Next step in climate fight: End oil and gas production

Source: Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The next big step for climate policy might be almost too obvious: Stop producing oil and gas.

A study published today in the journal Nature Climate Change lays out the rationale for limiting production of fossil fuels, rather than consumption.

Seven countries, including France, New Zealand and Spain, have committed to stop oil and gas production in some form.

While the U.S. has largely pushed climate policy aside under the Trump administration, California could be the next major player to limit production, according to the study, as the state considers additional ways to reduce emissions under its 2030 climate action plan.

“California is one of the top oil producing states in the U.S., but it is also a climate leader,” Peter Erickson, the study’s lead author and a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, said in a statement. “Restricting oil production would complement the state’s flagship policies, such as strengthened standards for clean power or energy efficiency.”

California is a major consumer of fossil fuels, especially oil, which accounts for about 60 percent of the state’s carbon dioxide emissions.

But if the state were to simply stop issuing permits for new oil wells, it could produce an equivalent emissions reduction between 6 million and 19 million metric tons of CO2, according to the study.

“Total emissions reductions would probably be greater, as emissions associated with extracting, refining and transporting oil would also probably be avoided,” the authors wrote.

The market mechanism that would spur on those changes is essentially a chain reaction. Dipping California production would prompt other countries and states to produce more oil. But at the same time, prices would go up and consumers would use less, leading, ultimately, to a drop in emissions.

Phasing out oil permits would have an added benefit for vulnerable communities in the state, where most oil and gas production takes place, according to the study.

The policy would be ambitious, and there are undoubtedly political barriers, even in a state such as California, which has shown willingness in the past to make big leaps on climate.

But the state would be a major addition to the list of countries that have already started phasing out production, especially with the U.S. set to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement under President Trump, the study says.

“Without question, there are political headwinds against policies to wind down fossil fuel production, even in California,” the authors wrote. “But in the long term, the transition away from fossil fuels will need to be managed — and actively — in a way that is orderly and fair to the workers and communities involved in, and impac