The Changing Face of Energy
From big oil executives to green energy fanatics, everything you ever wanted to know about United States energy production can be found at the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Today’s energy graph shows monthly U.S. coal exports from January 1980 through March 2013. It’s newsworthy because the U.S. set an all-time high for coal exports in March.
What can be learned from this graph? Plenty!
U.S. Coal Industry is Changing
The above graph shows that coal exports are again at about the same level as in 1980 after falling steadily for 15 years from 1992 to 2007. Exports have risen sharply ever since. Why?
During the 1990’s to the mid-2000’s coal found its niche producing electricity in coal-fired electric plants. They sprang up like mushrooms as U.S. electrical needs grew. Hence, exports of coal dropped.
In 2007, things started to change radically. The entire coal industry came under siege.
Coal and Climate Change
America’s cheapest and most plentiful energy source came under attack because it is also the greatest CO2 polluter. To fight global warming, especially under the Obama Administration, strict EPA regulations have put the screws to coal.
All new coal-fired electric plants must meet tough new EPA standards. They are required to install expensive and untested carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology that effectively puts them out of business. Some say the regulations were designed that way.
Competition in the electric power plant business also came from natural gas. Fracking and horizontal drilling have ushered in a golden age of clean, cheap and plentiful natural gas.
As a result, coal-fired electric plants are being replaced by natural gas faster than you can say “lickity split”. It has happened so fast since 2007 that overall U.S. CO2 emissions have actually declined!
The coal industry is in serious decline. Regulations and natural gas competition are relegating it the way of the lumber industry of the Pacific Northwest.
So why have exports skyrocketed to all-time record highs? (see above graph) Coal production is down and declining.
Much to the chagrin of extreme environmentalists, fossil fuels are the mainstay of global energy production. They will probably remain so for the rest of this century. It’s impossible to build enough wind mills and solar systems to keep up with growth, let alone reduce current fossil fuel consumption.
Inexplicably, the United Nations, in it’s infinite wisdom, excluded most polluters from its legally binding Kyoto Protocol for reducing global CO2. Only 15% of world CO2 emissions are covered! For example, China, India and Brazil are excluded.
Thus, there is a built-in global marketplace for dirty coal exports. Coal is making a comeback!