for at least three times longer than current competitive products. That means well operators can function longer without having to halt operations to change out filtering media, thus lowering the cost for treating sour gas by 25 to 50 percent.

“This material is very cost effective, easy to clean out, environmentally friendly, and customers really like it,” Callaway said. “Our new product has raised the bar with exponential improvement in performance.”

Rising world demand and production of natural gas is creating a growing market for CalTech’s filtering media.

“With natural gas prices at 10-year lows, we are able to provide significant savings to oil/gas producers.”

Callaway plans to expand CalTech to landfill gas and biogas markets.

“Rare is the occasion that a game-changing product intersects with an extreme growth industry,” he said. “Our biggest challenge will be our ability to keep up with demand.”

For Oklahoma City’s Jeff Arms, the experience of managing a pipe yard while in college led him to create an industry-specific software product that enables companies to document and track their steel pipe inventory.

Today, the company Arms founded 13 years ago, Arecon Data, LTD., offers Software-as-a-Service products to the energy sector, providing what he calls “cradle-to-grave” management and tracking services.

“Our software systems are revolutionary in their ability to track oilfield and tubular assets to reduce loss and properly manage drill strings,” Arms said. “With just a few mouse clicks, Oil Country OS offers out-of-the-box capabilities to track drilling rig safety and security inspections along with any additional documentation required to stay current with government compliance anywhere in the world.”

Arecon Data claims a customer base that covers a wide range of energy-related businesses, including steel distributors, drilling companies, trucking and logistics companies, tubular service and inspection companies, exploration and production companies, and pipeline engineering and management companies.

“Our products – Oil Country OS and Global View – are online and available globally,” Arms said. “With current operations in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, we are expanding globally and expect a 200 percent growth during 2012. New markets are opening up in Africa and the South Pacific later this year.”

In Owasso, Dana and Buddy Stefanoff definitely don’t fit the energy industry stereotype. They have created a patented LED lighting system that has been widely used by the entertainment and amusement industries.

Founded in 2010, Crossroads LED provides computer-controlled colored LED lighting panels with the ability to change colors and flash on and off to the beat of music. The company’s first big job was installation of a three-quarter-mile yellow flashing LED light system for use as caution lights at the Texas Motor Speedway.

Since then, the company has completed LED lighting projects for amusement parks across the nation, including Six Flags Over Texas.

Additionally, the company has begun installing white LED lighting for commercial, industrial and theatrical venues, including Tulsa’s Holland Hall Preparatory School and the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. Crossroads LED is retrofitting the PAC’s stage lighting, including a 575-watt incandescent bulb.

“We have designed and are currently filing patent paperwork on an LED retrofit product that will utilize the existing housing, but with a 90-watt LED luminaire,” Dana Stefanoff said. “This light is 600 percent more efficient than a comparable incandescent source.”

Preliminary tests by Public Service Company of Oklahoma showed that Crossroads LED lighting will reduce power use at the Tulsa PAC from megawatts to kilowatts of power during a single performance, Dana said.

Initial calculations show that the new LED lighting for Holland Hall will improve energy efficiency by more than 80 percent.

“We are working with a number of locations that have been able to redesign their HVAC systems due to the efficiency and heat savings of our LED luminaires,” she said. “This is something that many are just now discovering – that when energy-efficient LED lighting is used, a number of systems are positively affected, not just light-energy savings.”

When the Stefanoffs install their high-tech lighting systems, there are no soaring oil derricks or roughnecks wrestling with miles of pipe.

Yet, they share a common thread with counterparts like Stewart Kennedy, Sam Farris, Jeff Arms and Mike Callaway.

They are the new energy wildcatters of the 21st century, creating jobs and building wealth for Oklahoma.

Keystone XL: Is It Good for Oklahoma

justin brotton - Sunday, July 01, 2012

By Kristin Van Veen-Hincke

What is the Keystone Pipeline?

The Keystone Pipeline is an oil pipeline that extends from Alberta, Canada through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois.

What is the Keystone XL Pipeline?

The Keystone XL Pipeline is a proposed extension of the existing pipeline that would run through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska reaching delivery points in Oklahoma and Texas.

What’s the big deal?

The development of the Keystone XL Pipeline will mean jobs – lots of them. According to some estimates, upwards of 13,000 construction jobs would be created immediately in the U.S. along with another 7,000 manufacturing jobs at the start of construction. It is projected that another 179,000 American jobs would be created by 2035. The six states hosting the pipeline could receive an estimated $5.2 billion in property taxes from the pipeline’s owner TransCanada through the course of the 100-year operating life of the pipeline.

The development of the pipeline would also mean the U.S. would have to depend less on foreign oil, which would result in more stable gas prices.

The fight over the Keystone XL pipeline persists as TransCanada continues efforts to gain presidential approval of the project. On May 4, TransCanada submitted a Presidential Permit application to the U.S. State Department for the Keystone XL Pipeline from the U.S./Canada border in Montana to Steele City, Nebraska.

“The multi-billion dollar Keystone XL pipeline project will reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign oil and support job growth by putting thousands of Americans to work,” said Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and chief executive officer in a prepared statement.

The Canadian company’s permit application follows more than three years of environmental review as well as involvement by Nebraska lawmakers who passed legislation in April permitting TransCanada to re-engage with the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). This action allows the company to continue to work collaboratively on an alternative route for Keystone XL that avoids the controversial Sandhills area. Alternative routing corridors and a preferred corridor were submitted to the DEQ on April 18. The DEQ will now help determine a specific route and oversee the public comment and review process. Once a route is finalized, it will be submitted as part of the Presidential Permit application.

So how does this affect Oklahoma?

TransCanada plans to begin construction of the southern segment of the pipeline this summer. The $2.3 billion Gulf Coast Project will begin in Cushing, Oklahoma and extend south to Nederland, Texas. Since this section of the pipeline does not cross an international border, presidential and State Department approval is not necessary. This segment of the shovel-ready project will bring 1,200 year-long, union construction jobs to Oklahoma. TransCanada has also cited figures that for every ten miles of pipeline, roughly $1 million of ad valorem taxes would be paid to the state. It is also estimated that the pipeline will bring $1.2 billion in new spending to Oklahoma’s economy, increase personal income by $874 million, add more than $25 million in state and local revenues, and more than $1 billion in increased gross state product.

“We in Oklahoma understand the good paying, stable jobs the oil and natural gas industry provides. It’s unfortunate that the president would stand in the way of creating more of those jobs. President Obama has shown again that he’ll do anything to save his job, but nothing to create jobs for millions of unemployed Americans,” said Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Matt Pennell in a statement.

Where did this project fall off the tracks?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) overstepped its authority once again by challenging the State Department’s analysis of the project in June 2011. EPA claimed the study did not properly consider oil spill response plans, safety issues, and greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the fact that all states along the proposed route had given their blessings, environmentalists seized this moment to pressure the White House to side with EPA over the State Department.

The Keystone XL Pipeline Project is not a new proposal. TransCanada announced plans to build the 1,700 mile pipeline in 2005. In 2007, the project received Canadian regulatory approval only to run into environmental opposition in 2010.

On January 18, 2012, President Obama denied TransCanada’s presidential permit reasoning that his administration did “not have sufficient time to obtain the information necessary to assess whether the project, in its current state, is in the national interest.”

Federal lawmakers from Oklahoma have been critical of President Obama’s decision to delay the permitting process for the northern leg of the project.

“Today, President Obama rejected at least 1,000 new Oklahoma jobs and held back more than a billion dollars in economic growth for our state,” Rep. James Lankford (OK-05) said. “This is the case all through the central part of the United States where thousands of Americans will be kept on the sidelines of the labor force because the President is standing in their way. It is clear that the President only wants to move forward with the forms of energy he favors and punish those he does not.”

“The president’s decision means that this reliable oil supply from our Canadian allies may go to China, and America could miss out on both energy security and tens of thousands of new jobs,” Rep. Tom Cole (OK-04) said. “Republicans in Congress will continue fighting for Keystone, but President Obama’s irresponsible actions have unacceptably jeopardized both our economic and national security interests.”

“It is in both our economic and national security interests to use the oil and gas reserves right here in our own backyard instead of continuing to send billions to OPEC nations every year,” Rep. John Sullivan (OK-01) said. “Iran, a country that is wreaking havoc with the global oil markets must be smiling today. Congratulations Mr. President, you just gave a victory to Iran.”

“The Keystone Pipeline is vital to our national interest,” Rep. Dan Boren (OK-02) said. “The construction of the pipeline would create 15,000 direct jobs in manufacturing and over 100,000 related jobs. At a time when 15 million Americans are unemployed, it is irresponsible to not move forward with the project. Moreover, this is a matter of national security. The amount of oil the pipeline would allow us to source domestically is nearly as much as we import per day from Saudi Arabia. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is critical to both our energy and economic security.”

On March 22, the President visited Cushing as part of his tour touting his energy policies. During his speech, Obama announced that the southern segment of the Keystone project had been designated as an infrastructure priority which makes it eligible for accelerated permit reviews.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio echoed what many other members of the GOP said in response to the president’s announcement. Obama was “trying to take credit for part of the pipeline that doesn’t even require his approval,” Boehner said in his weekly news conference. “This idea that the president is going to expedite this will have no impact on the construction of this pipeline.”

“The president announced that he will expedite permits to build a portion of the Keystone XL Pipeline from Cushing to the Texas Gulf Coast,” Rep. Frank Lucas (OK-02) said. “While this sounds encouraging, his approval of this leg of the project is not required. In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers hands out around 90,000 similar permits each year. The president is trying to take credit for a project he has actually rejected twice, and I believe his trip is nothing more than a campaign stop.”

“In Oklahoma, we have a phrase to describe the president’s position: ‘All hat, no cattle,’” Sen. Tom Coburn said. “The president offers big talk on domestic energy production, but has offered little action to back up his claims. In word and deed, this administration has consistently expressed an illogical and ideological hostility to oil and gas.”

“Unfortunately, we know his visit is little more than a campaign stop in an attempt to put a favorable spin on his dismal energy record because current gas prices threaten his job,” Sen. James Inhofe said. “Yet, President Obama continues to wage an all-out attack on American fossil fuel development in his war on affordable energy. He keeps saying that oil and natural gas are the fuels of the past, but he is wrong. Oklahomans know they are very much the fuels of the present and the foreseeable future. The sooner he realizes this, the better.”

What is the status today?

Success for the northern leg of the pipeline seems eminent, but not guaranteed. Fears are that Canada may decide to ship the crude elsewhere. Several bills have been proposed in both the House and Senate urging approval of the permit. On May 23, opponents of the project in Nebraska filed a lawsuit challenging the law enacted by the state legislature to approve a new route through their state. 

Keystone Timeline

2005: TransCanada announced plans to build the 1,700-mile Keystone Pipeline from Hardesty, Alberta through Cushing to the Gulf Coast

2007: Keystone gets Canadian regulatory approval

2010: Pipeline runs into US environmental opposition

June 2011: EPA raises objections about the pipeline project

Aug 2011: State Department report says the pipeline is unlikely to have significant environmental impact

Sept 2011: Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman asks Pres. Obama to deny permit due to route over aquifer

Nov 2011: Pres. Obama delays decision to study possible new routes, TransCanada agrees to move route

Dec 2011: Payroll tax cut deal by federal lawmakers pushes for swifter decision on the pipeline

Jan 2011: Pres. Obama rejects permit, says more time is needed to study alternate routes

Feb 2012: TransCanada announced plans to proceed with just the southern route of the pipeline

March 2012: Pres. Obama appeared in Cushing touting his energy policy

April 2012: Alternative routing corridors were submitted to Nebraska DEQ

May 2012: TransCanada resubmitted a Presidential Permit application to the State Department, opponents filed lawsuit against the Nebraska law allowing a new route through the state

Summer 2012: Construction is scheduled to begin on the Cushing to the Gulf Coast segment

Star Power: Bringing Yellow to the Green Equation

justin brotton - Sunday, April 01, 2012

By Jennifer Tylbon


Earth's sun is an average of 93,000,000 miles – 0.00001585 light years – away, and is comprised mostly of hydrogen and helium. It is the closest star to earth, the next closest being Alpha Centauri, 4.27 light years away. Our star warms the planet and provides light, regulating sleep and rest patterns for the greater part of nature, flora and fauna alike. It helps us justify the purchase of stylishly expensive sunglasses, and we have made an art of allowing our skin to bronze (or burn) under its rays. The ball of burning gas that graces our skies, painting picturesque Oklahoma sunsets, is also the catalyst for photosynthesis, a process that helps create clean air. It is also gaining momentum as a legitimate form of alternative energy in our state.

Oklahoma is already a leader in wind energy. Dell Corporation's Oklahoma City campus is fully powered by wind energy, but the Fortune 500 company is incorporating solar energy as part of their overall green initiative to reduce their carbon emissions by 40 percent by year 2015.

Everyone from the environmentally conscious to fiscally concerned "preppers" is beginning to sing the praises of clean, renewable energy. Wind and solar power are cheaper energy solutions then coal or natural gas if you already have the tools in place to harness them. For most folks, getting those tools is the biggest obstacle to using green energy.

Depending on the size of your home and your average energy needs, the cost of fully equipping your home for solar power is approximately $37,500 according to Sun City Solar Energy. That is the cost of a small two-bedroom house in some areas of Oklahoma. Fully equipping your home for solar power, otherwise known as “taking your home off the grid” (traditional energy network), will save money over the long term, but the initial investment is not one made lightly.

Additionally, Oklahoma law does not require utility companies to purchase excess power generated by private citizens. This means that if your system produces more power then your home uses, you are not easily able to sell that excess to power companies. Customers can ask companies to buy it from them, but those companies have little incentive to do so.

Nor are there any tax rebates for residential solar upgrades despite many of our state legislators’ best efforts, although some do exist for businesses and corporations. In many cases, a full conversion will mean your roof or a portion of your property will be fully covered by the necessary solar panels and their associated converters. However, there are models that are more aesthetically sensitive, but the prettier the technology gets, the higher the price rises.

On the bright side, there are less extreme ways to harness the sun in your home and still reap the benefits of clean energy. You don't have to take your home completely off the energy grid to make a difference on the environtmental front – just lower your carbon footprint (the ecological mark you leave on the world). Each time you use a disposable water bottle or leave a light on unnecessarily, your footprint grows a bit, as that bottle or energy use will tax the environment. Every measure you take to save electricity or recycle decreases your footprint. Solar power upgrades and conversions are highly effective ways to lower your carbon footprint, not to mention save a little money.

One of the simplest ways of using the sun is not in generating power, but rather by using its light. Skylights and solatubes lend natural light to your home, especially in areas with fewer windows or light sources, like stairwells and hallways. The more places in your home you can eliminate the need for an electric lightbulb in the daylight hours, the more money stays in your pocket as less energy is sent to your home, thus lowering your carbon footprint. Certain high-demand appliances like water heaters, pool pumps and air conditioning units can be replaced with solar-powered models. The only change to the appearance of your home will likely be a small photovoltaic cell or solar panel on your roof or attached to the upper portion of an exterior wall.

If you aren't quite ready to begin major alterations to your home's energy usage, there are smaller ways to incorporate solar power into your everyday life. Solar gadgets range from useful to just plain interesting, and most are procured very simply via the Internet.

For those who landscape, SunForce produces solar-powered garden stake lights, illuminating walkways and paths for hours. They look no different then your standard garden lights and are much easier to install. There are no wires to tack down during installation, nor cut with the trimmer. Each light independently charges during the day via a small silicon solar cell on the top, and automatically turns on after sundown without setting and synchronizing timers. The LED lights are not too harsh, and will stay on for several hours depending on the sun exposure during the day. The units do charge on cloudy days.

In Oklahoma, many homeowners consider a backup generator as important an appliance as a washing machine. The Powersource 1800 Generator is a portable solar generator kit. When the power goes out, setting this unit up is no different then wrangling gas-powered generators into place. The solar cell is on wheels and connects to the generator unit. The unit is quieter and more compact, and cannot run out of fuel. It has a component that will store energy, thus enabling it to continue running after the sun sets, and is capable of handling most major appliances needed during a power outage. The unit is more expensive then an equivalent gas generator, but when you figure in ever-rising fuel costs, the unit truly is capable of paying for itself.

Many of us have come to depend on battery-operated devices we use on a daily basis. Cell phones, laptops and tablet PCs have a pesky habit of draining their batteries at the most inopportune moments. The Quirky Ray Solar-Powered Charger enables you to charge your devices anywhere, and is designed to charge a variety of devices using a series of interchangeable connectors. The charger can be set up indoors near a window, or use its powerful built-in suction cup to adhere to any window, particularly useful while on the go in cars or airplanes.

For the more curious, ThinkGeek.com sells a solar power modification kit. Pair the photovoltaic bar with a set of appropriately sized rechargeable batteries, and any battery-operated device instantly becomes a solar-powered device. The kit includes easy-to-follow instructions, and the unit will charge your item indoors when near a window. ThinkGeek also features a solar-powered water bottle top. The cap of the water bottle includes water-safe LED lights that make your water glow, and charges itself in sunlight. The item is not exactly a life necessity, but definitely adds a wow factor to your water.

In light of rising gas prices and energy source sustainability constantly in the news, renewable energy is gaining recognition and validity. Whether you are looking for a large-scale solution to energy needs or would prefer to focus on smaller contributions to the green movement, adding a little yellow goes a long way. Every step you take toward reducing your family’s carbon emissions really can help change the world … one solar cell at a time.

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