Environment Forum

How the recession reshaped U.S. electricity production

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Electricity generation in the United States fell 4.1 percent in 2009, the biggest drop in 60 years, according to a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The survey offers a snapshot of the impact the recession had on energy markets and shifts in the power supply as coal costs rose and natural gas prices plummeted. Industrial demand for electricity, for instance, dropped by 9.1 percent in 2009 to the lowest level in 22 years.

Expectations that Congress would pass legislation to impose a cap on greenhouse gas emissions may have also encouraged a move away from carbon-intensive electricity production, the report stated.

Electricity produced from coal-fired power plants fell by 11.6 percent in 2009 from the previous year while generation from natural gas increased by 4.3 percent, according to the report.

“In 2009, annual average natural gas wellhead prices reached their lowest level in seven years,” the report said. “Increased supply due to the availability of shale gas, coupled with mild winter temperatures and higher production, and storage levels, and significant expansions of pipelines capacity also worked to put downward pressure on natural gas prices.”

The Green Gauge: Shale developers hit speed bumps

A pedestrian walks near a no drilling sign in Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania, September 5, 2010. In the rush to develop America's biggest new source of domestic energy, one community is fighting to protect its rural way of life from the environmental strains that accompany shale gas drilling.  REUTERS/Tim Shaffer

Development of shale gas has attracted myriad fans and enemies in recent months: those who cheer a source of natural gas on the home turf of the U.S. and environmentalists who warn the process to release the gas underground risks contaminating drinking water.

This month, Chesapeake Energy, Denbury Resources and Southwest Energy Co. each made headlines for environmental mishaps, and share the top spot in this issue of The Green Gauge, a breakdown of companies that made headlines Sept. 6 to Sept 19 for winning or losing credibility based on environment-related activity.

Selections of companies were made by Christopher Greenwald, director of data content at ASSET4, a Thomson Reuters business that provides investment research on the environmental, social and governance performance of major global corporations. These ratings are not recommendations to buy or sell.

Goldilocks and the three fuels

ENERGY-MARCELLUS/

– Richard Heinberg is the author of eight books, including “Peak Everything”, “Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis” and “The Party’s Over”. He is also a senior fellow with the Post Carbon Institute. The views expressed are his own. –

Recent shale gas projects, including those involving the massive Marcellus Shale in several northeastern states, have been yielding significant quantities of fuel. Reserves of the stuff are enormous. But drilling costs and per-well decline rates are high, so producers can make a profit only if gas prices are near historic highs.

Where are oil prices headed in 2010? Forecasts for the year are all over the map, from more than $100 a barrel to under $50.

Robert Kennedy Jr: solar and natural gas belong together

The solar power sector and the natural gas industry need to build an alliance to get more government support and take over the energy sector from incumbents like Big Oil and King Coal, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. said on Wednesday.

The environmentalist spoke at the Solar Power International Conference being held in Anaheim, California, this week.

“The alliance is just forming,” Kennedy told reporters after his remarks. He added that the natural gas industry has been “hiding under oil and they think Big Oil is going to take care of them. But they’re realizing Big Oil is never going to let them make a profit” and that companies like Chesapeake are realizing “that their future is with the environmental community and the renewable community.”

Must the natural gas industry clean up its act?

Natural gas is regarded as a relatively clean source of energy but there is mounting evidence that it has a dirty side.

My colleague Jon Hurdle has reported on Wyoming water woes that have been linked to the booming gas industry. You can see his stories here and here.

In August U.S. government scientists reported that they had for the first time found chemical contaminants in drinking water wells near natural gas drilling operations, fueling concern that a gas-extraction technique is endangering the health of people who live close to drilling rigs.

from Summit Notebook:

Kinder: wind, solar not the answer to U.S. energy needs

Rich Kinder, CEO of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, says the Obama Administration's push to develop alternative energy sources such as wind and solar are not the answer to reducing the nation's dependence on oil or reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Click below to hear where Kinder thinks the U.S. should be focusing its attention.

Kinder: wind, solar not the answer from Reuters TV on Vimeo.

Seeking sentiment on drilling, Salazar gets an earful

There is no doubt that Californians made themselves clear on Thursday when they gathered to tell U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar that they had had enough of offshore oil drilling and were ready to turn their attention to solar, wind and other renewables.

“I think the verdict today is very clear, that drilling is inappropriate,” said Leah Zimmerman, who attended the meeting dressed in a polar bear suit.

“California is well-known for being an innovative state. Why not take advantage of that rather than trying to dampen it?” asked Craig Cadwallader of the Surfrider Foundation, a group dedicated to protecting oceans and beaches.

Group wants oil, gas drillers to follow rules in U.S. West

An environmental group this week issued a report saying oil and gas companies have enjoyed exemptions to common sense anti-pollution federal rules that govern companies in other industries. This has led, the Environmental Working Group claims, to fouled groundwater, creeks and acres and acres of formerly pristine land in the U.S. West.

The report, “Free Pass for Oil and Gas in the American West,” contains county-by-county maps of what it says are examples of mismanagement of the oil and gas industry.

“Drilling companies regularly complain that environmental standards deny them access to sites where they’d like to drill,” the EWG said. “But the cratered landscape tells a different story.”

T. Boone Pickens working on solar

boonepickens.jpgT. Boone Pickens, the billionaire oil investor who is building the largest wind farm in the United States, is also setting his sights on solar power.

Pickens last month launched a campaign aimed at weaning the United States off its dependence on foreign oil and is in the midst of a nation-wide tour to promote it. Following a speech in Los Angeles, Pickens told me he is looking beyond his wind investments to solar energy and is eager to share his “Pickens Plan” with both of the U.S. presidential candidates. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: Do you think your plan to meet with  Obama and McCain will happen any time soon?

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