Jet fuel supplies for international transportation are one of the biggest uses of energy in the state; oil dominates energy production
By Alan Bailey
For residents of Alaska, the cost of electricity and fuel for heating, lighting and driving cars provides a constant reminder of the energy consumption that underpins life in “the last frontier.” In 2008, however, 30 percent of the state’s 444 trillion British thermal units of annual energy consumption actually consisted of jet fuel use, powering the international transportation of passenger and freight to and from other regions, according to a report published recently for the Alaska Energy Authority by the Institute of Social and Economic Research.
The report, titled “Alaska Energy Statistics 1960-2008,” pulls together data from a variety of sources to provide factual information about Alaska energy production; energy consumption; and the flow of energy into, through and out of the state.
The report says that, in addition to the use of jet fuel, about one-third of Alaska energy consumption in 2008 consisted of the use of other liquid fuels such as gasoline and diesel fuel. The use of natural gas amounted to 11 percent of total energy consumption, electricity 5 percent and coal 2 percent.
About 10 percent of the energy consumed was used for electricity generation, with about 61 percent of power generation using natural gas as a fuel. Hydropower accounted for 17 percent of electricity generation, oil products for 16 percent and coal for 6 percent. Rural communities predominantly used diesel fuel for power generation, although significant wind power capacity has been implemented in rural Alaska since 2008.
The Alaska Railbelt used about 80 percent of the total electricity generated, with that electricity mainly coming from power stations fueled by natural gas.
Data on the energy balance for electricity generation in Alaska illustrates the relative inefficiency of the state’s aging gas-fired power stations: During 2008 power utilities used 45 trillion Btu of energy but only sold 22 trillion Btu of generated power to electricity consumers, the report says.
And an analysis of carbon dioxide emissions from Alaska power generation indicates that gas-fired power stations emitted a total of 2.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2008, an emissions figure that could drop to 1.5 million metric tons if power station efficiency were improved to be closer to the U.S. national average, the report says.
Oil dominates production
Not surprisingly, 90 percent of the energy produced in Alaska in 2008 consisted of crude oil, with about 85 percent of that oil being exported from the state. Curiously, on an energy equivalent basis, the amount of natural gas extracted from the state’s oil and gas fields was double the amount of oil produced, but most of this gas was re-injected into the oil fields to drive increased oil production, with the gas presumably being repeatedly cycled through injection and production wells.
Total crude oil production in 2008 amounted to 1,449 trillion Btu of energy, the report says. However, the state did also import crude oil representing 24 trillion Btu of energy, presumably as part of the feedstock for the oil refinery at Nikiski on the Kenai Peninsula, for the production of gasoline and other products used in Southcentral Alaska.
Excluding natural gas re-injected into oil fields, gas represented 8 percent of total 2008 Alaska energy production, with coal production coming in at 2 percent and wind and hydropower at less than 0.5 percent. However, much of the state’s current wind power capacity has been developed since 2008, the year for which the data were assembled, the report says.
Alaska residents will not be surprised by the study’s finding that the prices of most forms of energy have increased significantly in past decades, with natural gas prices increasing 80 percent between 1970 and 2008 in terms of 2008 dollars, and with gasoline prices increasing by 65 percent in that same period. However, average electricity prices actually declined by 14 percent, perhaps as a result of the replacement of some diesel power generation by hydropower.
But what about the price of that jet fuel that’s pumped into airplanes carrying people and goods across the globe? Jet fuel increased in price by a whopping 455 percent between 1970 and 2008, the report says.