Natural gas boom hasn't made US energy secure, warns IEA chief

The United States has not reached a state of energy security despite the natural gas boom that is sweeping the nation, the new head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Monday.

Maria van der Hoeven said the IEA forecasts that U.S. oil supplies will plateau in the next two decades, causing the country to rely more heavily on the Middle East for oil.

“There certainly is some good news in oil security for now, but the nature of the business means that it is imperative to look ahead,” she said. “And there we see some causes for concern.”

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Speaking at the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual conference, the new IEA chief cautioned against American policymakers leaning too heavily on the plentiful supply of natural gas as they plan for the future.

“You must be careful about the degree to which you rely on gas, because energy security really requires diversity,” van der Hoeven said. “You do not want too many of your eggs in the same basket.”

As an example, she cited this winter’s polar vortex, when extreme cold temperatures increased the demand of natural gas for heating. Without a diversity of energy sources, there would have been no gas for electricity. But other sources, such as coal, nuclear and wind, stepped in to help.

The Paris-based IEA was founded in 1974 to coordinate international oil reserves amid an energy crisis, back when ensuring oil supplies immediately was a top international priority.

Van der Hoeven, a former minister of economic affairs for the Netherlands, said America should focus on long-term supplies, source diversity and environmental sustainability to make the country more secure.

“Energy security is about much more than supply, and it’s about more than the here and now,” she said.

Van der Hoeven encouraged more action to fight climate change, saying that beyond harming the environment, it threatens power generation sources that rely on water for cooling or infrastructure that could be harmed by extreme weather.

“Action must be taken now to stop making things worse ... in terms of [greenhouse gas] emissions and to build up the resilience of the energy system to limit the impact and costs of climate change,” she said.

The IEA takes all of these factors into account when judging international energy security, van der Hoeven said, and members of the organization, including the United States, should as well.

“The United States is in an enviable position today, given your oil and gas situation ... but our energy is not as secure as we sometimes may think” she said.

“It’s in times of abundance that we must challenge ourselves to think differently and tackle the tough questions that are on the energy horizon.”

— This story was updated at 3:33 p.m. 

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