It’s a been a long-imagined dream for many Americans—a future of energy self-sufficiency where our oil and gas prices are no longer subject to the whims of OPEC and our main energy sources are clean, green and economical. According to a recent report by Bloomberg news, that future is just about here.
As reported by Rich Miller (with Asjylyn Loder and Jim Polsen) last week, the US is now “the closest it has been in almost 20 years to achieving energy self sufficiency.” One of the reasons behind this turnaround: natural gas. Over the last few years, the US has produced so much natural gas that instead of looking for imports to boost our supply, we may now be ready to export some of the excess. But increased production is not the only factor in play here—higher mileage standards and federally ethanol mandates (along with an admittedly slow economic environment that’s curtailed growth) have all conspired to reduce demand.
The result, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from US DOE data, is that “the US has reversed a two-decade-long decline in energy independence, increasing the proportion of demand met from domestic sources over the last six years to an estimated 81% through the first 10 months of 20111.” In fact, US energy self-sufficiency has been on the rise for the last 7 years (after hitting a 70% low in 2005). And as self-sufficiency increased, energy efficiency was also on the rise—most dramatically in terms of transportation, with US passenger vehicles increasing fuel efficiency to 29.6 mpg in 2011 (up from 19.9 mpg in 1978), according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Some possible impacts of this fundamental shift in US energy use include:
* the possibility that the US could become “the world’s top energy producer by 2020”
* a boost in household incomes, jobs, and government revenue
* a reduction of the trade deficit
* enhanced manufacturer competitiveness
* greater flexibility in foreign policy—particularly in regards to the Middle East
Of course, behind the numbers it’s not all good news. The expansion of domestic oil and gas production brings with it a whole host of environmental concerns—not the least of which is hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”) and its potential to pollute drinking water supplies. There is also some concern that keeping natural gas prices low removes the incentive to invest in renewable energy. And don’t forget that fossil fuels and natural gas—whether generated domestically or imported from somewhere else—are still the main culprits behind GHG emissions the resultant climate change implications.
In a statement in response to President Obama’s comments in support of increased use of shale gas, Iris Marie Bloom, director of Protecting Our Waters in Philadelphia said, “We’re disappointed in his enthusiasm for shale gas. [Obama] spoke about gas as if it’s better for the environment, which it’s not.”
So what do you think? How much of a role has a depressed economy played in the decreased demand for fossil fuels? And at what point do we differentiate between increased supply (like natural gas) and increased efficiency when it come to energy independence? And can we anticipate blow back for clean energy funding if traditional fuel sources are fine tuned and cheaper to use so that ultimately—as last week’s blog pointed out—we don’t reduce use, we just end up doing more with less?