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Asia-Montana Energy Summit

Security was tight Wednesday as the Asia-Montana Energy Summit kicked off at the University of Montana. Officials from China, Japan, Korea, Canada and the U.S., including several governors and the commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, were in attendance.

The nation’s energy future is strong, with oil and natural gas production driving the country closer to becoming a net exporter of energy, the commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said Wednesday.

Commissioner Norman Bay said the U.S. has ramped up its oil and gas production while slowing domestic demand for petroleum.

Growth of the nation’s electrical consumption has also slowed to 1 percent a year, and coal is playing a smaller role in U.S. power generation.

“In 2009, all that natural gas flooded the market and the share of electricity generated from coal dropped from 50 percent to 45 percent,” Bay said. “Over time, the share of generation by natural gas continues to increase and electricity generated from coal continues to decrease. It’s primarily driven by market forces.”

Under tight security, Bay joined Adam Sieminski, administrator with the U.S. Energy Information Administration, to kick off the Asia-Montana Energy Summit at the University of Montana.

Hosted by the Mansfield Center, the two-day conference brings together energy experts and political leaders from five nations to explore the world’s energy needs, including market trends that will likely guide the growth or demise of certain sectors, including fossil fuels and renewable energy.

Bay said growth in the renewable sector has already wedged its way into the nation’s energy chart. In 2001, the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources was a scant 2 percent. It has since grown to represent 7 percent of all electricity generated in the U.S., and it continues to increase.

In comparison, Bay said, electricity generated from nuclear power remains steady at 19 percent, while hydro remains unchanged, accounting for roughly 7 percent of all U.S. power generation.

“Currently, about one-third of electricity in the U.S. is produced by means that produce no carbon,” said Bay. “An increasing amount of electricity is produced using natural gas, or about 27 percent in 2014.”

Delegates from China, Japan and Korea also were in attendance Wednesday to explore the Asian impact on global energy markets, energy security and environmental concerns.

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Predictions for America’s own energy future were explored against a backdrop of scenarios, including the increasing demand in other countries and a drop in domestic needs, thanks to fuel-efficient cars and energy-efficient lighting, appliances and construction habits.

“The U.S. has a really good chance of becoming a net energy exporter sometime before the year 2030,” said Sieminski. “A lot of the heavy lifting will be done in the next decade. I think the U.S. will become a net exporter sometime in the early 2020s.”

Citing different reference cases, Sieminski said the nation will likely become a net exporter of natural gas by 2017, both in the form of liquefied natural gas and pipeline exports to Mexico.

Better efficiency in cars and home appliances may also help stabilize carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.

“U.S. carbon emissions related to energy will never exceed levels reached in 2005, 2006 or 2007,” Sieminski said. “Renewables and coal could have a very different outcome with the EPA’s Clean Power Rule that’s under consideration right now.”

Both Sieminski and Bay touched on the recent crash in oil prices, which saw the price of West Texas crude fall from its peak of $140 a barrel to less than $50 a barrel in January.

They also agreed that natural gas production will remain strong. In 2005, the U.S. produced roughly 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per day. By 2014, it had jumped to 24 trillion cubic feet.

“We think the resource base in natural gas is significant enough that the U.S. can keep producing it,” said Sieminski. “Finding ways to use that is very important. A lot is going to go into electric utilities and a lot to the industrial sector.”

Continued growth in both oil and gas production may also depend on the nation’s evolving network of pipelines, Bay said.

“In the U.S., the pipeline network reflects historical production patterns,” said Bay. “The thing that’s shifting now, with production in the Bakken and other areas, you’re getting some development of pipeline infrastructure there as well.”

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