Posted March 13, 2015
The language of issue activism can have drawbacks. Sound bites charged with political activism seldom set the stage for useful policy discussions.
Similarly, in a climate change speech at the Atlantic Council this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry mischaracterized America’s energy reality, calling U.S. oil and coal “outdated energy sources.” Said Kerry, “Coal and oil are only cheap ways to power a nation in the very near term.”
Not according to those who get paid to quantify U.S. energy, now and in the future. In its 2014 Annual Energy Outlook report, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said that oil and natural gas supplied 63 percent of U.S. energy in 2012, with coal supplying another 18 percent. EIA projects that oil and natural gas will supply 61 percent of our energy in 2040, with coal holding steady at 18 percent. EIA’s chart:
Likewise, these “outdated energy sources” are and will be vital to generating electricity in the U.S.:
The key projection above is that the role of natural gas will grow significantly out to 2040, according to EIA. Kerry should appreciate that, since increased natural gas use is a main reason U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide have fallen and likely an important contributor to the fact that global CO2 emissions stalled last year, during a period of economic expansion, for the first time in 40 years.
Certainly, both charts above suggest a different role for oil and natural gas than the one Kerry described.
The reason oil and natural gas will continue to play a lead role is clear and persuasive: Far from “outdated,” they’re great sources of energy. They have high energy density, which makes them portable and adaptable to our needs. They’re also reliable and scalable to a country the size of the United States and serve as the feedstocks for a number of the products that make modern living possible.
That’s why energy analysts making real-world projections believe that oil and natural gas are and will continue to be the foundation of U.S. energy policy for decades to come. When we think of “outdated,” we think of using wood or whale oil to power an entire economy. Oil and natural gas is energy for today, tomorrow and the future. As Manhattan Institute scholar Robert Bryce wrote, “If oil didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it.”
Instead of holding oil and natural gas at arm’s length – pleasing anti-oil/anti-natural gas activists – the secretary should acknowledge the way they’ve empowered our way of life, and that they offer hope to people around the world who currently don’t have access to energy to heat and/or cool their homes, cook their food or travel widely. Kerry probably is familiar with this quote from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:
“Energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, social equity, and environmental sustainability. … Widespread energy poverty condemns billions to darkness, to ill health, to missed opportunities. … Children cannot study in the dark. Girls and women cannot learn or be productive when they spend hours a day collecting firewood. Businesses and economies cannot grow without power.”
The world needs energy, lots of it. Oil and natural gas are the cornerstones of an all-of-the-above approach to energy that can secure America’s future while allowing the U.S. to aid others around the world. API President and CEO Jack Gerard, from January’s State of American Energy address:
“We have a once-in-generation opportunity to show the world how energy abundance can be used as a positive force rather than as a tool to harm or to control other nations as some still use their energy abundance. … Our vision is one that safeguards the progress we’ve made and builds on it. Our vision of the world is one where more and more people have access to reliable, safe and affordable electricity, no matter which continent or hemisphere they call home.”
Whether boiling an egg or flying to Paris, oil and natural gas are part of our all-of-the-above energy present and our all-of-the-above energy tomorrow – a reality worth keeping in mind as Secretary Kerry makes decisions on international relations and our security.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.