Energy security is a favorite talking point around Washington. It's used by proponents of clean energy just about as often as its espoused by supporters of offshore drilling or traditional energy sources like coal. The problem is, it's too often discussed only in the abstract. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce seems to have come up with a solution to that.
Today, the chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy released its second annual Index of Energy Security Risk, which uses government data to quantify just where America stands on energy security. Weighing 37 different metrics over four separate categories—geopolitical, economic, reliability, and environmental—the U.S. risk index for 2010 was placed at 98, the fourth-highest energy security risk score since 1970, which is as far back as the open-scale index goes. According to the report, the risk, which is chiefly due to higher energy prices, is expected to remain very high over the next 25 years. "The message I think this sends to policy makers is that we've got to get more serious about getting a vibrant and viable domestic energy policy, and that the time to do it is not today, but yesterday," says Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy. "The time to do that is now."
Harbert told reporters Thursday that the high score is partly a result of higher energy prices and higher price volatility, particularly for crude oil, and also due to reduced domestic energy production. While this risk is expected to dip, averaging 94 on the scale (which uses data from 1980 as the 100-point baseline) through 2035, that's still considered high, she says.
Despite the somber overall forecast, there's some good news. For one, the chamber expects price volatility to decrease in coming years compared to 2010. Also, according to the report, the emergence of shale gas should lead to "greater domestic and global supplies and lower gas imports" and lower the costs of electricity production and residential heating, among other uses. Harbert also says new technologies, like horizontal drilling and fracking, and continued investment in energy research and development, could help lower risk.
The Chamber of Commerce hopes the index will help the industry and government to gauge the effect of both new policies and those of the past, such as taxes on the industry or investments in science education. "We use this model and this risk index to understand policy alternatives, measure their impact on energy security, so we can have well-informed and fact-based policy options on the table," says Harbert. "It is the first and still the only comprehensive source of energy data that really can tell a compelling story about what is happening and what is not happening to address our energy security risk."