Texas Railroad Commission Chairman, and candidate in the 2014 attorney general’s race, Barry Smitherman stated last month that Texas has the capacity to be an independent nation because “we have energy resources, fossil and otherwise, and our own independent electrical grid.”
Mr. Smitherman explained that he and many other powerful Texans are anticipating an economic collapse in Washington, and have been making efforts to make Texas a “stand-alone entity” in the event that the “rest of the country falls apart.”
Although Smitherman did not use the term “secession,” it seems clear that Texas is preparing to once again stand separately as an “island nation” – a controversial but rather popular ideal for many Texans.
Restoring the Republic of Texas:
Texans revel in the idea of secession. Many still believe the highly popularized bit of Texas folklore that the Texas Constitution of 1876 grants Texas the right to secede from the United States despite the fact that there are no such provisions included in the current Texas Constitution.
Nevertheless, many still believe that restoring the Lone Star State to an independent republic would be a victory for Texans and their progeny.
Although it is true that there is no direct language regarding a secession in the current Texas constitution, Article 1, Section1 clearly states that “Texas is a free and independent State, subject only to the Constitution of the United States.”
Furthermore, neither the Texas Constitution nor the United States Constitution explicitly or implicitly prohibits the secession of Texas or any other “free and independent state” from the U.S. In fact, joining the “union” was always voluntary.
But does this make voluntary withdrawal a lawful and viable option for Texans seeking to become an independent nation? More importantly, if the U.S. suffered from an economic collapse, does Texas have the resources to progress as an independent energy nation?
Secession and Energy Independence:
Effective energy planning would without a doubt be one of the most important strategies for any state looking to become an independent nation.
However, the majority of states in the U.S. are not energy independent, and many states rely on imports for all of their energy needs. Even states with vast coal reserves like Kentucky and West Virginia must import oil and natural gas.
Texas is another story. The state is without a doubt in a better position to be energy independent because of its abundant natural resources, alternative energy solutions and growing energy efficiency programs.
Nevertheless, 2011 EIA data reveals that the short-term energy outlook for Texas regarding energy independence is not as promising as supporters of a Texas succession would hope.
Total Energy Output vs. Total Energy Consumption: 2011
Industrial operations account for roughly 50 percent of power consumed in Texas. Energy used for transportation represents just over 23 percent of energy consumed in Texas, and residential and commercial energy demands make-up the remaining 14 and 13 percent respectively.
According to other EIA data, petroleum products are responsible for almost 97 percent of all transportation fuel burned in Texas, while natural gas accounts for nearly three percent.
However, roughly 50 percent of electricity generated in Texas derives from natural gas. Moreover, coal makes up approximately 36 percent of the Lone Star State’s energy mix.
Meanwhile, nuclear power is responsible for almost 9 percent of electricity generated in Texas, and renewables only account for about 6 percent.
Texas consumed an estimated 1,695.2 trillion btu in coal in 2011. However, the state only produced about 605.3 trillion btu in coal during the same year – roughly 36 percent of Texas’ total coal energy consumption in 2011.
Natural gas consumption in Texas reached roughly 3756.9 trillion btu in 2011. However, the state produced an impressive 8047.4 trillion btu in natural gas – more than double the 2011 consumption level.
Renewable energy production in Texas also outpaced consumption levels of alternative energy in 2011. Moreover, Texas produced roughly the same level of nuclear electric power as the state consumed, approximately 414.9 trillion btu.
However, total crude oil production was also outpaced by total petroleum demands in 2011. The consumption of biomass energy also exceeded the total amount of energy created from biofuels during the same year.
Based on the data outlined above, Texas did not sufficiently meet its own energy demands in 2011.
Furthermore, the looming threat of blackouts stemming from record setting heat waves in the summer, and power grid failures caused by the surprisingly frigid winter, demonstrate the vulnerability of the Texas energy infrastructure.
Although it is misguided to assume total energy consumption and production figures will remain consistent in the upcoming years, the belief that Texas could become an independent energy in the short term appears to be a fallacious concept deriving from a sense of overzealous state pride.
Moreover, this rudimentary, short-term energy analysis does not take Texas energy reserve estimates into account, which would be a very important consideration to determine Texas’ capacity for energy independence.
However, considering the progress Texas is making in total energy production, efforts to make natural gas a larger component of the state’s energy mix, improving adoption levels of energy efficiency programs, and state officials making preparations to ensure Texas’ energy reserves, the future may still be bright for supporters of a Texas secession.
Rich in Fossil Fuels
Texas is the leading producer of oil and natural gas in the United States. In fact, if Texas were a separate country, it would be the 10th largest oil-producing nation on the planet.
The state has roughly 812 active drilling rigs – about 47 percent of all U.S. rigs and 24 percent of drilling rigs worldwide. Furthermore, drilling permit applications are approaching the highest level the state has witnessed in nearly 30 years.
According to Smitherman, booming resource plays in Texas could reach 4 million barrels per day by 2020, doubling the oil production level the state achieved in 2012.
Furthermore, the Lone Star State currently has 27 active petroleum refineries which are capable of producing over 5.1 billion barrels of crude oil per day – almost 30 percent of total U.S. refining capacity.
Texas also holds about 23 percent of the country’s natural gas reserves and is producing more than any other state.
Moreover, the state has the largest natural gas processing capacity in the nation, and provides roughly 30 percent of all natural gas produced in the U.S. Although the number of natural gas production plants has fallen in recent years, the average capacity per plant has been increasing.
Despite the uphill battle that coal faces in the state, Texas is the nation’s fourth largest coal producer and yielded nearly 46 million tons in 2011. This is important since coal still accounts for roughly 32 percent of power generation in Texas.
Furthermore, coal exports reached record level highs this summer. Because coal will remain an important aspect of the global energy mix – and global energy demand is expected to rise by 56 percent by 2040 – coal mining is an attractive economic opportunity for Texas.
Promising Renewable Energy Solutions
Texas is also rich in renewable energy potential, including wind, solar and biomass resources.
According to EIA data, Texas leads the U.S. in wind powered generation and was the first state to reach 10,000 megawatts of wind capacity. Moreover, the Panhandle, the Gulf Coast and the Trans-Pecos regions in Texas have some of the nation’s greatest wind power potential.
West Texas alone has over 2,000 wind turbines and their numbers continue to increase due to lowered development costs and improvements in wind turbine technologies.
Solar power potential in Texas is also amongst the nation’s highest, with solar radiation suitable for large-scale power plants in West Texas.
Lastly, Texas has an abundance of biomass energy resources due to the large agricultural and forestry sectors in the state.
Improving Energy Efficiency
According to the International Energy Agency, becoming more energy efficient is the best global source of power and fuel.
While advanced controls for industrial buildings have had an impact on energy efficiency in the state, building codes requiring increased energy efficiency have been the biggest driver of energy savings in Texas.
In 2012, Texas implemented the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code for new buildings. These new building standards have boosted energy efficiency by 15 percent compared to previous standards. Moreover, Houston requires new buildings to be 10 percent more energy efficient than the new 2009 code.
Furthermore, Texas recently passed a law which allows cities and counties to provide financing to local businesses for the purposes of power-reduction. The Property Assessed Clean Energy law, which passed in June, will likely be implemented in Houston as early as next year.
As previously mentioned, industrial operations consume roughly 50 percent of the power in Texas. Meanwhile, the average rate nationwide is 32 percent. The state’s high industrial consumption rate is being driven primarily by the high summer temperatures in Texas.
Considering the fact that Lone Star State ranks in the bottom third of states for energy efficiency utility programs, programs dedicated to increasing the energy efficiency in buildings is an essential step to making Texas a self-sufficient energy nation.
Texas: An Energy Independent Nation?
Although it is possible, the idea that Texas could be an independent energy nation in the very near future seems improbable.
Moreover, an attempt to break away from the nation would likely result in an array of unintended consequences, and would presumably require cut-backs by Texans to conserve energy and preserve the outage-prone Texas power grid.
Nevertheless, Texas is without a doubt in a better position to self-sustain than most states because of its abundant natural resources, booming energy production, improving energy efficiency, renewable energy developments, independent electrical grid and robust energy infrastructure.
Whether or not Texas officials actually attempt to break away from the nation – or if the state’s booming energy production will significantly outpace energy demands in the upcoming years – one thing is for certain: