American Petroleum Institute shares spotlight with renewables in its annual report

By Daniel Cusick, Scott Detrow | 01/07/2015 07:58 AM EST

The most noteworthy message from the American Petroleum Institute’s 2015 annual report isn’t its finding that the U.S. oil industry is experiencing a "petroleum renaissance" born of a drilling boom in domestic fields such as the North Dakota’s Bakken and Texas’ Eagle Ford shale formations.

Those findings, along with the United States’ near self-sufficiency in meeting domestic oil and natural gas demand, were expected from the nation’s leading fossil fuel lobbying group.

An unexpected appearance in API’s latest "State of American Energy" report was API’s gift of space to alternative and traditionally competing energy sources such as nuclear, solar, wind, hydro, biomass and geothermal energy, all of which have positioned themselves as environmentally preferred alternatives to carbon-intensive fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal.

In fact, roughly 20 pages of the 50-page document are dedicated to energy resources that have no relationship to oil and gas, with chapters titles like "Solar Energy in America Shines Bright" and "The Attributes of Wind Energy Are Adding Up."

The authors of those sections were also not from API or even independent energy analysts, but representatives of the nation’s leading renewable energy trade groups, many of which have been feisty critics of the fossil fuel industry on matters ranging from pollution to climate change to the proper use of government subsidies.

Support for ‘all of the above’

Consider the opening lines of API’s assessment of solar energy: "Few things threaten America’s future prosperity more than climate change," the report states. "But there is growing hope. Every 2.5 minutes of every single day, the U.S. solar industry is helping to fight this battle by flipping the switch on another completed solar project."

Such language may give heartburn to climate change and renewable energy skeptics — including many of the oil industry’s traditional allies. But API officials say the message is consistent with the organization’s long-held belief in an "all of the above" energy strategy that embraces both traditional fossil fuels and alternative energy resources large and small, from nuclear power to geothermal energy.

Jack Gerard, API’s president and chief executive officer, drove home the energy inclusiveness theme in his own introduction to the 2015 report.

"Energy is inseparable from America’s economic growth and job creation, upon which rests a thriving quality of life and secure future for generations to come," he said. "The constant pursuit of innovation, driven by both robust competition and entrepreneurial spirit, has enabled the United States to safely develop a spectrum of energy resources.

"With smart public policy choices and a regulatory system that supports domestic energy opportunities, the United States can realize a prosperous energy tomorrow characterized by energy abundance and economic security," he added.

‘Sharp contrast’ to earlier reports

But while API embraced a more diverse energy strategy, Gerard’s public remarks made clear that oil and gas remained at the heart of the organization’s mission. "The fact is fossil fuels will continue to take the lead in providing most of the world’s energy needs well into this century," he said in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Building on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Gerard pointed to a recent Energy Department prediction "that 25 years from now, oil, natural gas and coal, collectively, will account for 80 percent of the country’s energy consumption." And he urged federal policymakers to encourage expanded oil and natural gas production and to walk away from policies that he said are "mired in our nation’s decades-long energy scarcity past" and do not acknowledge the dramatic domestic shale boom that has upended the world’s oil and natural gas markets.

For their part, renewable energy advocates welcomed the chance to disseminate their messages in a report that is widely read by energy policymakers, industry groups, and independent experts both inside and out of Washington, D.C.

Ken Johnson, vice president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in an email that this year’s API report is the first to include such an extensive overview of solar and other non-fossil energy resources. "To its credit, API clearly recognizes the importance of renewable energy to America’s future, as well as the importance for our nation to have a balanced energy portfolio moving forward," he said.

In a blog post, the American Wind Energy Association noted that API’s 2015 "State of American Energy" report included an entire section on the growth of wind power. That stands in sharp contrast to a year ago, when API’s report "did not mention wind once," the group said.