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State and trends


Key messages: The energy transition The energy system in North America is undergoing rapid changes, which provide challenges and opportunities.


• Challenges arise from the negative externalities associated with aggressive hydrocarbon extraction methods. These externalities include the potential for increased air emissions, water use and induced seismicity.


• Several opportunities also exist in the energy sector, driven by ongoing trends in renewable energy, rising efficiencies, and energy storage technologies. These clean energy trends show the potential that exists to achieve a sustainable energy system


• Ongoing shifts in the consumption and production of energy in North America have affected cities and rural areas, fostering alliances to both promote and deter particular forms of energy development.


• Integrated planning and robust governance are necessary to examine energy choices in a world of increased systematic risks and climatic change.


2.9.2 Primary energy sources


Primary energy resources are heterogeneously distributed across Canada and the US. Canada has vast oil resources, and is currently developing oil sand deposits. The US had large conventional oil resources that were rapidly developed from 1920 to 1985 (National Energy Technology Laboratory 2014) but are now in decline, as well as shale oil and gas, which are now being extracted at increasingly rapid rates. Canada also has shale gas formations; however, the development of these resources has not been as extensive as in the United States (National Energy Board 2009).


Since the oil and gas reserves that were easiest to access have been produced first, continuing on the fossil fuel path now requires more complex activities such as fracking, extracting energy from oil (bituminous) sands and drilling in more difficult locations. These new practices are more complex than conventional means and may increase water use, water contamination, greenhouse gas emissions, land impacts and wastes, although the magnitude of these


effects are still being studied (Nicot and Scanlon 2012; Webb 2015; Jackson 2014; US EPA 2014; Jordaan 2012; Brandt 2012). Meanwhile, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are now economically competitive with electricity sourced from fossil fuels (Wiser 2015). While choices between energy pathways have always existed, today the options are far more economically competitive, with the consequences having far-reaching effects on the economy, climate, ecology and society.


There have been changes in patterns of the consumption of oil, gas, and electricity in North America over the past 40 years. The US and Canadian economies have decoupled energy use from GDP and other measures of economic growth (EIA 2015a; EC 2011a).


This decoupling also


includes a reduction in petroleum consumption, mainly due to increased transportation efficiency (US EPA 2014). With predictions of increased petroleum production, the influence of international oil and gas developments and no concomitant increase in demand across North America, the fossil fuel industry has recently experienced severe price


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