The ‘biggest oil spill you’ve never heard of’ among topics of 2022 URI Cooperative Extension lecture series

Series to address energy challenges

KINGSTON, R.I. – Sept. 26, 2022 – The University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension Energy Literacy Initiative is hosting its 7th annual Plugged Into Energy Research lecture series this fall.

The next lecture on Oct. 6 features a University of Rhode Island alumnus speaking about an overlooked oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The last program of the series on Oct. 20 will address efforts to meet increased demands on the state’s electric grid.

“This lecture series has been a great way for us to bring together thought leaders, researchers and practitioners in the region working to move the needle toward a new, cleaner energy system,” said Kate Venturini Hardesty, programs administrator for the Cooperative Extension.

The lecture series was established in an effort to bring information about scientific findings in energy efficiency, conservation and renewables to the public. Here is the remaining schedule:

  • “Stopping the Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard of:
    An Evening with URI alumnus Pat McShane ‘83, and Tim Couvillion
  • Thursday, Oct. 6, 6 to 7:30 p.m.
  • Hope Room, Robert J. Higgins Welcome Center
  • URI Kingston Campus

McShane, a graduate of the University of Rhode Island’s Department of Marine Affairs and prominent Louisiana lawyer, will join Couvillion, owner of a group responsible for the development and deployment of a device to capture the flowing oil, will share their experiences of battling a wealthy oil company and engineering a solution to stop the longest running oil spill in United States history.

In 2018, the Louisiana Coast Guard determined that an oil platform toppled by Hurricane Ivan 14 years earlier was still leaking large amounts of oil. In 2019, Couvillion, owner of the New Orleans-based Couvillion Group, led the development and deployment of a sophisticated containment system to capture the oil. Pieced together deep underwater, the 40-by-40-foot structure has captured more than 1 million gallons of leaking hydrocarbons (~1,075 gallons per day), a far cry from the three gallons per day reported by Taylor Energy.

McShane’s and Couvillion’s riveting story was featured on CBS 60 Minutes in November 2021. The lecture will be moderated by Dennis Nixon, professor emeritus of Marine Affairs at URI and the former director of Rhode Island Sea Grant.

  • Ensuring Electric Grid Reliability:
    Preparing for Increased Demand from the Highway to Home Heating
  • Thursday, Oct. 20, 6-7:30 p.m.
  • Swan Hall, University of Rhode Island
  • Kingston Campus

This lecture will examine the shift away from fossil fuels toward electrification, with an eye toward utilizing renewable energy. Hardesty says the state has an ambitious list of energy policy targets aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and encouraging electrification of transportation. The question becomes, how will the state meet those goals?

Rhode Island is on the trajectory of electrification through clean energy generation as it became the first state to create a law requiring 100% renewable energy production by 2033. Also, the state enacted the 2021 Act on climate change, which set the state on the path of achieving net-zero carbon emissions economy-wide by 2050. Can Rhode achieve 100% electrification by 2033? To meet these targets much of our heating and transportation sectors will need to be electrified to utilize energy from non-carbon-emitting sources. A panel of experts will discuss the ways we monitor, manage and plan in order to maintain the reliability of our regional electric grid as we continue on the path to an electrified economy.

The first lecture, “It’s Electric! Rhode Island’s New Transportation System,” was held Thursday, Sept. 15 at URI. View a recording of the lecture here:

Events are free, but registration is encouraged. Have questions? Please contact Kate Venturini Hardesty at

This story was written by Hugh Markey.