By W. H. Luyties, editor OWOE. Recently, OWOE initiated a series of blogs to take a closer look into the key US government actions to promote fossil fuels. Since the 2016 election, one lightening rod topic has been the push to increase coal and oil production in the US. This has energized both proponents of fossil fuels, who see an opportunity to possibly save their industries (coal) or increase production (petroleum), and opponents, who fear the environmental consequences of such a change. But is this a real threat to the global move away from fossil fuels, or is it simply rhetoric to energize a political base?
Our first blog on the subject in March addressed coal. Our conclusion was that coal power is in a downward spiral, and saving the coal industry is rhetoric. As further proof, there have been several notable news announcements since our blog. For instance, energy consultant Navigant issued their updated projection of coal plant retirements at 73 GW in the next decade, which is more than twice what was expected last year. They stated that ““the fundamentals of the economics of coal have gotten worse…””As an example of this, in August the Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved Xcel Energy’s plan to replace coal-fired units at its Comanche Station with a $2.5 billion investment in renewable energy. These plants are being retired at least 10 years earlier than originally planned, even though supporters claim the plants are still efficient and cheap sources of power for ratepayers.
Let’s turn to the petroleum industry and crude oil, which is a much more complicated beast. This plot shows US oil production over time and illustrates the dramatic increase starting in the late 2000’s. This was the beginning of the “Shale Revolution” where fracking and horizontal drilling technology opened up previously unproductive shale oil reservoirs. (See OWOE – How has fracking changed the energy picture in the US?)
After a brief drop following the oil price collapse in 2014, when the price of oil fell from $115 per barrel to a low of $35, US production surged again as the industry found ways to drill and produce more cheaply. In January 2018 the US produced an average of 10.2 million b/d, the highest in history, and is now close to overtaking Saudi Arabia as the world’s second top oil producer, with top producer Russia in its sights.
The Trump administration, under its theme of “energy dominance” wants to build upon this performance. It has advanced a number of initiatives as follow-up to the President’s Executive Order of March 2017 to continue to invigorate the US oil industry. This includes:
All of these and others would seem to be pushing the US oil industry ahead aggressively. However, they are running into two economic headwinds – cost and technology. On the cost front, developing oil reserves in frontier regions is very expensive, in particular for the first developments when there is no infrastructure in place. Oil companies are very unlikely to invest billions of dollars trying to find oil in risky frontier regions, and wait up to 10 years to get returns, when they can quickly and easily ramp up shale oil production onshore or extend production in existing offshore fields. Factor in the legal battles that any company would face, and OWOE doesn’t believe such frontier developments will ever materialize.
On the technology front, demand for oil has flattened in the US, and most experts believe it will begin to decline. Increases in the number of vehicle miles driven and air miles traveled by Americans has been offset by improvements in vehicle mileage and aircraft fuel efficiency. Additional demand flattening will come via the dramatic rise in demand for electrical vehicles (EVs). No longer are EVs considered too small, underpowered, unattractive and expensive. Tesla, with its ground-breaking Model S, gave the world a car that Consumer Reports rated as the “best performing car ever tested” in 2015. And the Chevy Bolt, the first mass market EV with range over 200 miles per charge, was chosen as the 2017 Motor Trend Car of the Year. Taking notice of Tesla’s and Chevy’s successes, virtually all other car makers have announced new all-electric or hybrid models. Some companies have even started their transition out of the internal combustion engine market entirely. Factor in the changes coming to bulk transportation in the form of buses and trucks that run on electricity or hydrogen fuel, where replacing a single bus saves 1 bpd of oil consumption, and oil demand will come under stress much more quickly than foreseen in Houston or Washington
So, is the push for US oil production reality or rhetoric? Probably a little of both. The writing is on the wall that the time of ‘peak oil’ driven by a reduction in demand for petroleum is coming. However, it is still a ways in the future and both the US and world will need plenty of oil for several decades, at least. And the US has the ability to use its growing oil production capability to influence world geopolitics. But should residents of California or North Carolina or environmentalist worry about offshore drilling? No. Economics dictates that it won’t happen. Should environmentalists worry about the US turning back to a country driving gas-guzzling vehicles? No. EVs and other advanced transportation technologies are starting to displace the internal combustion engine in significant numbers, just as those engines replaced horses a century ago.Published by Our World of Energy
Guest blog by S. A. Shelley
Are we on the cusp of mass adaptation of Electric Vehicles (EVs) for transportation? Probably not for at least a while longer. When doing the financial analysis comparing EVs to Internal Combustion (IC) Vehicles at the personal or family level, the comparison usually yields these results: (more…)Published by Our World of Energy
Guest blog by S. A. Shelley
I love the guys and gals over at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). They tend to produce some of the coolest energy studies with nifty graphics (all the while hiding the space aliens from us). Earlier this year, as it does every year, LLNL published the U.S. energy flow chart which illustrates total US energy production by source and how it is consumed. (more…)Published by Our World of Energy
By W. H. Luyties, editor OWOE. With the election of Donald Trump as president of the US and control of all 3 branches of the government in the hands of Republicans, who have historically been strong supporters of fossil fuel interests, one lightning rod topic has been the push to increase coal and oil production in the US. This has energized both proponents of fossil fuels, who see an opportunity to possibly save their industries (coal) or increase production (petroleum), and opponents, who fear the environmental consequences of such a change. But is this a real threat to the global move away from fossil fuels, or is it simply rhetoric to energize a political base? (more…)Published by Our World of Energy
There is no doubt that the practice of net metering for residential solar photovoltaic systems has been a key enabler of the rapid growth of rooftop solar generation in the United States (see OWOE: How does net metering encourage private investment in home solar systems?). But has it outlived it usefulness? Or, has it even become a barrier to greater renewable penetration into the marketplace?Published by Our World of Energy
Guest blog by S. A. Shelley
Revenue Trap: ” A focus on revenue at the expense of weakened strategy and reduced profits.”
Oil prices seeming to whipsaw back and forth, weekly, daily, even hourly is the result of many oil and options traders clearing trades at whatever slim profit they can eke out. Of course, multiply that slim profit by the huge volumes traded and well, Wall Street still makes a hefty profit whether oil is up or down.
Other folks are starting to talk about oil supply and demand hitting a new equilibrium, or that shale production has peaked. Fair enough. In fact, I agree that efforts to constrict oil supply are starting to have some effect. I doubt however that restricting oil supplies will be effective in the long run. OPEC claims that compliance with the production quotas is strong, but on the other hand, some OPEC members have recently vowed to opt out of the quotas and to even increase production. Don’t forget about some of the African members of OPEC who were free to pump and sell as much oil as they could. (more…)Published by Our World of Energy
Almost a year and a half ago OWOE blogged “What about transportation?” in which we took a brief look at the challenges facing a renewable energy transformation of the transportation industry, which accounts for approximately 30% of US energy use. In what has been a relatively short period, the answer to that question has become much clearer. Let’s take a look at what’s happened since then.Published by Our World of Energy
Guest blog by S. A. Shelley Absolutely, the United States can become energy self-sufficient, but it is unlikely to become self-sufficient in oil production.
Since the end of last year and the beginning of this year, several governmental and intra- governmental bureaucracies, independent think-tanks of all sorts and large energy producing companies have issued annual energy outlooks in one form or another. I characterize them as “Business as Usual” (BP, Exxon, etc.), “Business is Changing” (Shell, Carbon Tracking Institute, etc.) and “Fanciful Delusion” (OPEC). In all forms these reports are interesting reading. (more…)Published by Our World of Energy
The nuclear power industry in the United States has had a history of wild swings from optimism to pessimism to fatalism. After the first wave of over 100 nuclear reactors that were planned in the 1960’s and 1970’s was completed, there has been a span of 2 decades without a new reactor being built. Then, starting in the early 2000’s, a new feeling of optimism arose as the nuclear industry, electric utilities, the US government, and even some environmental organizations realized that nuclear power could be the solution to the world’s global warming problem. And with the high cost of fossil fuel (at a time before fracking technology drove natural gas prices to historic lows), most in the industry believed that new nuclear plants could be built quickly and be cost competitive with other new power sources. These plants would incorporate new technology and advanced safety features, would be governed under new streamlined government regulations to avoid costly design changes mid-construction, would apply lessons learned during construction of the earlier plants, and would have access to competitive financing with federal loan guarantees. This was considered the beginning of the “nuclear renaissance”. Between 2007 and 2009, 13 companies applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for construction and operating licenses to build 31 new nuclear power reactors in the US. Today, plans for virtually all of those reactors have been cancelled, and nuclear power generation reached a peak in 2010 and has since been declining (Figure 1).Published by Our World of Energy