The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has released its Annual Energy Outlook for 2018. This report includes projections for U.S. energy markets from now all the way out through 2050, and it keeps a reference case and a number of sensitivity cases. While there is some good news and bad news throughout the report for each sector within energy, the EIA is making projections for energy imports and exports, oil and gas, coal, alternative energy and more.
It is important to keep in mind that the so-called reference case incorporates only existing laws and policies and the EIA notes that it is not intended to be a prediction of the future.
For the 2018 reference case, the EIA sees continued development of U.S. shale and tight oil and natural gas resources as being paired with modest energy consumption growth. The agency’s view is that the United States will move in the coming years from being a net energy importer to a net energy exporter by 2022.
The EIA’s reference case projects that energy consumption will grow about 0.4% per year on average from 2017 to 2050. That is actually less than the expected population growth rate of 0.6% per year. The EIA also calls for a real gross domestic product growth to average 2.0% through 2050 in its reference case.
While coal has a role, the EIA sees expanded use of natural gas and renewables after 2022 for all new electric projects. It further sees liquids and natural gas production growing for decades. The EIA report said:
Almost all new electricity generation capacity is fueled by natural gas and renewables after 2022 in the Reference case. Natural gas prices are projected to remain lower than $5 per million British thermal units until the very end of the projection period. The costs associated with adding new renewable electricity generation capacity are expected to continue declining, especially for solar photovoltaic systems.
Production of liquids and natural gas continues to grow for decades. In the reference case, production of shale gas resources is projected to increase through 2050. U.S. liquids production (mostly crude oil and petroleum products) begins to decline toward the end of the projection period as less productive areas are developed.
Could 2018 be a record production year for big oil? The EIA’s reference case showed that U.S. crude oil production in 2018 should surpass the record of 9.6 million barrels per day (back in 1970) and will continue to grow as upstream producers increase output because of the combined effects of rising prices and production cost reductions. And natural gas plant liquids production is expected to nearly double between 2017 and 2050 with an increase in global petrochemical industry demand.
And as far as alternative cases for the price of gasoline at the pump in the years ahead, the EIA said:
Motor gasoline retail prices in 2050 range from $5.95 per gallon in the High Oil Price case to $2.41 per gallon in the Low Oil Price case. Diesel fuel retail prices range from $7.02 per gallon in the High Oil Price case to $2.56 per gallon in the Low Oil Price case in 2050.
There are multiple ways that the EIA outlook can be taken. If you just take the reference case as the one for the path we are on right now, the long and short of the matter is higher oil output ahead, higher natural gas and renewables for energy, higher energy exports and somehow coal managing to still exist for decades.