News coming out of the DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) this week has certainly been greeted by the fossil fuel industry with considerable enthusiasm. The EIA says U.S. oil production is headed to some record levels in a few years; that natural gas production will increase by half as much and continued to dominate the U.S. energy market over the next couple of decades; and that prices at the gas pump will continue to go down.
The forecast, which has been laid out in an early release of the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook for 2014 (a final release is expected sometime around March of next year), has been touted by the American Petroleum Institute as reflecting a “game-changing energy revolution.”
Even renewable energy stakeholders can appreciate the contributions of fossil fuel production as indicated by the EIA analysis to an “all of the above” energy strategy.
But some perspective is definitely in order. There are reasons why this country has pursued a diverse energy strategy over the past few decades– reasons that remain unchanged no matter how optimistic the scenario painted by the EIA forecast.
Fossil fuels are a finite source of energy. That will always make their availability unpredictable. And as a result, oil prices are always subject to a volatile world market that has sent shock waves through the U.S. economy, including spikes in gasoline prices that have had broad and brutal impacts on consumers (remember, paying more than $4 for a gallon of gas at the pump was not that long ago).
And let’s not forget the longstanding environmental issues that are associated with the production and burning of fossil fuels, not the least of which are greenhouse gas emissions.
Those concerns are now being exacerbated by the recovery of all of this new-found wealth in fossil fuels. What analysts are calling the “shale revolution” is a phenomenon marked by a boom in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The latter practice, also known as “fracking,” constitutes the high-pressure injection of water and chemicals to draw previously unavailable oil supplies from shale formations. It’s a process that some believe is contributing to the pollution of groundwater sources and raising questions about seismological stability.
It should be pointed out that the EIA report also acknowledges the contributions of renewable energy technologies to the nation’s energy future. Unfortunately, the analysis continues the agency’s trend of underreporting the significance of that contribution. The authors of the report acknowledge that their conclusions are based on current policies, taking into account that many of those policies promoting renewable energy are set to expire.
But they also fail to reflect the huge growth in the share of energy coming from renewables that has been seen over the last decade. Wind, solar, hydro, biomass and geothermal sources are projected to produce more than 14 percent of the nation’s electricity this year, compared to a little more than 2 percent just over a decade ago.
The latest EIS report offers the fossil fuel industry a platform from which it can be expected to maintain its promotion of “business as usual.” Oil and gas companies will use their relatively short-term gains to protect their market share and call on Congress to maintain the status quo. They will intensify their attacks on policies that promote renewable energy and a more energy diverse America.
As renewable energy stakeholders, we mustn’t succumb to those suggesting we follow a “hold onto what we have” policy strategy. It’s time to redouble our efforts to communicate to policy makers and opinion leaders at the local, state and national levels the need for enabling policies and funding mechanisms that assure the orderly and resolute transition to cleaner, infinite, sustainable, more stably priced ‑ and ultimately cheaper ‑ sources of energy.
The battles over the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, farm bill energy programs, renewable energy production and investment tax credits and state Renewable Portfolio Standards, among other farsighted clean energy policies, will only intensify in 2014. Now is the time to make clear to lawmakers that the nation’s economic and energy security, as well as its environmental well-being, are all at stake.