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A Reality Check for Solar and Wind

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A Reality Check for Solar and Wind

The Wall Street Journal July 22, 2019
Energy & EnvironmentClimateTechnology / Infrastructure

All told, renewables produce a small fraction of recent years’ increased production of oil and gas.

Nearly all the Democrats running for the White House share two common talking points on energy: They loathe hydrocarbons and they love renewables. “We can and must build an economy free from fossil fuels,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has said. He also asserts the need to “break America’s oil addiction” and “invest in deploying renewable energy.”

Democratic contenders need a reality check. Despite years of federal subsidies, wind and solar are being trounced by the staggering surge in domestic oil and natural-gas production.

Occidental Petroleum recently agreed to buy Anadarko Petroleum for $38 billion largely because it coveted Anadarko’s acreage in the Permian Basin, which covers about 75,000 square miles of West Texas and eastern New Mexico. The first commercial well in the Permian, the Santa Rita No. 1, blew in near Big Lake, Texas, in 1923. Despite its long history, the Permian is now the world’s hottest energy play.

The latest Energy Information Administration data show that since early 2014 oil production in the Permian has grown to more than four million barrels a day from about 1.5 million. Gas production in the Permian has nearly tripled in the same period to about 14 billion cubic feet a day from about five billion. In terms of energy, nine billion cubic feet of gas is equivalent to 1.5 million barrels of oil. Add the oil and gas increases and since 2014 the Permian’s output has jumped by roughly four million barrels of oil equivalent a day.

Now look at solar and wind. In 2018, according to BP, all U.S. solar projects produced about 441,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day. The increase in oil and gas production from 2014 to today in the Permian alone is equal to about nine times the output of every solar project in the U.S. In 2018 domestic wind production totaled about 1.3 million barrels of oil equivalent a day. The increase in Permian oil and gas production since 2014 is equal to three times the annual output of every wind turbine in the country.

Those numbers are instructive, but that’s only the Permian. Add production from all the other shale plays—including the Haynesville, Utica and Marcellus—and total U.S. oil and gas production since 2014 has jumped by about 5.7 million barrels of oil equivalent a day. That means that over the past half-decade alone U.S. oil and gas production has increased by roughly 13 times the total output of all domestic solar projects and more than four times the total output of every wind turbine in the country.

Renewable-energy promoters never tire of touting the growing output and declining cost of solar and wind. Those claims may be true. But simple math shows that oil and gas are leaving solar and wind in the shade.

This piece originally appeared at The Wall Street Journal (paywall)

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Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the new report, “Out of Gas: New York’s Blocked Pipelines Will Hurt Northeast Consumers.” Follow him on Twitter here.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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