The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

A Look at Energy Projections and Polls

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted June 24, 2016

Let’s spend a few words supporting the work of the folks at the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) – which compiles energy data and produces reports that depict America’s current energy picture, as well as projections on how that picture could look years from now. EIA’s analyses are valuable for policymakers, energy-associated industries, a range of business sectors and regular Americans.

Unfortunately, EIA is taking criticism from some quarters because its reports, such as the Annual Energy Outlook 2016, project that fossil fuels will continue to be the largest piece of the U.S. energy portfolio well into the future. A number of critics want EIA to issue projections that are more optimistic about the use of renewables.

Some of this was reflected in a post by the Morning Consult this week that took a swipe at EIA’s projections. The same piece also tried to marginalize a new Harris Poll showing strong bipartisan support for pro-energy stances from U.S. voters.

First, the criticism of EIA projections. In its coverage of this week’s “Energy and The Election” event, the Morning Consult said an assertion that the U.S. will rely on fossil fuels for decades was based on “questionable data” from EIA and that EIA’s numbers come with “some caveats.”

OK, so let’s look at EIA projections. The chart below (based on data here) tracks EIA projections for U.S. energy share in 2015 that were made in 2000, 2005 and 2010 – followed by the actual 2015 percentage:

share

While predicting things is tricky, it looks like EIA’s 2000 projection for 2015 turned out to be pretty accurate for petroleum/other liquids and renewables. EIA’s critics like to point out that policy changes aren’t always reflected in future projections, which is true. But that cuts both ways. For instance, in its 2010 projection, on the heels of the federal stimulus package, EIA was a little optimistic on renewables’ share (9 percent) compared to the actual use (7.72 percent). Another example is natural gas and coal. Sixteen years ago few saw a shale/fracking revolution launching in the mid-2000s, which is the chief reason EIA’s projections for those two were off, even as late as 2010.

Two more charts show that EIA’s 2000 projection for the 2015 energy share of natural gas, petroleum and other liquids was pretty close – 66.29 percent projected, 67.5 percent actual:

NG_share

As was EIA’s 2000 projection for the 2015 energy share of renewables – 6.61 percent projected, 7.72 percent actual:

renewable

One more chart, showing EIA’s projection for 2030 energy share, from the early release of its AEO2016 report:

projections

EIA’s projection shows America taking an all-of-the-above approach to energy – led by natural gas, oil and other liquids. That’s what EIA analysts believe is likely, based on what’s known today and what can reasonably be projected. Bottom line: EIA is in the business of producing fact-based analyses, not aspirational visions with little supporting data.

There are reasons for EIA’s projections for oil, natural gas and other liquids: Our economy and modern way of life are largely fueled by them – because they’re reliable, portable and scalable to a country the size of the United States. What’s more, increased use of clean-burning natural gas, thanks to shale and hydraulic fracturing, is the primary reason the U.S. leads the world in reducing carbon emissions.

So now let’s circle back to the Morning Consult post, which dismissed polling on voters’ views on energy issues and suggested the survey was faulty:

[B]efore asking respondents about increased oil and gas production, the pollsters asked multiple questions essentially praising the industry. One question tells respondents that “the increased use of natural gas in generating electricity has played a key role in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.” It then asks, “Do you support or oppose the role natural gas is playing in reducing U.S. greenhouse gases?”

It might be that the post’s author wasn’t aware of analysis by EIA (see here and here) and the International Energy Agency, affirming the primary role of natural gas in helping reduce U.S. carbon emissions. This view is based on sound analysis, and as the poll shows, 70 percent of U.S. voters appreciate and support the role of natural gas in America’s progress toward climate objectives.

Let’s close by discussing another opinion in the post – that there are “virtually no single-issue energy voters” and that the Harris Poll results should be downplayed. It’s a “strawman” argument: If there are no single-issue energy voters, it’s mainly because energy isn’t a single issue.  

The fact is energy is integral to virtually every aspect of daily life – from heating our homes to generating the electricity we need. Energy is fundamentally important to good healthcare, and to getting from Point A to Point B. Without energy there wouldn’t be the picnics that we all enjoy this time of year. And more, much more.

Typically, U.S. voters are activated by circumstances and trends that negatively impact their lives. Yet, that doesn’t mean voters don’t grasp the significance of the current era of energy prosperity – as well as the potential negative impacts if our energy abundance vanished for lack of sound, pro-development energy policies.

It’s good that America’s energy revolution is benefitting consumers at the gasoline pump, helping the manufacturing sector, building U.S. strength in the world and playing a leading role in reducing U.S. carbon emissions. All very good.

We’re on the side of keeping it that way, through policies that foster private investment and entrepreneurship, which result in safe and responsible energy development. This will keep America well supplied with the fuels it needs to grow economically and to be safe in the world. As the Harris Poll showed, Americans agree and support policies that would do just that.

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.