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U.S. Energy Independence Not Achievable Before 2030, Survey Finds

U.S. energy independence won't be achievable until at least 2030, even with a renewed focus on domestic energy resources, energy infrastructure and unconventionals, according to more than two-thirds of the energy executives responding to a new survey conducted by KPMG Global Energy Institute (GEI).

The 10th annual survey of global energy companies polled 225 financial executives in late April. About one-quarter of those responding also think Brent crude oil prices for 2012 haven't peaked at $112/bbl; 43% expect prices to exceed $141/bbl.

"Energy leaders tells us continued volatility will be driven by underlying issues such as economic uncertainty, geopolitical risk, rising operational costs and regulatory concerns," said KPMG Global Energy Institute Executive Director John Kunasek. "In fact, 40% of executives say the single most important energy issue facing the United States is the need for a sound and long-term energy policy."

The perceived lack of a national energy policy could be a driver to executives' thoughts on the reality of U.S. energy independence, according to KPMG. When asked when they think the United States may attain energy independence, 27% said never, 21% said 2040 or beyond, and 18% said by 2030. "Interestingly, 12% deem it possible by 2020 while the remaining 22% think by 2025."

Most of the executives surveyed agreed that developing shale gas and oil reserves would have a significant effect on global energy needs over the next three years. In addition, almost half (49%) thought that shale, which accounted for only 20% of total natural gas production in 2010, would become the dominant source for natural gas in the United States by 2020. Another 22% believe shale would be the primary source for natural gas by 2025.

"Increased production of shale gas in North America could have profound implications on the global energy sector," KPMG U.S. oil and gas sector leader Regina Mayor. "Companies will continue to invest heavily in shale assets, as the industry has only just scratched the surface in the development and resulting production resulting from these assets."

More than three-quarters (78%) of the executives said they believed the industry's emphasis in developing environmentally friendly technologies for natural gas. Almost two-thirds (61%) said shale gas/oil (61%) was the alternative energy source that would win the most significant research and development (R&D) investment over the next three years -- up from 44% who selected shale in KPMG's 2011 survey. Executives surveyed admitted that the environmental concerns around hydraulic fracturing eventually could have an upward pressure on natural gas prices.

Global investment in renewable energy projects last year exceeded investment in fossil fuel power projects for the first time, KPMG noted. However, despite the bullish outlook for shale projects, KPMG's latest survey found that only 19% of executives expect R&D investment in alternative energy sources to increase this year, well below the 35% from last year's survey.

Additionally, 61% thought renewable energy investment would begin to decline as governmental subsidy programs became more difficult to reconcile with budget shortfalls, and as other cheaper energy sources such as shale gas become more prevalent.

"This data does not mark the beginning of declining investment in renewables," said Kunasek. "It suggests that executives are fully aware of the ramifications of the upcoming U.S. presidential election and also the understanding that 2011 saw historic investment levels in assets that must now be developed and monetized. We will still see significant investment from the industry going forward, but perhaps at flat levels."

In addition to plans for shale investment, executives also cited solar (22%), wind (21%), clean coal technologies (16%), and biofuels (14%) as alternative energy sources that would see increased R&D investment over the next three years.

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