Delayed infrastructure projects, industry concerns over freefalling oil prices, mounting excessive and duplicative regulations, and ongoing partisan battles topped the list of energy headlines for 2014.
They also topped the list of energy headlines for 2015.
But while the plotlines were the same, the details and storylines changed considerably this year.
That’s because this year gave us some fortunate and unfortunate clarity on an assortment of key energy issues like the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the Keystone XL pipeline, Arctic exploration, and the future of gas and energy costs.
It also shined a light on where local and state legislators, both chambers of Congress, and the administration stand on various aspects of energy development, onshore and off, and most importantly, on where most Americans stand.
#1: Year-round Low Gas Prices
This commenced at the end of 2014, when prices began declining at the pumps and the U.S., once overly dependent on energy imports, started to show that it can – and will – drill its way to lower gasoline prices.
This year, it proved it could keep it that way.
The average price for a gallon of regular gas during the week before Christmas was $2.01, about 75 cents cheaper than the same time last year. It gets better: Experts said that the national average would drop below $2 before the holiday.
As such, a record 100.5 million Americans – or nearly one out of every three motorists – were expected to hit the road between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3, AAA said.
In all, American drivers saved about $540 in 2015 thanks to the year-round low gas prices.
#2: Warm and Toasty Heating Costs
Thanks to America’s ongoing energy revolution, consumers didn’t break the bank to full up their gas tanks in 2015. They didn’t have to break the bank to warm their homes either.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projected in the fall that heating costs for Americans this winter would be the lowest they’ve seen in years.
The average cost for heating homes this winter with natural gas will average $578 from October to March, a $64 decrease from last year. Families that use propane gas to heat their homes would see an even bigger decline – $1,437, a $322 drop from last winter. Those who use heating oil would save $459.
The slide in heating costs is attributed to the supplies of oil and natural gas flowing out of U.S. shale formations, which has dramatically boosted inventories heading into winter.
#3: Keystone XL Rejected
In 2015, after seven years President Obama finally killed the Keystone XL pipeline. The project was hung up by politically driven green tape despites the two-thirds of Americans who, according to polls, strongly supported its approval.
His denial was a major defeat economically and for consumers. That’s not just our assessment, but the State Department’s, which previously reported that the pipeline would support more than 42,000 manufacturing and construction jobs and contribute billions to the economy.
In fact, the president’s rejection ignored the work done by the Department of State, Department of Energy, and PHMSA, which collectively concluded that Keystone XL would be the safest pipeline ever built.
#4: Regulatory Overreach Puts Arctic Exploration on Ice
Keystone XL wasn’t the only victim of the administration’s unprecedented, convoluted, ever-changing federal regulatory process. So, too, were Royal Dutch Shell’s $7 billion, decade’s long Arctic exploration plans in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.
Shell ended its exploratory operations off the coast of Alaska this year “for the foreseeable future,” citing “high costs” and the “challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment.”
The latter, experts say, were the real project killers. Just-in-time permitting and conflicting agency decisions guaranteed that Shell would spend all that time and money to drill just one exploratory well.
The decision has devastated Alaska’s hopes of finding an alternative source of oil to help close its multibillion-dollar budget shortfall and replenish the Trans-Alaska Pipeline capacity because of declining production.
With America out of the Arctic picture, far less environmentally responsible countries, like Russia and China, are now left alone to development in oil’s last great frontier.
#5: Electricity Consumers Face an Even More Uncertain Future
In 2015, the EPA made it official and published its Clean Power Plan in the Federal Register.
Study after study confirms that the rule will raise electricity prices for all consumers, threaten grid reliability and security, and take an amount of electricity equal to the total electricity demand of New England offline with no plan to replace the lost production.
Consumers will ultimately shoulder the cost of this rule’s new mandates on their monthly utility bills, since vast amounts of electricity will be prematurely shut down prior to the expiration of its useful life.
The plan also does not account for the value of our existing carbon-free nuclear power – a sector that is increasingly facing its own threats of closure. The influx of distributed generation, such as rooftop solar, also continues to raise concerns about the costs of maintaining a reliable grid.
Combined, these challenges raise the specter of higher costs and reliability problems for electricity consumers across the nation.