Policy: Environment & Energy

US nearing energy self-sufficiency, International Energy Agency says

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Climate Change,PennAve,Energy and Environment,Fracking,Zack Colman

The U.S. shale boom is pushing the nation toward energy self-sufficiency by 2035, the International Energy Agency said Tuesday.

High oil prices that have made it economical to use unconventional drilling methods, such as hydraulic fracturing, have facilitated oil and gas production in North America, the IEA noted in its World Energy Outlook report.

That trend should continue through 2035, the report said, but it noted that no country will match the "level of success" with unconventional oil that "is making the United States the largest global oil producer."

"Technology and high prices are unlocking new supplies of oil — but of course also gas — that were previously thought to be out of reach," IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said at the report's release in London.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial drilling method that injects a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into tight rock formations to tap hydrocarbons buried deep underneath. It is credited with sparking the North American energy boom, but has brought concerns about water pollution.

Fracking has edged out the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries on the global market, which will continue to see a decline through the end of the decade, the report said.

But that won't last for long, as the IEA said the largely Middle Eastern oil cartel is due for a rebound beyond 2020 to complement increased production from North America and Brazil.

The report said the fracking-led growth in North American energy is needed to meet increased global energy demand, the IEA said. Growth in emerging economies is expected to drive global energy demand upward by one-third between 2011 and 2035.

But that also could have disastrous results for the climate, the IEA said — the report projects a global temperature increase of 3.6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, far above the 2-degree Celsius rise nations are hoping to avoid.

"As the IEA has said many times, greenhouse gas emissions — two-thirds of which come from the energy sector — are still on a dangerous course," she said.

The report come as more than 190 nations are meeting in Warsaw, Poland, for international climate talks.

Negotiators there are trying set a roadmap for a larger plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions enough to prevent a 2 C global temperature rise by the end of the century.

Van der Hoeven warned, "If we stay on the current path, we will not come close" to that goal.

But although energy demand and production is rising, the IEA expects fossil fuels to contribute less to the world energy mix.

In 2035, fossil fuels will account for 76 percent of energy, compared with 82 percent in 2011, the report said.

Renewable and nuclear power will fill that gap, the IEA said, which projects a 40 percent increase for those energy sources during that period. Energy efficiency also will need to play a role, the report said.

"Major changes are emerging in the energy world in response to shifts in economic growth, efforts at decarbonization and technological breakthroughs," van der Hoeven said.

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