Saturday, September 15, 2012

Obama on Energy

It is surprising to me just how little Obama has bragged about his accomplishments on Energy. His administration has been almost without qualification a success on energy policy.

Let us start with the Drill Baby Drill crowd. This is the crowd which should be the most happy with Obama. He has stunningly stopped a several decade long decline in oil production. From 1985 on domestic oil production dropped just about every single year. This includes dropping every single year of the Bush administration. Oil production under Bush dropped from 2,130,707 thousand barrels in 2000 to 1,830,136 thousand barrels in 2008. Then, much to my shock, domestic oil production increased in 2009, then in 2010, then in 2011, and it looks to be on track to do so again in 2012. By 2011 production was up to 2,065,172 barrels, undoing two thirds of the drop which occurred over the Bush administration.

For the big picture, here is oil production throughout most of our history(click on it for a full size image). The rise in the last few years is small, but it is the first significant rise in my lifetime:
Natural gas may be an even bigger success of the Obama administration. Natural gas production has risen quite a bit since Obama entered office. Unlike oil though, natural gas does not trade on a world market. So the savings get passed on to consumers. Here is a graph of natural gas prices. Prices reached their peak in the last year of the Bush administration and have been steady at about half that price for all of the Obama administration:

With the failure of Yucca mountain and all of the drama relating to Fukushima the picture on nuclear power is more mixed. Still, the most important thing for nuclear is to build new reactors. As long as 1970s era nuclear reactors are forced to compete with newer power plants it is hard to see a future for nuclear. If we can just continue to build a few reactors a decade than if natural gas prices ever peak again or renewables fail to live up to expectations a real nuclear renaissance can occur. On this front, it finally looks like we will get some new reactors. The Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Georgia is actually being built!

One thing I never liked about the Bush administration was its focus on Hydrogen powered cars. There was never a good idea about where all the hydrogen would come from, and the technology has unsurprisingly languished. However electric cars do hold some real promise. Sure, the leaf would only suffice as a sole vehicle for someone who almost never drives, but the Volt is actually a real practical car as is the plug in Prius. If over the next decade the price of gasoline slowly rises to twenty or thirty dollars a gallon, we finally have an option which keeps civilization going. Since Obama saved GM he can reasonably take credit for the Volt, although I doubt he will until the bugs get worked out of this new technology.

On the renewables front, wind power is actually starting to produce useful amounts of power. Here is the graph of wind production, throughout the Obama administration it has been being installed like crazy:

Solar production follows much the same trajectory but unlike Wind is still producing negligable amounts of electricity.

Another Bush boondoggle was Ethanol. It just was a clever farm subsidy. Unfortunately Obama has not managed to kill it. Fortunately he did manage to stop growth in the industry with 2011 having the smallest increase in production in a decade or so

A clever Republican might, quite rightly, point out that a few of these things were just the completion of ground work completed during the Bush administration. They would be right. However if Obama gets crap for economic failures which started in the Bush administration he certainly should get credit for the things that went right.


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