Top 10 energy stories of 2012
Over the past year, energy has moved from newspapers’ business and science sections to their front pages. From the president’s highly controversial decision on the Keystone XL pipeline to new assessments of prolific U.S. oil and natural gas reserves, American energy dominated the headlines this year — and for good reason. High gasoline and diesel prices threaten to curtail the economic recovery and ongoing turmoil overseas has refocused the country’s attention on the importance of energy security.
1. North America on track to become energy self-sufficient within the decade. Since the Carter administration, every president has pontificated about the need for U.S. energy independence, yet each has failed to produce it. Following reports of increased shale energy production, Citigroup issued a report in March that concluded that by 2020 the United States could see domestic crude production and Canadian imports surpass U.S. demand. The report noted that the main challenges facing energy development would be “political rather than geological or technological.”
2. American drivers spend more at the pump than any year on record. Thus far in 2012, the average cost of gasoline has been $3.52 a gallon, exceeding last year’s record of $3.47 a gallon. However, relief for motorists may be in sight: The federal government is predicting gasoline will be $3.43 a gallon in 2013, which would be the lowest average annual gas price since 2010.
3. The “war on coal.” Coal use in U.S. utilities fell dramatically in 2012 as power providers switched to lower-priced natural gas. Pending environmental regulations also contributed to coal’s precipitous decline and led Governor Romney to accuse President Obama of waging a “war on coal.”
4. Obama, Romney campaigns duel over who’s more “pro-energy.” In a year of record-high fuel costs, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that both President Obama and Governor Romney would support domestic energy. Yet few would have predicted that the candidates would try to out “drill, baby, drill” each other in the second presidential debate.
5. U.S. carbon emissions at lowest levels in 20 years. Despite the absence of a federal program to cap carbon emissions, the U.S. Department of Energy reported in August that U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in the first part of 2012 fell to 1992 levels. According to the DoE, this dramatic decline was driven purely by market forces, mostly the availability of cheap, plentiful supplies of cleaner-burning natural gas.
6. Low-cost natural gas ignites resurgence in domestic manufacturing. Large supplies of affordable natural gas have prompted manufacturers to reinvest in America. In fact, Dow Chemical has identified over “$80 billion in new spending along with 3 to 5 million new jobs” that have been announced by the industrial sector in response to available and low-price domestic natural gas.
7. Obama blocks Keystone XL but supports Gulf Coast portion. In a move watched closely by environmentalists and labor unions, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline’s application for a presidential permit in January. The president said that the 60-day timeline set by congressional Republicans wouldn’t allow his administration to properly review the proposed project. Just a few months later, he enthusiastically supported the project’s southern portion, extending from Oklahoma to Texas.
8. Nuclear industry introduces plans for smaller reactors. The start of 2012 looked bleak for the American nuclear industry: increased scrutiny of facilities after the 2011 Fukushima tragedy in Japan and mounting construction costs had doomed the much-hyped American nuclear renaissance. Then, in late 2012 the industry announced plans to move forward with a new generation of “small modular reactors” — portable, cost-effective reactors that would be designed with unique safety features.
9. Obama administration blocks offshore leasing in Atlantic for oil, moves forward with offshore wind. Despite vocal support for offshore drilling from politicians along the East Coast, the Obama administration announced it would prohibit drilling in the Atlantic in its next five-year leasing plan. A few months later, the administration announced plans for its first-ever renewable energy lease sales on the Outer Continental Shelf, opening significant blocks of the Atlantic to offshore wind development.
10. EPA denies Renewable Fuel Standard waiver despite worst drought in decades. On the heels of one of the worst droughts to hit the United States in decades, nearly a dozen states called on the EPA to waive the federal Renewable Fuel Standard in order to provide some relief to those industries hit hardest by high corn prices, namely the livestock industry. Despite bipartisan calls for a waiver, the EPA rejected the waiver request in November.
David Holt is the president of the Consumer Energy Alliance.