New Data Sheds Light on Foreign Energy Investment Data

In a time of pronounced volatility in energy markets as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war and recent production cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC+), it’s important that we have reliable data on the operations of energy companies. Thanks to a successful Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, we’re one step closer to understanding why we currently lack such data.

In an op-ed for RealClearEnergy earlier this year, I lamented that the Energy Information Administration (EIA) had  stopped collecting data on foreign energy investment in the U.S. because of a $15.2 million budget cut to EIA in 2011. To address this issue, on August 19th, I sent a FOIA request to EIA, asking for information on EIA’s budget. On September 20th, I received EIA’s congressional budget summary requests from 1995 to 2004, which were unavailable on the Department of Energy or EIA websites. 

While the budget summary requests do not consistently provide the budget for the specific program that collected foreign energy investment data, they do consistently provide the budgets for the parent program, EIA’s Energy Markets and End Use program. The Energy Markets and End Use program manages the data collection of multiple programs, including the Financial Reporting System, which collected data on the operations of foreign energy companies in the U.S. That data was in turn aggregated for annual reports.

These annual reports and budget requests provide a case study in the opacity of government spending, even for such an important national security issue as foreign energy investment. Consider the following issues with the information and how it is presented.

First, after 2005, the budget for the Periodic Analysis Products program disappeared from the budget requests, even though the Energy Markets and End Use program was still mentioned. The consequence is that we have no way of knowing the budgets for the Periodic Analysis Products program. It is surprising that even for a consistently mentioned government program, the Department of Energy has not not consistently provided information about its cost. What other small, but critical, programs go unmentioned in budget requests?

Second, from 1997 to 2003, the budgets mentioned a program simply called “Other Services,” which managed the Financial Reporting System. This “Other Services” program and the Energy Markets and End Use program were actually funding the same tasks in those years, but one would never know it except by carefully reading the budget requests. 

Third, some programs changed names over time. From 1993 to 1996, the “Energy Markets and Contingency” program had its budget listed, and from 2003 to 2005, the EIA “Periodic Analysis Products” program had its budget listed. In fact, these were the same programs under different names, but one would not know it simply from reviewing the budgets. This kind of name change isn’t unique—it occurs frequently in the budget process—but it does make it more difficult to follow programs and spending over time.

These quirks and complexities in the data make it difficult for us to know much about EIA’s actions (and this is all after a FOIA request that was intended to improve clarity). Still, it appears that the Periodic Analysis Products program was an excellent investment: for only $1.5–$1.7 million per year from 2002 to 2005, it provided important information on foreign energy investment in the U.S. With the Department of Energy no longer collecting and publishing this data, we’re left wondering what kinds of energy investments foreign entities are making in the U.S.

The results of this FOIA request bring us one step closer to understanding the operations of foreign energy companies. The American people deserve to know more about this important issue, especially in light of the recent shifts in gas prices.

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