While overall American energy usage has nearly tripled since 1950, it’s been flat since 2000, thanks to energy efficiency.

U.S. EIA Is Sending Mixed Messages On Fossil Fuels & Emissions

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In a recent article published on CleanTechnica from the US Energy Information Agency, the EIA trumpets that US emissions will indeed fall in the years to come as more renewable energy comes to the nation’s electrical grid.

“U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions drop 25% to 38% below what they were in 2005 by 2030, according to our projections in the Annual Energy Outlook 2023 (AEO2023). We use 2005 as an emissions reference year because the United States’ nationally determined contribution (NDC), submitted as part of the Paris Agreement, calls for a target of 50% to 52% of net greenhouse gas emissions below the 2005 level by 2030. It’s important to note, however, that we only consider energy-related CO2 emissions, which does not cover the full NDC scope,” the IEA says.

“Our projected reductions in U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions are driven by increased electrification, higher equipment efficiency, and renewables deployment in the electric power sector. Emissions reductions are limited, however, by longer term growth in U.S. transportation and industrial activity.”

There’s some good news in there, not the least of which is that the agency expects the economic incentives provided by the Inflation Reduction Act to add an extra 7% reduction in US emissions compared to what would be expected in the absence of the IRA. But the total reduction is less than what will be needed to quell global overheating in the best of circumstances, so the net result is the sound of one hand clapping. We have to do more — much more.

EIA Good News, Bad News

EIA annual report

In the latest EIA report, there is also one paragraph that should be of concern to CleanTechnica readers. “High international demand leads to continued growth in U.S. production, and combined with relatively little growth in domestic consumption, allows the United States to remain a net exporter of petroleum products and natural gas through 2050 in all AEO2023 cases. Despite no significant change in domestic petroleum and other liquids consumption through 2040 across most AEO2023 cases, we expect U.S. production to remain historically high. Domestic natural gas consumption also remains relatively stable, despite a shift in electricity generation towards renewables. Natural gas production, however, continues to grow in response to international demand for liquefied natural gas.”

According to Yahoo! News, the U.S. currently produces about 20 million barrels of oil per day. You might think that number would decrease as the growth of renewables continues, but the EIA thinks otherwise. Its analysts see the possibility of one “high oil and gas supply” scenario where that number jumps to around 30 million barrels per day in 2050. Production stays steady or goes down slightly in other models, but in every case that the analysts modeled, the U.S. will remain a net exporter of petroleum products and natural gas through 2050.

Mimicking Australia

In other words, the US will become like Australia. The Land Down Under is the largest exporter of coal in the world today but doesn’t count any of the emissions created when that coal is burned toward its national emissions targets because it is consumed somewhere else. The US is considering three new oil and gas projects — one in the Gulf of Mexico that could add 24 billion tons of new carbon emissions to the atmosphere during its expected 30-year useful life, another in Utah that would transport 350 million barrels of oil a day along a new railroad that will parallel the Colorado River, and the new Willow project in Alaska that will add yet another 180,000 barrels a day of oil to the nation’s oil supply.

Notice that most of the output from both Utah and Alaska is destined for export rather than internal use. Baird Langenbrunner, an analyst at Global Energy Monitor, told The Guardian last month, “The amount of oil going through these projects and the resulting emissions, are pretty astounding. No one knows if those four terminals will get approved, but even if the emissions are a bit lower then, we are fast-forwarding ourselves to the date where we have to stop completely emitting. Any extra emissions are in direct conflict with climate goals and it’s hypocritical for the Biden administration to allow these things to get built and then say the US wants to decrease its own emissions.”

Kelsey Crane, senior policy advocate at Earthworks, echoed those sentiments. “The Biden administration’s continued fossil fuel expansion contradicts the science on what we need to do to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. We can’t invest in clean energy if we’re not phasing out fossil fuels. We need to reinstate the ban on oil exports and think about a managed decline for fossil fuels within this administration.”

EIA analysts also see explosive growth in clean energy and clean electricity in the decades to come. The EIA report forecasts rapidly falling CO2 levels largely thanks to declines in coal production and large growth in renewable energy production “in all regions of the United States.” It also expects that technological changes such as more heat pumps in homes and more electric vehicles on the road will drive the overall energy industry towards cleaner energy. But the process is likely to be very gradual. In the EV space, for example, EIA analysts project that clean cars will make up less than 20% of the overall automobile market in 2050. “Motor gasoline and diesel fuel are still in demand for 2050,” they said.

Peak Oil?

Peak oil. Fossil fuel industry collapse. Lower carbon emissions. Does anyone have a clear vision of the future? Yes, some people do and it looks like this — we either figure out how to stop burning fossil fuels as the basis for our civilization or we as a people will cease to exist. There are no ifs, ands, or buts. We either keep the remaining coal, oil, and gas in the ground or we cease to exist as a species. It’s astonishing how many people are perfectly fine with contributing to our own extinction. The fact that we are so unwilling to recognize an existential threat is the clearest indication imaginable why humanity is in its final hours on Earth.

Other analysts agree with the EIA assessment. “By 2050, oil demand will be about where it is today,” Dave Ernsberger, head of market reporting for S&P Global Commodity Insights, told Yahoo! Finance last month. “But if we’re not investing in fossil fuels we will see more and more disruptions to energy security. There could be potential shortfalls in supply and we could see more inflation spikes driven by energy.”

S&P thinks global demand for oil will peak around 2031, but instead of plunging as some expect, demand for oil will more likely stay close to peak levels for years, maybe decades it says. That’s because it will take a long time to transform mature infrastructure not easily replaced without permitting fights and layers of opposition. Developing nations will adapt more slowly and burn more fossil fuels as they grow. Population growth, meanwhile, will mean more people driving, traveling, and consuming energy.

So there you have it, a recipe for the demise of human life on Earth while fossil fuel companies laugh all the way to the bank. This is not likely to end well.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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