2009: the top energy stories

haynesville_rigs The surge in natural gas drilling into the cement-like shale formations was a big story in 2009. (James Nielsen/Chronicle)

What do you think were the biggest energy stories of 2009?
Platt’s has asked readers to vote on their choices , with options ranging from “Kurdistan: first exports, and Sinopec buys Addax, gets foothold in Kurdish region” to “Exxon buys XTO for $41 billion.”
Robert Rapier at the R-Squared blog said his list this year is topped by the same topic as last year:

1. Volatility in the oil markets
My top choice for this year is the same as my top choice from last year. While not as dramatic as last year’s action when oil prices ran from $100 to $147 and then collapsed back to $30, oil prices still more than doubled from where they began 2009. That happened without the benefit of an economic recovery, so I continue to wonder how long it will take to come out of recession when oil prices are at recession-inducing levels. Further, coming out of recession will spur demand, which will keep upward pressure on oil prices. That’s why I say we may be in The Long Recession.

Others in his list include at No. 2 “The year of natural gas” (“This could have easily been my top story, because there were so many natural gas-related stories this year” he says), No. 3. “U.S. demand for oil continues to decline,” No. 4. “Shifting fortunes for refiners,” while his honorable mentions include the failure of the Pickens Plan and the biggest energy bill in history.
The folks at MIT’s Technology Review Magazine list liquid batteries, giant lasers, and vast new reserves of natural gas as some of their top stories:

This year was also the year of the smart grid, as numerous test projects for improving the reliability of the grid and enabling the use of large amounts of renewable energy got underway (“Technology Overview: Intelligent Electricity“). The smart grid will be enabled by key advances, such as superconductors for high-energy transmission lines (“Superconductors to Wire a Smarter Grid“) and smart networks being developed by companies such as GE (“Q&A: Mark Little, Head of GE Global Research“).

The Institute for Southern Studies’ No. 1 story of the year could be called an energy story that matters because of the impact it could have on coal plant projects moving forward.
My own selections for top 10? These are my choices from Platt’s list (which I keep reshuffling every time I look at it):

1. US EPA rules greenhouses gases are a threat to public health, plans on using authority to regulate them (This will either force the passage of a climate change law that will put a price on carbon and touch every corner of the energy business, or create new rules that will touch every corner of the energy business).
2. CFTC moves toward setting position limits on energy trading, required clearing on an exchange also likely
3. Exxon buys XTO for $41 billion (as a sign of shale gas’ arrival)
4. Full-year decline in demand heads toward biggest drop since 1981
5. Natural gas-crude spread in US blows out to unprecedented levels
6. Chevron is a “go” on big Gorgon LNG project in Australia
7. A bankrupt California looks to open up drilling (again) off its coast
8. BP announces big find at Tiber in Gulf of Mexico
9. Iraq output future looks bright after 2 bidding rounds, early stumbles but later success
10. Shale gas in focus: Devon reorganizes, prospects in Europe, skeptics emerge

What are your top stories for 2009?