A look at two decades of growth in the availability of information about U.S. energy production and consumption – the raw material of a daily flow of news that triggers this irregular effort and many other commentaries on modern America.
The data comes from the Energy Information Administration, formed with the rest of the Department of Energy on October 1, 1977, the successor to data gathering efforts born out of frustration and distrust following the Arab Oil Embargo four years earlier.
The frustration was with the Bureau of Mines which collected weekly reports from the oil industry and took months to compile and publish the information.
The distrust focused on the oil industry which used the American Petroleum Institute to compile and publish each week the portion of the BuMines data submitted by the trade association’s members.
Initially, the EIA’s reports were available by mail, fax or stopping by the agency’s offices. Within a decade, news service computers were able to dial into EIA putters for time sensitive, market moving data such as This Week in Petroleum.
By 1995, the EIA was distributing printed reports to at most 20,000 people per year.
That changed on July 1, 1995, when the EIA became the first DOE agency to venture onto the Internet. In an era before Google, Facebook, and Internet Explorer, the Internet had about 40 million users and 23,500 websites.
The seven users who visited EIA.gov on its first day of operation had access to a few dozen web pages and 200 files. The trickle of visitors to EIA.gov has grown from a few thousand a month in the website's first year to about 1.5-2.0 million currently. EIA's total email subscriber base grew from 2,000 to more than 520,000, the agency said this week.
EIA.gov now provides some 207,000 web pages, 41 email subscription lists, 11 RSS feeds, and more than 1.2 million data series in its application programming interface, or API – ironically, the initials of the oil industry trade association pull gether data in the 70s.
Correspondingly, the number of EIA print publications has decreased from more than 80 in 1995, to 5 publications in 2005, to just 2 today.
Over the past 20 years, EIA's online tools have evolved as the agency developed a series of interactive, database-driven applications such as data browsers for specific fuels (electricity, coal) and forecasts (Short-Term Energy Outlook, Annual Energy Outlook).
Now EIA has over 650,000 files up on EIA.gov, including web pages, pdfs, spreadsheets, and other documents, reaching nearly 30 million people in 2014.
One of the biggest changes to EIA.gov occurred in February 2011, when a complete website redesign and agency rebranding effort were launched. The new website introduced an emphasis on topical, timely content, centered around a new product; Today in Energy, one of the few daily publications from any U.S. government source.