Opinion

The Great Debate

Want energy independence? Keep the nuclear option and limit exports

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Whether or not you follow the energy markets, it’s very likely you’ve heard the phrase “U.S. energy independence” at one time or another in recent years. Yet the very notion that the United States can be completely self-sufficient when it comes to supplying our domestic need for energy consumption is seriously flawed for a number of reasons ranging from population growth, pure economics, a lack of public policy and a dated permitting process vital to commercialize new energy projects. Collectively, this should have Americans questioning whether U.S. power production can be enough to completely eliminate the need for foreign energy sources.

Should nuclear reactors remain in the energy mix?

    Yes No

View Results Loading ... Loading ... The biggest use for energy is electricity. Using 2013 data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), in order to produce electricity in the United States, we used a total of 4,058,209 thousand megawatt-hours last year of which 39 percent was supplied from coal, 27 percent from natural gas, 19 percent came from nuclear, 7 percent from hydropower, 6 percent from other renewables, 1 percent from petroleum and less than 1 percent from other gases. So, despite the Obama administration’s efforts to help fight carbon emissions, coal still dominates in the United States. In fact, according to a recent EIA Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the allure of cheaper coal has actually fostered its greater use to offset an increase in natural gas prices.

Coal, of course, releases an enormous amount of carbon dioxide when it’s burned.

On the one hand, we’re boosting our independence by using our own coal supply to produce electricity, but on the other, the whole environmental argument may be being shoved under the rug because of it. This suggests the United States can’t be energy independent and simultaneously win the war on carbon. Something has to give. We don’t have enough clean domestic energy supply to produce electricity if we abandon domestic coal and simultaneously close perfectly good nuclear plants. Instead, we need more nuclear power since its use won’t add to carbon emission output.

Here’s the problem. The United States consumes 55 million pounds of uranium per year, yet only produces 4 million pounds. The rest comes from places such as Kazakhstan and Australia. We already import 93 percent of our enriched uranium, so in reality, our reliance on foreign enriched uranium is far greater than our dependence on foreign oil.

from Breakingviews:

Iraq troubles are unlikely to bring new oil crisis

By Fiona Maharg-Bravo

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.

The continued violence in Iraq looks like a harbinger of a sharp cutback from the world’s seventh-largest oil producer. But the bulk of Iraq’s production is still secure. Even though the Middle East has clearly become less stable, it will still take a cascade of problems to create a big oil price shock.

The oilfields which account for around 90 percent of Iraq’s production are in the still peaceful south of the country, far from the conflict zones. Oilfield security is tight and has recently been increased. The evacuation of non-essential staff by BP and other foreign operators is not an immediate threat to output, since these large fields are predominantly staffed by locals. Oil exports were near record rates in June, according to industry sources cited by Reuters.

from Breakingviews:

Russia puts gas-hungry China in a bear hug

By Ethan Bilby
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Russia has signed a long-awaited gas pipeline deal with China, and it leaves the People’s Republic in a bear hug. Russia gets a new market outside the increasingly frosty European Union. Oil major PetroChina gets to balance out some losses from low regulated prices at home. But the optics of the deal shred Beijing’s pretensions to political neutrality.

Russia could use a friend. EU countries have been planning to diversify supply away from dependence on Russia, which provides a third of their energy needs – especially after a dispute in 2009 saw gas cut off. Annexing Ukraine’s southern Crimea region has raised the temperature further. New pipelines from places like Azerbaijan are designed to limit Moscow’s leverage.

The nuclear option for emerging markets

Last year, greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high of 39 billion tons. Emissions actually dropped in the United States and Europe, but substantial increases in China and India more than erased this bit of good news.

That is all the more reason to focus on innovative solutions that slow the growth in emissions from emerging markets.

The U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal is one such solution.

The key principles of this agreement were signed by President George W. Bush and Prime Minster Manmohan Singh eight years ago this week. The deal brought India’s civilian nuclear program under the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection regime. In return, Washington removed sanctions and permitted India to build nuclear power plants with foreign help. Most of the discussion leading up to the deal has focused on its potential effect on non-proliferation treaties and on the partnership between the U.S. and India.

The shale factor in U.S. national security

The boom in domestic shale oil and gas production has increased U.S. prosperity and economic competitiveness. But the potential for this to enhance our national security remains largely unrealized.

The shale surge has boosted production by 50 percent for oil and 20 percent for gas over the last five years. Yet our political leaders are only just beginning to explore how it can help further national strategic interests.

We led a major study at the Center for a New American Security in the last year, bringing together a nonpartisan panel to examine national security implications of the unconventional energy boom. We decided that outdated idealization of “energy independence” is preventing the administration and Congress from focusing on current energy vulnerabilities and figuring out how Washington should secure our economic and security interests.

Is nuclear power the answer on climate change?

James Hansen’s latest press conference was positively scary.

NASA’s former chief climate scientist (he recently left government to pursue a more activist role) met with environmental journalists last month at Columbia University to release a new study with the ominous title, “Assessing Dangerous Climate Change: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature.”

Hansen and his co-authors contend that the agreed-to goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Farenheit) above pre-Industrial levels prescribed in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is still too high to prevent “long-lasting, irreversible damage” to our planet — including raising sea levels, submerging coastal cities and turning vast tracts of the earth into virtual furnaces.

Hansen departs from environmental orthodoxy, however, in arguing that there is no way to cut greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently by relying solely on green alternatives like solar and wind power.

The Case Against Natural Gas Exports

President Barack Obama has made middle-class jobs and natural gas two of his top second-term policy objectives. Both could be undermined if his Department of Energy (DOE) continues to approve gas industry applications for exporting American gas.

There is already a move in Congress to remove DOE’s authority, so approvals can move even faster, and the oil and gas industry has thrown all its lobbying muscle behind this effort to steamroll through the permission process.

Natural gas, the cleanest of the hydrocarbon-based fuels, has long been a primary choice for heating and power generation, as well as an essential raw material, or “feedstock,” for a vast range of chemistry-based products, including every kind of plastic, synthetic cloth and high-tech composite materials. When gas supplies came under pressure in the late 1990s, the chemical industry — and most other energy-dependent U.S. heavy manufacturers — were hard hit.

The architecture of abundance: Building energy infrastructure

For the past 40 years, energy policymakers in Washington worried about a seemingly intractable menace: managing the risks of scarce fossil fuels.

Energy supply issues have been nettlesome at least since the Nixon administration, often producing long gasoline lines, sluggish economic growth, dependence on unstable foreign regimes and even backlash at the ballot box. Most policy solutions — including government subsidies, exotic fuel mandates, even restructuring the Department of Energy — were all oriented around this scarcity paradigm.

That was then. Today, technological innovations like horizontal drilling, better seismic imaging and hydraulic fracturing have done what new laws and regulations never could. We now produce massive amounts of North American energy that will lower prices for consumers, create a domestic manufacturing renaissance and even influence geopolitical alignments.

The looming U.S.-China rivalry over Latin America

President Barack Obama meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) in California, June 7, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Though the U.S. and Chinese presidents heralded a “new model” of cooperation at their weekend summit, a growing competition looks more likely. The whirlwind of activity before President Barack Obama met with President Xi Jinping in the California desert revealed that Beijing and Washington’s sights are set on a similar prize — and face differing challenges to attain it.

Their focus is Latin America and the prize is increased trade and investment opportunities in a region where economic reforms have pulled millions out of poverty and into the middle class. Latin America is rich in the commodities and energy that both China and the United States need, largely stable politically and eager to do deals.

California v. Texas in fight for the future

It is not a national election year, but the “red state versus blue state” wars continue. Texas Governor Rick Perry’s recent foray into California, to lure away businesses and jobs, signals more than a rivalry between these two mega-states. The Texas-California competition represents the political, economic and cultural differences driving American politics today – and for the foreseeable future.

Texas and California are robust political and economic competitors. We don’t know which will be the template for the future. As California emerges from its economic and fiscal doldrums and some of Texas’ vulnerabilities become evident, it is now far from certain that Texas will emerge the victor.

California is a global hub for trade, tourism, culture and the manufacture of ideas and intellectual property. From high tech and biotech to entertainment, travel and logistics, the state’s brand transcends national boundaries. The Golden State tops the nation in agriculture. It also sets the pace on green energy development, which could lead to a dramatic increase in the state’s energy production.

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