The Funny Math in the GOP’s Energy Agenda

Yves here. One of the new forms of political handicapping is forecasting which policies newly-ascendant Republicans will put in the forefront and how likely they are to make meaningful progress with them. Corporate taxes are clearly high on their wish list, and one where corporate Democrats will be keen to pretend to be forced to capitulate go along. Another is their energy agenda, which is basically, “let no environmental protection stand in the way of more extraction.”

Now having said that, the Obama position really wasn’t as different as Democratic party loyalists would have you believe. Obama was clearly all in for fracking, and as Gaius Publius set forth in a series of posts, clearly cooked the greenhouse gas emission figures by excluding methane, the most potent greenhouse gas. But even the awfully energy friendly Administration wasn’t as aggressive as the Republicans will prove to be.

By Colin Chilcoat, a writer for Originally published at OilPrice

In a clear understatement, particularly with regard to the direction of energy policy, President Obama remarked: “Obviously, Republicans had a good night.” The GOP reclaimed control of the Senate and pushed their House majority to its largest margin since 1930 following Tuesday’s Midterm elections. A more unified Capitol Hill is now poised to address its long-suppressed energy agenda. Although touted as having long-term positive impact in the areas of energy independence and national economy among others, the GOP’s agenda falls short on its claims.

It’s no secret that Republicans will look to strike quickly on the Keystone XL Pipeline Project. Phases one through three are complete and the pipeline already stretches from Hardisty, Alberta to Port Arthur, Texas. The controversial fourth and final phase will nearly double the initial capacity and will connect the oil sands in Alberta with North Dakota’s own rich reserves en route to Steele City, Nebraska. Political will has largely misshapen the debate, however. Producers have long given up waiting and oil is finding its – more carbon intensive – way to American refiners via barge and train. Oil sands production in Canada appears ready to grow with or without President Obama’s approval, but simple math debunks claims that the pipeline is the path toward North American energy independence. Current combined oil production in Canada and the United States is 15.6 million barrels per day (mmbpd). Combined consumption is 20.8 mmbpd, leaving a deficit of roughly 5 mmbpd that must be sourced externally.

Despite its prominence on the Republican agenda, the Keystone XL is little more than a stepping-stone to larger issues for the newly empowered GOP. Energy exports, coal, and EPA regulations will highlight the docket.

The case for energy exports will gain momentum as Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski assumes leadership of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Murkowski brings to her new role vocal support for oil and gas exports in addition to onshore and offshore drilling in Alaska. Murkowski and the GOP argue that lifting the ban on oil exports will contribute to an increase in oil production, economic growth, and lower gasoline prices. Similar arguments are made for liquefied natural gas exports (LNG), which provide the added geopolitical bonus of easing European dependence on Russian piped gas. The net numbers do not change however, and our production to consumption deficit ensures that any exports must be compensated by corresponding imports. Regarding LNG, the math again doesn’t add up.

– Natural gas futures prices for the end of the year currently sit at $4.43 per 1,000 cubic feet. Liquefaction, regasification, and transportation (to Asia) bump the cost to ~$13.00 per 1,000 cubic feet. Last week, Asian spot LNG prices dropped to $13, down from $15 in late September. Moreover, looming market oversaturation won’t improve the razor thin margins.

Natural gas exports make sense if the endgame is not the Asian market, but instead resuscitating an increasingly marginalized coal industry. Kentucky Senator – and soon to be Senate Majority leader – Mitch McConnell is fighting for just that. Coal has recently taken a back door to more competitive natural gas and renewables. Sustained low natural gas prices, an influx of gas-fired power plants, and a global coal supply glut threaten coal’s bottom line for the foreseeable future.


Coal and gas shares in power generation, Source: IEA & EIA

Finding the right balance in gas to coal competition is only half the battle and the GOP also has its sights set on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In June, Obama and the EPA proposed a strict Clean Power Plan. The plan intends to cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 – coal-fired power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Republican Representatives and Senators have been quick to mobilize and put forward their own legislation aimed at complicating the EPA’s regulatory regime. What’s more, adamant climate change denier Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe is set to become chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Inhofe and the GOP Senate will likely double up on their efforts to slash funding for the EPA and United Nations climate programs.


Source: EIA

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    1. Vatch

      As long as the world’s population is so large (currently 7.2 billion people), there will be a huge demand for both dirty energy sources and clean energy sources. When one group of people switches to a clean energy source, the dirty energy that they previously used doesn’t become dormant, because there are always billions of other people who are desperate for sources of energy. If we are serious about converting to clean energy, we must also be very serious about population reduction.

      Usual disclaimer: population reduction must only be achieved by reducing the birth rate, and never by increasing the death rate.

      1. optimader

        “reducing the birth rate, and never by increasing the death rate.”
        with the caveat that the death rate will increase with an aging population. Go long on crematorium industry futures.

  1. susan the other

    If we cut way back on our use of gas and oil, the production of it will fall. That is, if all of us desperate-for-energy people simply stopped using it.

  2. Gfrance

    Since the US/Canada production is far short of supplying all the domestic demand, no exports should be allowed until all domestic demand is met. Otherwise the price of domestic energy will increase proportional to percent of exports below the domestic demand resulting in higher natural gas and gasoline prices for the citizenry.

  3. MRW

    Methane doesn’t absorb radiated heat in the radiation band that earth emits its radiated heat in. Methane only absorbs when the temps reach 203F, 228F, 246F, and 1073F high up in the atmosphere starting in the stratosphere and extending through the mesosphere to the thermosphere; each temp is expressed in microns. See the infrared tables and Wien’s law. Methane is not a greenhouse issue in our atmosphere.

    Last year Dr. Gavin Schmidt of NASA-GISS dispelled Dr. Peter Wathams’s methane concern as an “implausible scenario.” The Washington Post published Methane mischief: misleading commentary published in Nature on July 25, 2013, and in the same article noted Nature Magazine’s claim that the scenario is “virtually impossible,” and that “Catastrophic, widespread dissociation of methane gas hydrates will not be triggered by continued climate warming…over timescales of a few hundred years.”

    1. bmeisen

      i think the science is pretty well known here – in 2013 ipcc updated its 2001 figures for menthane including its absorption of radiated heat. its global warming potential over 20 years is 86 times greater than CO2. It is according to ipcc a greenhouse gas and the surge scenario and its 60 trillion figure for damages stands.

  4. Erick Borling

    Huh. If that’s an accurate representation of the science, then I’m baffled as to why the EPA and atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass consider methane a greenhouse gas. From the EPA link above, they wrote that Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide (CO2), but CH4 (methane) is more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 on climate change is over 20 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.

    1. MRW

      Methane is a greenhouse gas. But it doesn’t absorb in our immediate atmosphere. Just because there are greenhouse gases banging around in our atmosphere, it does not mean they are acting at that moment as the greenhouse effect.

      Radiation heat transfer is the driving force for global warming. It is the Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR), or radiated heat that the earth emits. This measurement depends on absolute temperatures measured in degrees Kelvin. Each element absorbs that radiation at a different temperature in the infrared, and is then said to absorb at a certain wavelength which are translated into micrometers (microns) for our purposes.

      The earth emits radiation in the 220K to 320K temperature band (at the presumed 288 K earth surface temperature, maybe 287 K, the calculated Black Body spectral radiance peak is at 10.1 microns, on the spectral radiance per micron wavelength).
      • If you divide 320 into the constant 2897 (Wien’s Law) you get 9.05 microns, which is where the earth surface starts emitting its radiated heat. 320K = 46.85C = 116.33F.
      • If you divide 220 into the constant 2897 (Wien’s Law) you get 13.168 microns, which is where the earth surface stops emitting its radiated heat in the N-band. 220K = -53.15C = -63.67F.

      The greenhouse gas that proliferates within this 220K-320K range is water vapor (and clouds), even though it is a poor radiation absorber, its latent heat uses evaporation and convection to carry that heat to the troposphere.

      CO2 absorbs at 15 microns. That’s 193.1K…or -112.09F. CO2 actually kicks in around 13 microns and goes away at 18 microns, but 15 is where is is opaque. CO2 does its duty at the top of the troposphere before it releases heat to space.

      Methane gas absorption bands are well outside this. Divide the methane temps I gave above into 2897, and it will give you the microns where they absorb.

      1. MRW

        Actually, you can’t do the latter with the F temps I gave. You have to change them to Kelvin first. Sorry about that.

    2. Synapsid


      Methane absorbs within the same range of wavelengths as CO2 does, with peaks in parts of that range where CO2 absorbs little; it supplements absorption from CO2. It also has absorption peaks at wavelengths where water vapor absorbs. All three are greenhouse gases all the time, with water vapor dominant because there’s so much of it.

      What MRW is talking about, I have no idea. Nor would any physicist.

      1. MRW

        No, it doesn’t. Methane does not absorb in the same bands as CO2. Even Wikipedia gets it right. Scroll down to the Methane Infrared Spectrum chart.

        Or this: “Handbook of Infrared Astronomy (Cambridge Observing Handbooks for Research Astronomers)”
        Glass, I. S., Brand: Cambridge University Press

        Methane (CH4) has narrow absorption bands at 3.3 microns (877.87K) and 7.5 microns (386.26K), and a couple of others you can calculate on your own.

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