Senate Vies to Spur On Lagging US in Global Energy Race

WASHINGTON (CN) – With U.S. oil production on the upswing, the Senate focused Tuesday on how to do the same with minerals while also improving electric-battery technology to secure America’s role in the future energy industry.

Wind turbines are pictured near El Reno, Okla., on June 12, 2017. Oklahoma rolled out the red carpet to the growing wind industry two decades ago with the promise of generous state tax incentives and a steady stream of wind sweeping down the Central Plains. But with budget shortfalls that have persisted for several years, lawmakers have already scaled back almost all of the incentives and are now looking to impose a new production tax on the industry. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Linda Capuano, administrator for the U.S. Energy Information Administration, told lawmakers Tuesday that the United States now stands as the largest producer of crude oil in the world.

In 2018, the U.S. surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia’s export rates by churning out some 4.4 million barrels of crude per day, Capuano reported. This trend, combined with an uptick of refineries in the U.S., means America is now in position to become a major global exporter of petroleum products by the end of 2020.

“That also means a steady oil price of $73 to $74 per barrel until at least 2022,” Capuano said, addressing lawmakers with Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Capuano also touted U.S. shale and natural gas exports as exceeding import rates in 2017. In fact, exports of liquid natural gas reached an all-time high that year: 30 trillion cubic feet were exported from the U.S., and growth is expected to climb through 2020 by at least 7 percent.

On the renewable-energy front meanwhile, exports of wind and solar hit a record high production rate in 2018. These sources are on track to surpass nuclear by the end of 2019 and coal by 2025, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.

While all of this seems to bode well for the U.S. economy, Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski said Tuesday she still believes the U.S. is “heading the wrong way” by relying too heavily on nations like China, Russia, Angola and Nigeria for minerals.

Whether for cellphones or for the electric cars, solar panels or wind turbines, minerals are ubiquitous in the manufacturing of products U.S. consumers demand.

Simon Moores, managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, testified this morning that the future of renewable hinges heavily on the electric battery.

“And we’re in a global battery race which the U.S. is now only a bystander in,” Moores said.

When Moores testified before the committee last year, only 17 lithium battery supply chains were active around the world.

Today, however, he said there are 70 internationally controlled supply chains, and a million battery-powered cars sit in the global manufacturing pipeline.

International supply chain growth has also expanded for other key electric battery components besides lithium. Graphite, cobalt and nickel must also be mined and refined before distribution.

But the amount of control the U.S. has in that process currently is essentially “zero,” Moores said.

“The U.S. controls none of the mining involved with nickel, cobalt and graphite [around the world] and less than 1-percent of lithium,” Moores said.

The U.S. owns only 7 percent of all lithium chemical refineries globally, he said. By 2028, its share of all electric battery manufacturing is expected to rest at just 10 percent.

China meanwhile will have 65 percent of the world’s electric battery manufacturing capacity and ownership of 51 percent of all lithium chemical refineries globally.

“The question is: does the U.S. want a role or does the U.S. have a role in global energy storage solutions?” Moores said, later noting that some apprehension for U.S. involvement may stem from the fact that the U.S. would have to open domestic refineries – a costly and environmentally challenging endeavor.

While the future of mineral mining and distribution dominated Tuesday’s hearing, the committee heard no testimony on how such development might affect the environment.

It is unclear if any environmental experts were invited to attend Tuesday’s hearing.

A committee spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.

An Alaska Republican, Senator Murkowski led the charge last year to open the coastal plains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.

On Tuesday, development of the refuge was discussed only momentarily when Kevin Book, managing director of the investment firm ClearView Energy Partners, commended the senator for opening the vast wilderness to potential development.

“It holds one-fifth of the world’s oil reserves and is probably the fastest return with the highest probability of success,” Book said.

What is also happening quickly in the region is the rate of environmental destruction due to global warming — a process expedited by emissions from oil and gas development.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, warming has reduced sea ice in the Arctic so significantly, that at least two-thirds of the world’s polar bear population will be wiped out in 50 years.

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