The US could become a net energy exporter by next year as oil and gas production expands, according to new projections from the Energy Information Administration.
America is becoming increasingly reliant on natural gas – a fossil fuel that contributes to climate change but less so than coal. Solar power will grow rapidly too. Both will replace nuclear and coal power plants that are more expensive.
But the rapid shift toward natural gas and a slow-down in weaning off coal will put the US far behind the global climate change goals scientists say are necessary to avoid the worst impacts of rising temperatures.
EIA data projects that by 2050, carbon dioxide levels from energy use will decline only about 2.5 percent, starting at 5,147m metric tons in 2017 and ending at 5,019 in 2050.
While previous presentations from the government agency have highlighted the outlook for greenhouse gases, this year’s did not. An official instead provided the figures via email. Trump administration officials have frequently downplayed and disregarded climate risks, although the EIA typically stays out of politics.
The country has imported more energy than it has exported since 1953, EIA said. Donald Trump’s administration has pursued an agenda of what it calls “energy dominance”, while also rolling back climate rules. EIA administrator Linda Capuano noted that “being a net exporter does not mean the United States is independent of international trade”.
In addition to using more natural gas, the US could eventually stop making gains in phasing out coal.
Declines in coal use could stabilize, leaving the most competitive plants online and able to run more. The amount of coal mined in America is also likely to decrease through 2035 and then hold steady.
Industry energy use and emissions are projected to surge, while transportation’s carbon footprint could decline.
Colette Honorable, a former member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and senior fellow with the Bipartisan Policy Center, said the numbers tell a positive story.
“We are absolutely moving in the right direction,” she said, adding that “we absolutely have more work to do”.
The growth in oil and gas drilling is not necessarily a result of Donald Trump’s efforts to open up new areas to production, according to the report.
Government analysts said they still see most of the increase happening in the Permian Basin, which is in west Texas and south-eastern New Mexico. They don’t yet expect major changes from bids to open up drilling offshore on the east coast or in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
EIA only includes finalized policies in its assessments, meaning it did not consider a range of Trump proposals meant to bolster oil and gas and coal.