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Stephen Eule U.S. energy security

America’s energy security is at its strongest point in two decades, according to the latest edition of the Energy Institute’s Index of U.S. Energy Security Risk

This 2016 edition of the Index, the seventh in the series, provides an updated look at U.S. energy security incorporating the most recent historical data and updated forecasts. The Index employs 37 different measures of energy security risk and covers the period from 1970 to 2040. Like a golf scorecard, a low Index score is better than a high Index score.

us_energy_index_blog_grpahic_12.14.16.jpg U.S. Energy Security Risk Index, 1970-2040U.S. Energy Security Risk Index, 1970-2040Source: Institute for 21st Century Energy.

In 2015—the most recent year available-risk dropped 3 points, to 78.0, the lowest level since 1996. This is the fourth consecutive year that the overall U.S. risk score has declined. From a record high score of 101.2 points in 2011, it has fallen 23.2 points. Based on the most recent forecast from the Energy Information Administration, we also expect that future risks will be lower than thought compared to earlier forecasts. (See the chart nearby for all of the scores from 1970 to 2040.)

To explain this good news, one need look no further than the application of hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling, and advanced seismic imaging throughout the country’s vast shale formations. The rapid increase in domestic oil and natural gas production has lowered energy imports and expenditures for those imports and put downward pressure on prices. Despite slumping prices, domestic crude oil output still increased by more than seven percent in 2015, off the pace of previous years but still quite good. Natural gas production achieved a record high, with a five percent increase in 2015. Continued improvements in energy efficiency also have contributed to the lowering of energy security risks that we’ve seen over the past few years.

It’s not all good news, though. Crude oil price volatility rose significantly, driven by the desire of Saudi Arabia to capture greater market share by driving down sharply the price of crude oil.  Rapid shifts in prices in either direction—volatility—can create unstable market conditions that increase energy security risks. One thing we’ve learned recently, however, is that America’s energy entrepreneurs are up to the challenge and will maintain high levels of output that should help keep prices from rising too much. As prices firm up, we can expect that U.S. producers will continue to do what they do best—innovate.

A special feature in this year’s Index of U.S. Energy Security Risk is a look at trends in security of world oil production that take into account the reliability and diversity of crude oil supplies over time.  It notes, for example, that about 55% of the world’s current oil output comes from countries Freedom House categorizes as “not free”—in other words, countries more likely to see political turmoil, join cartels, or use energy for geopolitical ends. This is a substantial risk that makes America’s resurgence in oil production all the more important, because it reduces our, and the world’s, exposure to unreliable sources of oil. (Refer to the report for more details.) The U.S. Index and its companion, the International Energy Security Risk Index, are available here.

This originally appeared on the Institute for 21st Century Energy's blog.

Sean Hackbarth An oil jack near Corpus Christi, Texas.Photo credit: Eddie Seal/Bloomberg.

You may see “Keep it in the ground” folks and other anti-energy activists pounce on a new EPA report in an attempt to stop fracking.

But the truth is fracking--using water, sand, and a small amount of chemicals to break up shale rock thousands of feet below the surface to free oil and natural gas—isn’t a threat to drinking water.

From Energy In Depth:

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the final results of its long awaited groundwater study. While the agency made some wording changes to its previous topline finding, the data have not changed. This study took five years to complete, and in that time EPA found nothing to suggest that fracking is a serious risk to groundwater. Because of this, the report only reinforces what EPA found previously – that “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources.”

If fracking were a major threat to drinking water supplies, the data gathered by EPA would show it – but they don’t. If fracking were contaminating water on a widespread level, the evidence would also have been found in the dozens and dozens of peer-reviewed studies that have been conducted over the past decade. So perhaps contrary to its intention, EPA’s study officially closes the book on the environmental activists’ deliberate misinformation campaign.

On a press call,  EPA official acknowledged that “number of identified cases of drinking water contamination is small.” Compare that to the two million wells that have been fracked over decades.

Think of it like airplanes. Thousands of times a day, they take off and land with rarely any mishaps. Based on that, we call flying, “safe.” The same logic applies to fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing: How it works

Like any industrial process, fracking has to be done properly to be safe. But by following industry best practices and upholding the multitude of regulations state agencies place on it, fracking is done safely.

This has been show in many instances where researchers closely studied the practice:

Earlier this year, University of Cincinnati researchers—partly funded by fracking opponents—found “no evidence” that the practice harmed groundwater in the Utica shale in Ohio. A 2015 Yale University study didn’t find evidence of groundwater contamination in Pennsylvania natural gas wells. Energy Department scientists determined in 2014 that fracking fluid didn’t seep up thousands of feet to drinking water in natural gas wells in the Marcellus Shale. In Pavilion, Wyoming, state environmental investigators found in 2015 there was “little evidence” that fracking caused ground water contamination.

The idea that fracking can cause someone’s water to become flammable is a fraud.

Here’s some more truth: Fracking has transformed the geopolitical energy landscape. The shale boom launched an American energy renaissance, has saved families money, and transformed the U.S. into an important exporter in world energy markets.

And as science shows, it’s being done safely.

Sean Hackbarth Snow drift almost covering a parking meter in Boston.Photo credit: Jan Mark Holzer. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Just in time for the return of the polar vortex, for the first time in six years natural gas pipeline capacity will increase in the Northeast.

Lack of pipeline capacity has plagued New England for years. As a result, consumers pay high electricity prices and see natural gas price spikes when the weather turns cold, like the 2014 polar vortex.

eia_naturalgas_prices_2007-2016.png  2007-2016.Natural gas prices at Henry Hub and Algonquin Citygate: 2007-2016.Natural gas prices at Henry Hub and Algonquin Citygate: 2007-2016.Source: Energy Information Administration.

A few hundred miles away lay the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale, the second largest natural gas field in the world. But there aren’t enough pipelines to move the energy to consumers.

Even with the new pipeline projects going online, “pipeline project delays were the dominant trend in 2016 for the US northeast natural gas market,” Argus Media reports.

For instance, even though it was approved by federal regulators, New York State has blocked the Constitution pipeline, denying families and businesses access to abundant shale gas, because Governor Cuomo opposes fracking.

This is despite strong public support for energy infrastructure:

The [Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association] and the National Association of Manufacturers survey of 500 registered voters between Nov. 28 and Dec. 3 found 87 percent believe government and private industry investment in energy infrastructure will have a positive impact on the state's economy. That includes 92 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of people that identified themselves as environmentalists.

An assortment of tactics are used by “Keep it in the ground” energy opponents to block pipeline construction:

They use the court system, regulatory system, protests and social media to delay and create anxiety over the potential impacts, said William Kovacs, senior vice-president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber.

“They have the ability to use the courts to sue and delay a project for so long that they bleed the financing out of (it),” he said.

The most attention-grabbing of tactics lately involve opposing oil pipelines.

After the Keystone XL pipeline fight came the battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline filled with arrests and violence. With the Obama administration capitulating in both cases, “Keep it in the ground” extremists hunt for their text target—and warmer weather .

Like Florida:

“Not prepared for cold?” the sign reads, “Help stop the Florida Sabal Pipeline.” The posting was one of several stuck to message boards and buildings in the Sacred Stones protest camp in North Dakota, near the Dakota Access Pipeline. With winter beginning and temperatures dropping, some of the protesters are considering leaving the camp for warmer climes, and one group is hoping to persuade them to join another pipeline protest further south.

Set to be completed in 2017, the Sabal Trail Pipeline will carry natural gas through Alabama and Georgia into central Florida, where it will be used to generate electricity. Ground has already been broken on the project and work is proceeding rapidly. In March, the company obtained a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which allows it broader leeway to use eminent domain to acquire land needed for the project.

And energy-rich West Texas:

Protesters were arrested in West Texas on Tuesday morning near a pipeline being built from the Permian Basin to Mexico.

Members of the Big Bend Defense Coalition were protesting Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners construction of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline in Alpine. The Brewster County Sheriff’s office arrested two: coalition founder Lori Glover and Alpine resident Roger Siglin.

“We must protect our water, challenge corporate greed, and come to our senses on the truth of fossil fuels and climate change,” said Glover, who had chained herself to the project’s gate.

Former oil field worker Arajoe Battista chained himself to a fence there but was not arrested, the sheriff’s office said.

The Big Bend Defense Coalition is hoping to rally troops to Alpine, in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert, about 70 miles north of Big Bend National Park. Residents moved there to be closer to nature and escape big business, protesters said.

Energy opponents are unlikely to persuade Americans to covert to their extreme ideology, but it shows they’ll continue searching for opportunities.


It also reminds us that we need to reform how we approve energy infrastructure. Permitting processes at all levels of government need to be better coordinated and streamlined, while allowing the public to have plenty of input.

At the same time, governments can’t abandon the rule of law—like President Obama did with the Dakota Access Pipeline--and pull the rug out from under businesses that follow the rules.

A growing economy will need energy, and America is awash in it. We’ll need enough energy infrastructure to support the opportunity at hand.