Blog Writing

Cyber Attacks on Oil and Gas Are Not New

If you are like me, the attack on the pipeline that caused so much havoc in the Eastern U.S. came as a complete surprise. What I did not know was that this is nothing new. Saudi Aramco has gone through this at least several times that we know of. Check out this interesting read from SHALE Magazine:

Saudi Aramco, the oil mogul of Saudi Arabia, confirmed the high probability that one of its contractors was responsible for leaking company data-centered in a cyber-extortion plot involving a hefty $50 million ransom. Keeping the contractor’s name private for now, the company informed the Associated Press they recently identified a limited quantity of data held by contractors and released without permission. Saudi Aramco has also maintained a level of secrecy regarding the incident and has not revealed if the source of compromise resulted from hacking.

“We confirm that the release of data was not due to a breach of our systems, has no impact on our operations, and the company continues to maintain a robust cybersecurity posture,” said Aramco.

Threat Identified

Taking credit for the attack, ZeroX claims to have hacked and stolen data from Aramco’s network and its servers. Offering the sale of the information on the Darknet, the threat group, as well as Aramco, told BleepingComputer the attack was not of a ransomware nature.

The $50 million prospective data sale includes valuable information associated with Aramco’s refineries, personal information pertaining to approximately 14,000 employees, system specifications, price sheets, and internal analysis information. Additionally, IP address security has been compromised along with crucial Wi-Fi data. ZeroX informed BleepingComputer the group is currently in negotiations to sell the data to five potential buyers.

Prior Attacks

Saudi Aramco is no stranger to cyber threats and attacks. The infamous 2012 Shamoon malware attack proved staggering in effect and contaminated every computer found at the oil company. Hard drives were deleted, and the finishing touch included the burning of the American flag on computer screens. As a result, the company was forced to destroy over 30,000 computers and shut down its network. 

A joint venture, known as Sadara, between Aramco and Michigan-centered Dow Chemical Company found itself under attack in 2017. Computers were disrupted, which officials at the time predicted as another version of Shamoon. Lastly, 2018 brought havoc again when a Shamoon malware variant once again entered the arena. 

Remaining on Top

Much can be said involving Aramco’s business model after surviving the string of cyberattacks and yet still steaming ahead. Even with this latest attack, Aramco still reigns as a significant player in the global oil market. After trading ceased for Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday, the portion of Aramco that trades on Riyadh’s Tadawul stock exchange found itself at $9.30 a share. While that might sound subpar, the company is stickered with a value of $1.8 trillion, solidifying it as one of the most valued in the world.

Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. Besides providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with eight years of experience. He also contributes to Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and follows and photographs American Kennel Club field and herding trials. Nick has a BA in Photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. 210-240-7188

Mitsubishi Power: Hydrogen is the Future
Blog Writing

Mitsubishi Power: Hydrogen is the Future by Melissa Nichols

I attended a virtual fireside chat hosted by Mona Dajani, Global Head of Energy and Infrastructure Finance Group Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. The speaker was Paul Browning, President of Mitsubishi Power Americas, Inc. The chat title was Energy Transition, a topic we hear more about every day. But, even though it is a subject much debated in the political arena, Mr. Browning doesn’t feel politics has as much of an effect on the transition of energy away from fossil fuels as we think. 

For once, it isn’t about politics

America has lowered carbon emissions by 40% over the last 20 years, and Mr. Browning believes that achievement had very little to do with who is in the White House. Technology and markets, primarily replacing coal with natural gas, have driven the dramatic drop in emissions. They started dropping with President Bush, and they have continued through to President Trump. And, as long as technology is allowed to develop and markets are allowed to run naturally, emissions will continue to go down until we reach that elusive net-zero goal. 

But how do we reach that goal? Is it even attainable? According to Mitsubishi Powers’ message, it is most likely not completely attainable, but we can get close with their help. Their message states: Creating a future that works for people and the planet by developing innovative power generation technology and solutions.

Hydrogen is the future

That power, according to Mr. Browning, is hydrogen. Hydrogen makes up three-quarters of the mass of the universe, making it the most abundant element. It produces only water when burned, and its uses are many and varied. It can be used to create everything from electricity, chemicals, food, electronics to fertilizer. 

At this time, Mitsubishi Powers does not see hydrogen as a fuel. Natural gas has no immediate competitors in that area, at least not yet. Right now, hydrogen’s power is in storage. It may become a fuel in the future after more advances in technology. They want entirely hydrogen-powered plants, but for now, they are working on the development of hydaptive plants. These are plants built to use natural gas at the onset but are capable of transitioning to all hydrogen over the course of their lifetime. 

The chicken and the egg

The main problem with the development of more hydrogen use is one of infrastructure. This is a problem also preventing widening the use of renewables. The hydrogen is going to need massive amounts of pipelines to get it where it needs to be. Some areas, such as Utah, are already equipped to move forward with hydrogen because of the massive underground areas ready to store it. But elsewhere, Mitsubishi is waiting for hydrogen demand to develop before building the underground hydrogen storage needed. But, for demand to develop, there has to be storage available to make it a viable investment. Mr. Browning implied that once this chicken and the egg problem is resolved, hydrogen will bring about the carbon-free future so many people want. 

Originally published on

Green: Step by Step
Blog Writing

Green: Step by Step by Melissa Nichols

Many of the largest oil companies, primarily those in Europe, seem to be competing for bragging rights. BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and Total are the most vociferous of the bunch so far. I’ve already outlined BP’s plans for themselves and the world. If you would like to read about the recent BP Week, click here.

How to get green “step” by “step”

In April, Shell announced its steps for becoming net-zero by 2050. Without delving into their detailed report, those steps are as follows:

  • An ambition to be net-zero on all the emissions from the manufacture of all our products by 2050 at the latest
  • Accelerating Shell’s Net Carbon Footprint ambition to be in step with society’s aim to limit the average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius in line with the Paris Agreement’s goals on Climate Change. This means reducing the Net Carbon Footprint of the energy products Shell sells to its customers by around 65% by 2050 (increased from about 50%), and by about 30% by 2035 (increased from about 20%)
  • A pivot towards serving businesses and sectors that by 2050 are also net-zero emissions

To me, these seem more like goals than steps. Perhaps in the detailed report they reveal the actual steps. But if it is anything like political campaigns, goals and steps are rather fluid terms.

Chevron announced on their website what they are doing now to go green:

  • $100MM pledged to the OGCI Climate Investment fund
  • $1B in carbon capture and storage project investments in Australia and Canada
  • $100MM committed to Chevron Technology Ventures to set up the Future Energy Fund launched in 2018
  • 85% reduction of methane emissions from Chevron’s U.S. onshore production operations since 2013

Total also announced their “steps” for the future. For those who have not heard of it, Total Energy is a major energy player, which produces and markets fuels, natural gas, and low-carbon electricity. The steps they have laid out are:

  • Net Zero across Total’s worldwide operations by 2050 or sooner
  • Net Zero across all its production and energy products used by its customers in Europe  by 2050 or sooner
  • 60% or more reduction in the average carbon intensity of energy products used worldwide by Total customers by 2050 – with intermediate steps of 15% by 2030 and 35% by 2040

Say what you mean and mean what you say

Again, these aren’t steps so much as goals. But are they attainable goals, and are they goals that can be taken at face value? A website called Inside Climate News answers at least the second question. “But many of the pledges are misleading and misrepresent how much the oil giants are changing,” the article says. “Most glaring is that none of the companies has committed to cut its oil and gas output over the next decade, the simplest and most reliable way — one might say the only way — to cut emissions, and a must if the world is to avoid dangerous warming. In fact, the stated net-zero ‘ambitions,’ as the companies generally call them, do not require that greenhouse gas emissions fall to zero at all. They rely instead either partly or largely on capturing or canceling out these emissions with unproven technologies and reforestation at a questionable scale.”

I both agree and disagree with the Inside Climate News writer’s ire. These companies are already not trusted by many simply because they are large companies and by others simply because they are fossil fuel companies. They aren’t going to win points from either group by using wordplay. If they mean net-zero via carbon capture, they need to man-up and come out and say so. 

I also disagree because it is illogical even to pretend to think that fossil fuel companies, large or otherwise, can just turn off the tap and have everyone continue to live the lives they have grown accustomed to. We can rely more on green energy, sure, but on a small scale. California is proving that point for us. What they can’t get from renewables, they get from Russia and neighboring states. Plus, planes don’t run on peddle-power. No matter the size of your hamster wheel, it’s going to take some jet fuel to get a plane off the ground. For renewables to be viable, they MUST work hand-in-hand with fossil fuels. They wouldn’t even exist without fossil fuels to create them. No, turning off the fossil-fuel tap isn’t the answer, and neither is the large oil companies’ green chest-beating. We need plain talk and common sense, and we need it now more than ever.

Originally published on

California Blackouts: There is no Easy Answer
Blog Writing

California Blackouts: There is no Easy Answer by Melissa Nichols

California used to be right up there with Texas when it came to fossil fuel production. But for nearly forty years, California’s production has steadily declined. From 1982 – 2017, their dry natural gas production fell 46%. But their need for it has not followed suit. Now, their production output equals only one-tenth of the state’s demand. 

This isn’t their fault

They are leaning more and more heavily on renewable energy sources: wind and solar. With the closing of many of their natural gas and nuclear plants, their electricity needs not coming from renewables come from neighboring states. This out-of-state supply is what Californian energy officials blame for the electricity shortages. In a letter to Governor Newsome, they point out that heatwaves don’t stop at the state border. Their neighbors are also feeling the heat, and therefore need more electricity for themselves, and so have less excess electricity to sell.   

The letter does have a definite finger-pointing feel. Instead, those officials might want to follow those states’ footsteps and learn to make so much power they have extra. And they do claim California needs to produce more energy – but they feel it needs to produce more renewable energy and to invest in more batteries. 

California: Between a rock and a hard place

The government there seems to have backed the state into an area between a rock and a hard place. In order to produce more renewable energy, they need hundreds of square miles, if not more, on which to build turbines and solar panels. And they need to invest heavily in creating more infrastructure. Batteries aren’t cheap, either. That’s quite an investment for a state not known for investing wisely. 

It would be less expensive to return to natural gas and nuclear power. But the heatwaves they are experiencing could be difficult for even these reliables. Nuclear power plants need cool water running through the plant, and high temperatures beget warm water. Nuclear plants would have to reduce production without enough cool water. In the same vein, high heat has been known to lower natural-gas power plants’ efficiency. What’s a state to do?

An idea might be to allow exploration of the Monterey shale formation. Located in central and southern California, it could be bigger than even the Eagle Ford in Texas, or it could hold almost nothing at all. Estimates, even within the same company, range from one end of the spectrum to the other. But, we may never know who is right about the Monterey reserves. Gaining oil and natural gas permits in California is no easy feat. Even when power plants have to reduce production, a shortage is less likely if there are enough of them.

Cars need power, too

Solar and wind power are used primarily for producing electricity. The state still needs to keep moving, and it is still running on fossil fuel. As of 2017, California had 337,483 electric vehicles (EVs). In 2018, there were 14,762,517 fossil-fuel run vehicles in the state. That’s a lot of gas and diesel.

Roughly 60% of California’s crude oil comes from foreign sources. (Only twenty years ago that that number was 15%.) The countries providing this oil do not have or adhere to the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for American companies. And this oil arrives at the state on large ships that burn significant quantities of fuel and are more likely to have an accident or spill than a pipeline. But, since pipelines are frowned upon, shipping is the only option. 

What can the state do now? They can’t afford to move forward with their renewable plan, and they refuse to move back to the reliability of nuclear and natural gas. Until the Californian government can come to a decision, its citizens will continue to sit in the dark.

Originally published on