Tag Archives: natural gas

How energy is produced in the American West, the nation’s “energy breadbasket”

The Western Governors’ Association (WGA) calls the West the nation’s “energy breadbasket,” owing to the region’s vast and diverse energy resources. In its most recent report, “The State of Energy in the West,” the WGA provides a comprehensive survey of conventional and renewable energy as part of its year-long focus on energy.

In a previous post, we explored how energy consumption, spending, and prices compare in Western states and across the country. In this post, we shift our focus to the supply side to understand how energy is produced in the West. (Also see our post on the “United States of Energy,” a map that illustrates where the nation’s energy resources are located.)

Energy breadbasket of the U.S.

The West, which the WGA defines as a 19-state region extending as far east as Texas and South Dakota, plays a key role in meeting the country’s energy demands. The WGA dubbed the West the nation’s energy breadbasket for several reasons:

  • The West delivers nearly two-thirds of the nation’s wind energy.
  • California is the national leader in solar energy production, its output nearly triple that of the next highest-producing state (Arizona). Solar energy potential in the Southwest also ranks among the highest in the world.
  • Nearly all of the country’s geothermal resources are located in the West, home to 99.5% of installed national capacity in 2011.
  • In recent years, the West has accounted for close to 70% of the country’s natural gas and petroleum production.
  • Coal production in the West contributes 60% of the national total.

Below is a screenshot (click to enlarge) from our dashboard illustrating energy production in the West, based on 2012 figures.
Non-renewable energy production in the West
Renewable energy production in the West

Energy and the economy

Fossil fuels currently make up the largest share of state-level employment in the West’s energy sector. In 2009, the oil and gas industry accounted for more than 5% of total employment in Alaska, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming. The coal industry in Wyoming is responsible for 14.2% of the state’s GDP and 8% of its work force in 2010. The state’s total coal output exceeds Russia’s.
Oil and gas as a share of employment, by state
Besides generating jobs, the fossil fuel industry also contributes to the region’s economy through severance taxes, which are applied to the extraction of some non-renewable resources. Five states in the West–Alaska, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming–have a severance tax endowment, which provides a revenue stream in perpetuity. Among all state-level severance taxes collected across the nation in 2011, roughly 85 % were in the West.

The growing renewable energy industry is also spurring job growth in the region. The wind industry alone has added 30,000 jobs throughout the West and generated over $290 million in property tax revenues.

Energy vision for the West

The West’s abundant energy resources play a pivotal role in both the regional and national economy, but energy development also carries environmental costs. Researchers have cautioned that energy sprawl can threaten the habitats of iconic western species, such as the sage grouse and pronghorn. The graphic below, from our land deck, shows the intersection of desert tortoise critical habitat and solar power potential.
Solar energy potential and desert tortoise habitat
As part of its 10-Year Energy Vision, the WGA is working to achieve a balance between responsible energy development and wildlife conservation by engaging in more proactive planning with various stakeholders.

The WGA’s State of the Energy report provides an accessible primer on energy resources in the West, in addition to reviewing topics such as energy efficiency, alternative vehicles/fuels, electricity transmission, and technology development in the sector. Given that the West provides a majority of the nation’s energy supply, the report should be useful for policymakers and residents living in and outside the West.

Data sources

The Western Governors’ Association, a non-partisan organization of 22 U.S. governors, represents 19 U.S. states and 3 U.S. territories. EcoWest typically defines the region as the 11 contiguous Western states, but “The State of Energy in the West” takes a broader view.


Download Slides: State of Energy in the WestDownload Slides: State of Energy in the West (3.41 MB pptx)
Download Notes: State of Energy in the WestDownload Notes: State of Energy in the West (749.67 kB pdf)

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EcoWest’s mission is to analyze, visualize, and share data on environmental trends in the North American West. Please subscribe to our RSS feed, opt-in for email updates, follow us on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.

The United States of Energy

Maps of our nation’s energy potential usually display just one source, such as the location of wind farms or the extent of natural gas fields. In an interesting new data visualization, advertising and PR firm Saxum has combined both fossil and renewable energy resources into a map of The United States of Energy.

Below are the front and back of the viz, which has so much info that it probably reads best in hard copy (click on images to enlarge).

The firm describes the project as “the first data visualization piece of its kind to comprehensively detail our nation’s vast and diverse energy portfolio. ” Here’s more from them:

What began as a simple graphic showcasing America’s energy riches quickly grew into a two-sided, folded map concept displaying thousands of individual data points. The #USofEnergy map visualizes our country’s energy potential by charting current sources of energy production and identifying future resources and known deposits. Energy resources surveyed include: natural gas, oil, coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, geothermal, solar and biomass. We compiled the data from a broad range of industry and government sources, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nuclear Research Council and American Wind Energy Association.

In some parts of the country, such as the nation’s midsection, there are so many different energy sources being exploited that the map is tough to make out. Overlapping layers present a difficulty here, but in other regions, such as the East Coast, there’s a lot of white space.

Saxum, which describes itself as “one of the leading integrated marketing communications agencies in the Great Plains,” highlights that 46 percent of U.S. energy is produced by nine states in the center of the country, as shown below.

United States of Energy Midwest
Source: Saxum

It’s worth zooming in to their legend to see what all these layers really mean. With biomass, for example, an entire county is shaded orange if it’s in the top-20 percent for producing energy in this way per square kilometer. With solar, only the best places in the country are shown. Here in Denver, for example, we’re not covered by the solar layer, but photovoltaic panels on the roof of my home/office generate the majority of electricity we consume (see this more detailed solar potential map from the U.S. Department of Energy).

Don’t ask me how, but it would be great to see an online, interactive version of Saxum’s map. That format could let you provide even greater detail on the energy sources, such as varying the size of the points used to display nuclear plants and hydroelectric dams by how much energy they produce, or by allowing users to turn layers on and off. (UPDATE: Saxum has an interactive data visualization here.)

Emily Guerin at High Country News has a good overview of the other trends that Saxum highlights in its map.

If you’re looking for maps of individual energy sources, check out our PowerPoint presentation on land use.

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EcoWest’s mission is to analyze, visualize, and share data on environmental trends in the North American West. Please subscribe to our RSS feed, opt-in for email updates, follow us on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.

Flow diagrams of U.S. and Western carbon emissions

The United States emits around 5.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year. That’s roughly the annual CO2 exhaust of 1.2 billion cars, according to the U.S. EPA’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) equivalency calculator, and it’s nearly 20 percent of annual global GHG emissions.

U.S. and Western carbon flow diagrams from EcoWest on Vimeo.
Flow diagrams from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory provide informative visual summaries of the nation’s carbon emissions from generation to end use. These graphics, also known as Sankey diagrams, show how many GHGs originate from the burning of fuels and how many GHGs are attributable to different economic sectors. Think of the left side of the flow as the supply side, and the right as the demand side. In this deck, I’ve also compiled slides representing GHG emissions in the 11 Western states, which show some interesting patterns in GHG emissions from origin to end use.

Data on GHG emissions is only available at the national level. To understand state-by-state differences, Lawrence Livermore uses state-level energy use data to estimate the flow of GHGs. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration compiles such energy use data in the State Energy Data System (SEDS).

Sankey carbon

U.S. carbon emissions are generated by burning coal, natural gas, and petroleum products (gasoline, diesel, etc.); roughly 35%, 23%, and 42% of 2010 emissions, respectively. The carbon flows in individual states vary widely depending on state energy portfolios. End uses differ according to what industries predominate and population levels. Some of the patterns that jump out:

  • California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington are less coal-dependent and more petroleum dependent.
  • Natural gas accounts for a higher portion of carbon emissions in states like Nevada and Oregon.
  • Petroleum accounts for a lower portion of carbon emissions in Colorado and Wyoming.

Comparing Washington to Wyoming demonstrates how end use differs by state. Energy generation accounts for the bulk of carbon emissions in Wyoming, but the transportation and industrial sectors dominate in Washington. Wyoming is a major energy exporter to other states, while Washington relies heavily on hydropower, which does is essentially carbon-free.

When examining these slides, it’s important to remember that the size of the rectangles and the lines between them are not comparable from state to state. They show, within a state, where GHGs originate and terminate in various uses.

Lawrence Livermore also produces similar graphics for energy and water, and in another post, we provide a little background on Sankey diagrams, which are great tools for visualizing how commodities flow through systems.


Download slides: carbon flow diagramsDownload slides: carbon flow diagrams (4.03 MB pptx)
Download notes: carbon flow diagramsDownload notes: carbon flow diagrams (2.36 MB pdf)

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EcoWest’s mission is to analyze, visualize, and share data on environmental trends in the North American West. Please subscribe to our RSS feed, opt-in for email updates, follow us on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.