America’s Oil Boom Won’t Make It Energy-Independent From Middle East Madness

If the U.S. does strike Syria, the price of oil — already at $115 and rising in the Brent index, largely because of political disruptions in Libya, a major producer — is likely to spike. It’s not that Syria is a major oil producer — even before the war its exports were modest by Middle East standards, and now the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad can manage just 50,000 barrels a day, barely 5% of what tiny Oman can pump. But even limited strikes would raise fears that the civil conflict in Syria could spread, inviting retaliatory action against Israel, moves by Assad’s ally Iran and disruptive protests in Middle Eastern countries that actually do produce a lot of oil. Fear alone would likely be enough to raise the price of oil above $120 a barrel, and if any of those scenarios actually came true, we might see crude beat the record $147 per barrel reached in 2008. Should that come to pass, the International Energy Agency would likely coordinate releases from national petroleum reserves to increase global supply and bring down prices somewhat, just as it did during the Libyan civil conflict in 2011. Nonetheless, U.S. drivers, currently paying an average of $3.61 a gallon, would be hit hard at the pump But wait a minute. The U.S. is in the midst of a boom in domestic oil production, thanks largely to new unconventional reserves in North Dakota and Texas, even as oil demand has fallen thanks to improving energy efficiency (and a still sluggish economy). The U.S. now imports 36% of the oil it uses, down from 60% in 2006. With U.S. oil production projected to increase by 28% between 2011 and 2014, according to the Energy Information Administration, and tougher CAFE fuel standards forcing more-efficient cars and trucks, oil imports will likely keep dropping in the years to come. The U.S. — or at least larger North America — could finally achieve something that politicians on both sides of the aisle have been chasing for decades: energy independence. Finally

From Forests to Fossil Fuels: U.S. Energy Consumption Since 1776

What did the Founding Fathers use to power the American Revolution? Pretty much one fuel source: wood. And until the late 19th century, forests remained America’s chief energy source. Since then, it’s been mostly fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — with a little bit of hydroelectric, nuclear and a smidgen of renewables like wind and solar. That’s the takeaway from a neat infographic put out yesterday by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the invaluable — and too often underappreciated — statistics arm of the Energy Department. The EIA has been keeping close tabs on U.S. and international energy use going back several decades, but obviously there was no U.S. of A in 1776, let alone an EIA. So Tyson Brown, the analyst who put together the brief, estimated energy use in the colonial era based on population at the time. Wood was just about the only fuel source early Americans had access to — whale oil for lamps would have been another one — which is one reason why the great forests of the eastern U.S. were systematically cut down. Wood may qualify as a renewable resource, but it’s an inefficient one with the rather significant side effect of deforestation. It’s notable that U.S. energy consumption as a whole didn’t increase all that much until the late 19th century, when coal — powering the trains that crisscrossed the country — and then petroleum began to enter the economy in a big way. Even today, renewables produce more energy than the U.S. as a whole would have used during the Civil War. But the energy story of the electrified 20th century is the story of fossil fuels: petroleum, natural gas and coal, which produced 87% of total U.S. primary energy over the past decade alone, even as renewables began to creep up. “What you have from the 1970s on is a parity between the existing technologies, with some tweaking on the edges,” says Brown. We’re still a carbon-based society. And we’re unlikely to declare our independence from fossil fuels

The IEA Says Peak Oil Is Dead. That’s Bad News for Climate Policy

No one—aside maybe from survivalists who’d stocked up on MREs and assault rifles—was really looking forward to a peak-oil world. Read this 2007 GQ piece by Benjamin Kunkel—while we’re discussing topics from the mid-2000s—that imagines what a world without oil would really be like. Think uncomfortable and violent. Oil is in nearly every modern product we use, and it’s still what gets us from point A to point B—especially if you need to get from A to B in a plane. If we were really to see the global oil supply peak and decline sharply, even as demand continued to go up, well, apocalyptic might not be too large a word. And for several years in the middle of the last decade, as oil prices climbed past $100 a barrel and analysts were betting it would break $200, that scenario seemed entirely plausible. But there was an upside to peak oil. Crude oil was responsible for a significant chunk of global carbon emissions, second only to coal. Only the shock of being severed from the main fuel of modernity would be enough to make us get serious about tackling climate change and shifting to an economy powered by renewable energy and efficiency. We’d have to because we’d have no other choice, save a future that might look something like Mad Max. We’d lose oil but save the world. Increasingly, though, that doesn’t seem likely to happen. New oil sources, many of them unlocked by new technology—the Canadian oil sands, tight oil in North Dakota and Texas, ultra-deepwater oil in the Atlantic—has helped keep the supply of oil growing, even as greater efficiency measures and other social shifts have helped blunt demand in rich countries like the U.S. Oil isn’t likely to be cheap—a barrel of Brent crude is $102—and getting it out of the ground isn’t going to get any easier. But it’s increasingly likely that we will have more than enough oil in the future to keep the global economy growing and stave off any Mel Gibson-esque apocalypses. Indeed, a new assessment released

Inside Win: A Non-Profit Site Wins a Pulitzer for Its Environmental Reporting

It was understandably lost in the shuffle of the horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon, but the Pulitzer prizes were announced yesterday afternoon. As usual, mainstream organizations like the New York Times cleaned up—but the prize for national reporting went to a low-profile, non-profit website: Brooklyn-based InsideClimate News. Elizabeth McGowan, Lisa Song and David Hasemyer won for a multi-part investigative series on the Enbridge pipeline oil spill in July 2010—the first major spill of bitumen-diluted Canadian oil, similar to the sort that would be carried by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, on U.S. soil. Here’s the beginning of the first story in the award-winning series:   (PHOTOS: Exclusive Photos: The Oil Spill Spreads) An acrid stench had already enveloped John LaForge’s five-bedroom house when he opened the door just after 6 a.m. on July 26, 2010. By the time the building contractor hurried the few feet to the refuge of his Dodge Ram pickup, his throat was stinging and his head was throbbing. LaForge was at work excavating a basement when his wife called a couple of hours later. The odor had become even more sickening, Lorraine told him. And a fire truck was parked in front of their house, where Talmadge Creek rippled toward the Kalamazoo River. LaForge headed home. By the time he arrived, the stink was so intense that he could barely keep his breakfast down. Something else was wrong, too. Water from the usually tame creek had inundated his yard, the way it often did after heavy rains. But this time a black goo coated swaths of his golf course-green grass. It stopped just 10 feet from the metal cap that marked his drinking water well. Walking on the tarry mess was like stepping on chewing gum. LaForge said he was stooped over the creek, looking for the source of the gunk, when two men in a white truck marked Enbridge pulled up just before 10 a.m. One rushed to LaForge’s open front door and disappeared inside with an air-monitoring instrument. The man emerged less than a