Exports swell as Trump pushes ‘energy dominance’

Source: Umair Irfan, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 3, 2017

U.S. energy exports have surged this year as the Trump administration has pushed to beef up shipments, but Energy Secretary Rick Perry will have a harder time moving the needle at home.

Trump promised to bring back coal jobs to the country and leverage U.S. coal, oil and natural gas around the world to exert global “energy dominance.”

Energy exports are up by 1.3 quadrillion British thermal units for the period between January and April this year compared with the same period last year, according to the July edition of the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s monthly energy report.

The United States increased coal shipments abroad by 50 percent in the first six months of this year compared with the first half of 2016 (Climatewire, Aug. 1).

Crude oil exports this year topped 1,000 barrels a day for several months this year, a record high.

The Department of Energy also licensed two new liquefied natural gas export terminals and increased the export authorization for a third. Perry pitched U.S. natural gas to Japan and China during his trips to those countries earlier this summer.

“At DOE, we’re focusing on streamlining the process for natural gas production and exports,” Perry told reporters last month.

However, EIA reported the natural gas use for domestic power generation is down this summer compared with last year. “Higher natural gas prices relative to last summer explain part of the decrease,” EIA wrote on its website.

According to its short-term energy outlook, EIA projects coal and natural gas to be neck and neck in the United States, with each generating about 31 percent of the country’s electricity.

EIA declined to comment on what role the White House’s policies are playing in current trends in energy. “It is not EIA’s role to identify what the Administration’s energy policies are and then evaluate the effectiveness of those policies,” EIA spokesman Jonathan Cogan said in an email. “We will leave that to others.”

‘Standing joke about Energy secretaries’

Adam Sieminski, who led EIA from June 2012 until the beginning of this year, noted that while other countries have a ravenous and growing appetite for energy, the United States has been content with its consumption in recent years, even as the economy has grown.

“For electricity, the relationship between economic growth and electricity use has been diminishing since the 1990s,” said Sieminski, who is now the James R. Schlesinger chair for energy and geopolitics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Part of the reason, he explained, is that the market for power-hungry devices in the United States ranging from residential refrigerators to industrial furnaces is almost saturated. Just about everyone who wants an appliance has one, and as old units wear out, more efficient devices tend to replace them.

Electric vehicles could drive some growth in electricity demand, but they aren’t prolific enough to make a major dent yet, and most increases in power use won’t go to coal and natural gas.

“Tax credits for solar and wind are going to absorb whatever growth there is in electricity demand,” Sieminski said.

Even with the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era climate and energy policies, the prospects for more coal use in the United States are dim. “Even without the Clean Power Plan, EIA’s forecast for coal is essentially flat to down,” Sieminski said.

That doesn’t leave the secretary much room to maneuver when it comes to boosting the fossil energy sector in the United States.

While DOE has some regulatory authority for the power grid and approves natural gas exports, many of the decisions that govern domestic energy production in the United States fall to U.S. EPA and the departments of State and the Interior.

“That’s the standing joke about Energy secretaries: If you want to be involved in making energy policy, you probably don’t want the Energy secretary job,” Sieminski said. “I think that Perry is being a good secretary in the sense that he’s mirroring the policies the president campaigned and won on.”