Global Warming Imperils Nation's Energy System

Rail Road Flooding

Global warming is bringing more weather and climate extremes, which will impact U.S. energy security in ways that have not been adequately considered.

The National Wildlife Federation’s report, More Extreme Weather and the U.S. Energy Infrastructure, details how more severe droughts, more intense tropical storms, and heavier rainfall events could cause major disruptions in the existing systems that deliver energy to the nation, even as these existing energy systems are already beginning to crumble.

Future investments must transform the U.S. energy infrastructure to be resilient in the face of more extreme weather and climate. We recommend that the nation undertake a detailed national climate vulnerability assessment for the energy industry and develop climate adaptation plans to address vulnerabilities.

Furthermore, we must begin designing, strategically locating, and making investments in energy systems—such as appropriately sited offshore wind and distributed photovoltaic solar—that are more resilient to severe weather and climate disruptions.

Some ways that the U.S. energy infrastructure is vulnerable to extreme weather include:

Major power outages are becoming more common — Major weather-related power outages have increased from 5 to 20 each year in the mid 1990s to 50 to 90 each year during the last five years. While changes in the electric transmission grid and maintenance practices might explain some of this increase, more frequent weather and climate extremes are also likely contributing.

Oil and gas infrastructure in the Gulf region is at risk as hurricanes intensify:

  • Approximately 4000 offshore oil and natural gas rigs
  • 31,000 miles of pipeline
  • More than 25 onshore oil refineries located in the Gulf region were built to meet the climate conditions of the past, not the future.


Map of hurricane effects on Oil and Gas wells

This map illustrates the extensive oil and gas infrastructure located in the Gulf of Mexico region is vulnerable to the increasing severity of hurricanes. Since 1970, about two dozen major hurricanes (categories 3-5) have made landfall on the shores of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, the four states where both offshore and onshore infrastructure is concentrated.
SOURCES: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE), U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Coal transport across the Midwest and Northeast will face more flooding disruptions — Heavy rainfall events in these regions have increased by 31 to 67 percent since the 1950s, a trend that will continue this century. About 70 percent of coal is transported by rail lines that must navigate across or along rivers, providing another reason to reduce our reliance on coal

Electricity generation in the Southwest will be limited by water shortages — About 89 percent of electricity in the United States is generated in thermoelectric power plants that require water for cooling. Water demand from the energy sector is projected to increase by 32 percent by 2030, while droughts are expected to become more frequent and severe.


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