U.S. must continue global political role despite energy revolution: official

MONTREAL – Washington must continue to support peace in the Middle East despite an energy revolution that is decreasing its reliance on foreign oil, a U.S. government official said Tuesday.

Carlos Pascual, a State Department official with the Bureau of Energy Resources, said the move towards self-sufficiency won’t eliminate America’s efforts to maintain global political stability.

“It is fundamentally in our self-interest to ensure that peace and stability throughout the world is maintained,” he told the Conference of Montreal.

Oil and natural gas prices are affected by instability that can hamper economic growth. But Washington’s relationship with its traditional energy suppliers is changing as imports slip — less than 40 per cent of consumption last year compared with 60 per cent in 2005.

Driven by the extraction of shale gas, U.S. natural gas production accounts for about one-third of all domestic energy production and is expected to reach 50 per cent in the future.

Meanwhile, the decrease in U.S. energy imports is being accompanied by a growth in demand in developing countries.

For the first time in history, most of the world’s energy is consumed outside of the OECD countries, largely driven by growth in China and India.

Pascual said global oil and gas prices will increasingly be tied to the ability of these countries to satisfy their demand.

“They are going to be the price pull factor that affects global prices, that affects the prices that we pay at home and our economic growth,” he told the economic conference.

The International Energy Agency estimates that $17 trillion of power investments will be made through 2035, including $10 trillion in generation and $6 trillion in renewable energy.

However, the use of fossil fuel is expected to dip only slightly to 75 per cent from the 80 per cent level of 2010. The use of natural gas and renewable are forecast to increase, but oil and coal will remain the most-used fuels.

Pascual said the West has an ability to help shape the demand for renewable energy and energy efficiency by developing financial vehicles to support this growth.

“Quite frankly, this is a business opportunity in green energy that is fundamental for the survival of the planet.”

IAE executive director Maria van der Hoeven said the energy world has changed since the oil crises of the 1970s.

That was a simpler era when energy policy wasn’t affected by considerations of climate change or the growing role of shale gas and renewables, she said.

Now the developing countries are “in the driver’s seat” as oil trading patterns shift east. A shift to U.S. energy exports will also affect energy dynamics for Europeans.

“It’s not difficult to imagine how all these changes will reshape the geopolitics of energy in the coming decades,” she told the conference.

Van der Hoeven said the change in energy landscape means that energy policies can’t be set in stone or set according to old political norms.

“International energy governance cannot be dominated by the energy balances of the 70s, and that’s to say neither by producers and consumers nor by such simplistic definitions of interests.”

Nelson Strobridge (Strobe) Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution, said that supporting sustainable development is global imperative, noting that urbanization is increasing the use of power and the emission of greenhouse gases.

For the first time in a couple of million years, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have surpassed 400 parts per million, a dangerous threshold, he said.

Talbott said the U.S. has failed at the federal level to come to grips with climate change because of gridlock in the legislative process in putting a price on carbon.