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"There Goes the Data": Why We Need to Fund the Energy Information Agency

The Energy Information Agency collects data on how America produces and uses oil—but it's now being forced to cut back. Here's why we need the EIA.

It's no secret that our country is in something of an energy pinch. Unfortunately, because of the political movement towards austerity and budget cuts, we're now going to have less data to help us understand that problem and address it. The Energy Information Agency is being forced to cut a whole bunch of its data, analysis, and forecasting programs.


As oil analyst Gregor McDonald put it, "there goes the data."

What does this mean exactly? Well, it's helpful to know how much oil we're producing and where the rest of our oil is coming from. I could have never told you, for example, that this idea of expanding offshore drilling to lower gas prices was a total canard without the EIA's forecasts.

The Oil Drum has a candid piece of commentary that sums up the sad state of affairs nicely.

So, here we are in a mess. Generally when you’re in a mess it is a good idea to understand what the mess looks like, so that you can work out how to get out of it. But now that information is not going to be locally available. Yes there will still be the information from the IEA, though it is not really comparable, and OPEC itself provides Monthly Oil Market Reports, but that is a little less independent than most, and does not cover the internal production within this country that is a valuable tool to indicate how fast we are approaching the next crisis [...]

At some point in the future, perhaps even that soon, politicians and administrators are going to complain “but nobody told us!!” and rush to blame the industry yet again. But the truth is, there was a group that was keeping the records, and who could tell those with the responsibility to fix it when there was a problem. And the Administration just closed it down. We will regret that lack of information and the warning messages that it would have brought.

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The EIA wasn't perfect. As many have noted, there was a systematic bias in its oil price forecasting. Year after year, it predicted more oil would be produced than actually was, and that prices would be lower than they actually were.

But the data is still crucial. Our energy outlook is bad, but it's better to see the bad so you can address it.

Image (cc) from Flickr user jeferonix

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