According to the studies and reports GAO reviewed, several major factors, including federal activities, influenced U.S. production and consumption of fossil, nuclear, and renewable energy from 2000 through 2013. Examples of these factors include the following:
- Fossil energy. Advances in drilling technologies enabled economic production of natural gas and crude oil from shale and similar geological formations. These advances led to increases in domestic production of natural gas and crude oil beginning around 2008 and contributed to declines in domestic prices of natural gas, as well as lower prices for crude oil in some regions of the United States. Some federal activities also may have influenced these trends. For example, the federal government limited oil producers’ liability associated with some oil spills, lowering the producers’ costs for liability insurance. In addition, the federal government provided tax incentives encouraging production for oil and gas producers, resulting in billions of dollars in estimated federal revenue losses. Moreover, partly because of lower natural gas prices, domestic coal production decreased in recent years as utilities switched from coal to natural gas for electricity generation.
- Nuclear energy. Declining prices for a competing energy source—natural gas—may have led to decreases in the production and consumption of nuclear energy in recent years. Federal activities may have also influenced this trend. For example, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced plans to terminate its work to license a disposal facility for certain nuclear power plant waste in 2009, creating uncertainty about how this waste would be managed. This uncertainty may have provided a disincentive for some nuclear power operators to stay in the market or expand capacity because of the cost of storing nuclear waste.
- Renewable energy. Federal tax credits for ethanol and federal policies requiring the use of ethanol in transportation fuels were major factors influencing an 8-fold increase in the production and consumption of ethanol from 2000 to 2013. In addition, state policies requiring the use of renewable energy in electricity production, as well as federal outlays and tax credits for renewable energy producers, were major factors influencing a 30-fold increase and a 19-fold increase in production and consumption of electricity from wind and solar energy, respectively, from 2000 to 2013.