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The U.S. has never produced more energy than it does today

Posted on 18 March 2024 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections by Karin Kirk

U.S. energy production is going gangbusters.

Despite persistent false claims that the Biden administration is waging an “unprecedented assault” on American energy, the U.S. is producing energy at a pace never seen before and from a broad mix of sources and locations throughout the country. In fact, the data illustrates that we’re experiencing an unprecedented renaissance of American energy production and innovation.

The chart below is interactive – hover over the lines to see the details.

This graph shows primary energy production data from the Energy Information Administration. For fossil fuels, "primary energy production" is the energy content in the coal, oil, or gas that’s extracted. For nuclear and renewables, it’s the amount of electricity generated. Note that this is not the same as energy consumed; it’s simply the energy produced.

The production of oil, methane gas (commonly called “natural” gas), and renewables is growing. Nuclear power is holding fairly steady, and the only source of energy that has declined significantly is coal.

The largest sources of energy production in the U.S. are oil and gas. Extraction of these fuels began to surge around 2007 when the development of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, gave rise to the shale oil boom. Oil and gas production continues to set records, even while U.S. consumption of oil is declining and methane gas consumption is not increasing at anywhere near the rate of production. The end result is that the U.S. is exporting more of these fuels than ever.

Renewables count for more than they appear.

Renewables may look small on the graph above, but the more accurate interpretation is that fossil fuels appear much larger than the useful energy they provide. Burning fossil fuels in power plants or internal combustion engines is highly inefficient. The majority of energy in every barrel of oil and rail car of coal ends up as wasted heat. 

Renewables don’t need to transform heat into electricity, so they avoid the energy losses that are inherent in burning fuels to create electricity. The upshot is that every unit of wind, hydro, or solar will replace double or triple that amount of fossil fuels.

Energy savings are an added benefit of switching to renewables, as is illustrated in the chart below. For more details, see the accompanying story, The little-known, massive advantage that renewables hold over coal.

A graph showing how much energy is lost in burning coal.

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Comments 1 to 7:

  1. Call me an old curmudgeon but I wish we wouldn't talk about "producing" energy. The best we can do is to convert it. :-)

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  2. Well Doug, the sun doesn't rise or set, and yet every news channel reports the times for "sunrise" and "sunset". :-)

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  3. Hey guys, BOTH are true in BOTH instances. Energy is not created in the universe, rather it follows the law of conservation of energy. But the miniscule part of that energy constant that is made available for human consumption is also produced.

    As we know, the sun rising and setting on the local horizon is caused by the earth rotating in its trip around the sun. Nevertheless, the local rising and setting is a physically measurable reality that every plant and animal responds to.

    So it depends on which frame of reference box you want to put onto reality: they both work and are not mutually exclusive!

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  4. It all hinges on the meanings of words, doesn't it?

    Coal miners don't produce coal - they just dig it up and move it.

    Newspapers don't produce news, they just report on it.

    But remember: English is a language where people drive on parkways and park on driveways.

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  5. IMHO terms like producing energy and sunrise are just convenient shorthand. To accurately describe whats really happening in a full sense would get very wordy: For example "The world produced xyz quantity of energy in 2023" would become " In 2023 the world converted xyz quantity of energy from a variety of sources to thermal energy to carry out various tasks " Do we really need to do that?

    In the news hour on television "Sunrise" would become "Tomorrow the earth will rotate on its axis to expose the sun at 6.00 am". How ponderous. People know whats really meant. Nobody in todays world would take it literally and believe the sun really moves above the earth (except maybe the flat earth society, and a few indigenous tribes and they dont have television anyway).

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  6. I understand every part of the re-posted article. But it is not clear how this presentation helps increase awareness or improve understanding of the leadership (Business and Political) actions that need to become more popular to ‘produce’ the changes of attitude and action of the collective US population so that the US is clearly understood to be responsibly doing its part, and being a leader, in the undeniably essential global effort to, at least, meet the globally agreed Paris Agreement objectives.

    That said,

    I agree with wilddouglascounty #3. ‘Producing energy’ correctly applies to ‘making energy available for human consumption’.

    And, along the lines of nigelj’s point that ‘producing energy’ is understood shorthand, I offer the following detailed description: Energy production = Human actions to convert natural energy sources into 'consumable/usable energy products'.

    All that said,

    I would add that an often ‘missed, or dismissed, understanding’ is the importance of pursuing ‘sustainable energy production and consumption’. The history of action, and a lack of corrective action is an action, by misleading leaders has ‘produced’ and ‘continues to grow’ tragic consequences for the future of humanity due to the production of ‘substantial amounts of unsustainable consumption (not just energy consumption)’.

    Note that ‘consumer desires to benefit from fossil fuel use’ are the ultimate ‘product‘ pursued by fossil fuel profiteers. And recently leaders of Exxon and Saudi Aramco have blamed consumers for being ‘the problem’, not misleading leaders (undeserving wealthy, powerful and influential people).

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  7. Energy use is outside the deep expertise of climate followers. Most don't appreciate that even though USA is the largest extractor of crude oil in the world, they still need a large fraction of imported oil.  The USA only extracts <13 million barrels/day of crude oil from it's territory, yet the USA consumes 20 million/day of finished product.  Compare that to a USA wheat crop where we harvest much more than we consume.

    USA crude oil import export

    USA crude oil import export

     Note that the above is crude oil only, and other liquid fuels make up the amount to reach 20 million.

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