Editor’s Choice: Five Important U.S. Energy Stories Of 2012

The presidential and congressional elections dominated the American news cycle in 2012. And although climate change took a backseat during the campaign, energy played a surprisingly prominent role.

The news cycle was dominated by energy: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made fossil fuel extraction his number one priority; fossil fuel interests spent hundreds of millions of dollars to promote oil, coal, and gas during the election; and President Obama busily defended his promotion of renewable energy after getting attacked by the fossil fuel lobby.

Looking back at 2012, here are some of the most important energy stories of the year:

AP Fact Check: In 36 Years Of Data, No Evidence That Drilling Reduces Gasoline Prices

In March, the Associated Press analyzed more than 30 years of gas price and domestic drilling data. It found absolutely no correlation between increased domestic drilling and lower prices for consumers. Why? Because oil is a global market and U.S. production represents a small portion of global demand.

This was a particularly important story in 2012. Throughout the election season, the fossil fuel lobby and proponents of “drill-baby-drill” pushed a plan for unchecked fossil fuel development, falsely claiming it would lower gas prices. Experience proved otherwise. Even though the U.S. is producing more oil than at any point since the mid 1990’s, gas prices have remained “stubbornly high.

Big Polluters Spend $270 Million In Final Months Of 2012 Elections

Fossil fuel interests spent unprecedented amounts of money this election season. In the last two months of the campaign, groups promoting fossil fuels spent $270 million on television ads to influence the presidential, House, and Senate races. From April to November, these groups spent $265.9 million on the presidential campaign alone, according to a Center for American Progress Action Fund analysis.

But the lavish spending didn’t work. Despite spending record amounts of money, polluter groups failed to change the presidency, failed to change the balance of power in Congress, and failed to give Republicans the important coal states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Environmental Groups Celebrate A Political Victory: ‘Knock, Baby, Knock’ Beat ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’

Judging by pure spending, the 2012 election wasn’t looking good for environmentalists. Polluter groups outspent environmental groups 4-1, making it seem like the momentum was on their side. But the results showed otherwise: Four out of the “flat earth five” climate deniers in the House lost their races; Seven of eight Senate candidates supported by environmental groups won their races, thus preventing Republicans from taking the Senate and cutting off the drumbeat of anti-environmental legislation in the House; 11 of the 12 “Climate Heroes” promoted by environmentalists won their races; and the President kept his job.

While gridlock will likely define Obama’s second term, environmental advocates said the 2012 elections proved their strength: “We went head to head with the likes of Crossroads and Karl Rove,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife, after the elections.

Shell’s Woes In The Arctic Underscore Challenges In The Region

The Arctic is shedding ice at an alarming rate due to global warming. The response? Oil companies want to use the opportunity to look for more offshore oil and gas that will only accelerate warming. In 2012, Shell became the first company to drill exploratory wells in U.S. Arctic waters, raising concerns about the local and global environmental impact. (For more on this, check out the great documentary produced by the Center for American Progress oceans team).

Shell’s troubles throughout the year proved just how tough it is to drill in the region. From crushing its oil containment unit “like a beer can” to losing control of its drilling rig, the company faced numerous challenges. And major organizations responded. In April, insurance giant Lloyd’s of London warned that responding to an oil spill in a region that is “highly sensitive to damage” would present “multiple obstacles, which together constitute a unique and hard-to-manage risk“; German bank WestLB announced it would not finance offshore oil or gas drilling in the Arctic, saying the “risks and costs are simply too high”; and Total SA, the fourth largest publicly traded oil and gas company in the world, said drilling in the region could be a “disaster.”

Renewable Electricity Nearly Doubles Under Obama

President Obama was attacked hard in 2012 for his promotion of renewable energy, green jobs, and environmental regulations. Many opponents claimed that stimulus investments in renewables didn’t work. But the figures told otherwise.

According to figures from the Energy Information Administration, non-hydro renewable electricity generation has nearly doubled since Obama took office, reaching 5.75 percent of net electricity. In 2008, before Obama entered the White House, non-hydro resources like solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass represented just over 3 percent of generation. While political uncertainty has made 2013 prospects for renewables uncertain, the U.S. has still maintained a strong role in the global market. Since 2004, one trillion dollars have been invested in the global clean energy sector, with a large portion of that coming from the American private and public sectors.

This is just a small selection of the many important stories throughout the year. Tell us what your top energy stories are below.

13 Responses to Editor’s Choice: Five Important U.S. Energy Stories Of 2012

  1. wili says:

    From the last paragraph:

    “non-hydro renewable electricity generation has nearly doubled since Obama took office”

    How many such doublings would we need to get to or near the point when renewables could completely replace fossil fuels at current US usage rates?

    How about at about half of current US energy usage rates (that is at European rates, more or less)?

    How about at one quarter of current US energy usage rate (about equal to Latin American usage rate–recall that most Latin American countries show higher rates of reported life satisfaction than the US)?

    How about if we were called on to sacrifice for our children’s future (rather than sacrificing our children, which is what we are doing now) and cut back further than the Latin American level to one eighth of our current usage or less?

    (Recall that Britain cut back on domestic petrol use by 95%, so there is precedent for this level of cut back if the threat is properly recognized.)

    What if we started to see CC as the existential threat that is really is, more so than any war we have ever fought, and commandeer auto and other factories toward creating and installing wind turbines, solar panels, insulation…?

    Four years could bring us a long way toward being truly energy independent–including independent of fossil fuels–better termed ‘death fuels.’

  2. fj says:

    German and Chinese clean energy juggernauts are pretty exciting as well as one-half billion Chinese cyclists still using carbon zero transport, unfortunately not mentioned on Climate Progess; and, Bloomberg’s “It’s The Climate Stupid!” headline endorsing Obama . . .

  3. fj says:

    NYTimes: Hurricane Sandy Alters Utilities’ Calculus on Upgrades

  4. fj says:

    oops, sorry for the off-topic stuff except the bloomberg headline.

  5. fj says:

    can this be something that will force some important issues . . . ?

    . . . that offers, legislation, executive orders, etc., will come up that can’t be refused, or are too big to fail . . .

  6. fj says:

    nyc real estate alone is more than a trillion dollar market . . . ,

    so when the ny metropolitan region and the northeast is considered, business as usual inaction has astronomical costs.

  7. Joan Savage says:

    Internationally, IEA reported that coal’s increased use is expected to surpass oil in world fossil fuel consumption by 2017. That’s a big story, but the article above focused on US energy stories, rather than global.,34441,en.html

  8. Colorado Bob says:

    Peel-and-stick solar panels: Decal-like application process allows thin, flexible solar panels to be applied to virtually any surface

  9. Greatgrandma Kat says:

    The big elephant in the room is that without a hugh drop in emissions worldwide in the very near future our renewable energy fixes won’t stand up to the ever more extreme climate disasters any better than the current fossil fuel driven electrical grid has. How are we recovering from Sandy right now, with copious amounts of fossil fuels thats how, and the waste being trucked away to overfull landfills is using enough diesel to drive around the planet 300 times. These people just want their lives to be back to normal, and who can blame them but our learning curve for what we need to do to prevent other worse disasters is no where near what is needed to acomplish that goal. We have lost decades of time in delay and denial so much so that any plans going forward now must include working around disasters that will just keep getting worse.

  10. fj says:


    Unbelievable how many/most people think that some point in the near future that things will go back to normal; business as usual; and the spectre of climate chaos does not register with them; while they might yes you to death how they are also concerned about it and aware of the grave situation but still engaged in nothing of consequence.

  11. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Good collection of Five Important U.S. Energy Stories Of 2012. Indeed THINK PROGRESS has covered diversified Energy and Environment topics in 2012, some of them are outstanding.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  12. Consider the Connection to:
    Environmental Communication CTC1 [FACTS & ACTION]
    The more FACTS we have, the more connections we make the more ACTION we take.

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The same type no doubt put their own deaths out of mind,for the same reason-denial is easier than confronting horrible truths.