June 3, 2013

Complex Science and Policy Challenges in U.S. Onshore and Offshore Energy

Posted by Sam Brockway

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Oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico have the capability to drill for oil over six vertical miles down. Despite the staggering advancements in science and technology, the U.S. has had to obtain continuously increasing proportions of foreign oil. This illustrates the need for innovative policy solutions along with scientific advancement. Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories

Historically, the challenges associated with energy were almost purely scientific and technological. Incredible advancements in energy for industrial, residential, and transportation uses revolutionized the U.S. standard of living, but the energy challenges have grown exponentially more complex in that time. For example, the modern-day version of oil drilling began in 1859 in the United States. For most of the following century, the U.S. produced over half of the world’s oil, until onshore abundance of domestic crude oil dwindled.

As other countries increasingly met U.S. energy needs, the topic of energy became linked to national security. After the 1973 Oil Crisis, President Richard Nixon said, “At the end of this decade, in the year 1980, the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need.” At that time, the U.S. was obtaining 36.1 percent of its oil from foreign sources. By the time President Barack Obama took office in 2009, 66.2 percent of the nation’s oil was coming from other countries.

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Nuclear power currently provides the largest source of low-carbon electricity in the United States, but it also has issues regarding storage and waste management. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy

The challenges linked to securing energy are no longer solved solely by scientific and technological feats. The engineering accomplishments in energy production have enabled the use of new sources of energy and made existing energy sources more efficient. However, the challenges facing energy procurement have grown to include: economics, energy independence, waste (e.g. CO2 emissions and nuclear waste), capacity, renewability, accessibility, among others.  These challenges require both innovative science and policy responses to ensure a stable energy future.

The AGU Science Policy Conference will feature experts addressing these challenges for both onshore and offshore energy sources on Tuesday, 25 June 2013.

The Emerging Issues in U.S. Onshore Energy session will explore the recent expansion of natural gas in the American energy portfolio, the problems and benefits of nuclear power, and other topics. Expert panelists will discuss the current energy outlook in the U.S., including: renewable energy sources, safe nuclear energy and management, and efficiency policies.

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Offshore Wind Development: The first offshore wind farms are under development in U.S. waters, while significant generation from offshore wind already contributes to electricity needs in Europe and Asia. Photo courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratories

To address offshore energy issues, the Science Needs for U.S. Offshore Energy Development session will bring experts together to discuss the scientific advancements required to develop offshore energy, and the types of resources to expect at the midpoint of this century. According to a prediction from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, renewable sources of energy are expected to supply as much as 80 percent of the U.S. energy demand by 2050. As offshore energy technologies continue to improve and become commercially viable, offshore wind turbines, tidal energy, ocean thermal energy, and other pioneering energy sources could provide a significant contribution to U.S. energy security.   

– Sam Brockway, AGU Public Affairs Intern