Oil and gas boom spells ‘climate disaster’ — report

Source: Jenny Mandel, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The U.S. oil and gas industry is going gangbusters and is on pace to account for more than half of the growth in global production over the next decade — and that’s a disaster.

So warns a new analysis from Oil Change International that highlights how the runaway success of domestic fossil fuel production, which hit a record last year and is expected to continue on a fast climb, is on a collision course with U.S. and international climate targets.

“At precisely the time in which the world must begin rapidly decarbonizing to avoid runaway climate disaster, the United States is moving further and faster than any other country to expand oil and gas extraction,” the report from the advocacy group says.

U.S. climate policy to date has largely focused on the demand side of the fossil fuel equation, through measures like toughening power plant rules and boosting vehicle mileage, while putting limited demands on coal, oil and gas producers, according to the authors. Meanwhile, those industries’ political clout has afforded them government support to grow.

The result is a trajectory that could make the United States responsible for nearly half the world’s total oil and gas emissions by 2030, and more than 90 percent of oil and gas emissions by 2050, the organization warns.

On the numbers, the report and the oil and gas industry are largely in agreement.

Federal data released yesterday show that the United States averaged 10.9 million barrels per day of crude oil production last year, up 1.6 million barrels per day from the year before. That broke a 1970 record for U.S. oil output and was the largest jump on record.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects to see 12.1 million barrels per day of oil output this year and 12.9 million barrels per day next year.

Natural gas output, too, hit a record last year, averaging 83.3 billion cubic feet (Bcf/d) per day, according to the new figures. EIA expects that number to hit 90.2 Bcf/d this year and 92.2 Bcf/d next year.

Industry advocates praise the U.S. record of powering past its competitors over the past decade, with the unique cocktail of fracking technology, a robust oil and gas infrastructure, and private mineral ownership combining to unleash a surge of unconventional oil and gas production.

In a recent “state of the industry” update, the American Petroleum Institute focused on the universal need for energy, and said continued investment in oil and gas infrastructure and technical innovation are needed to meet consumer demand while “continu[ing] to meet the challenges of climate change” (Energywire, Jan. 9).

Oil Change International’s prescription looks very different: embracing a “Green New Deal” to transition consumers and fossil fuel workers away from coal, oil and gas, while ending new leasing and permitting for fossil fuels, ramping down existing fossil fuel projects with a priority on those inflicting the greatest harm on poor and other vulnerable communities, ending tax breaks and other supports for the oil and gas industry, and reining in the influence of oil and gas money in politics.

Keeping a sharp focus on workers and communities that would be affected by those changes is central to successfully reducing fossil fuels to avoid catastrophic climate change, the report says.

Drawing on data from the National Climate Assessment, it argues that protecting those who stand to be most hurt by the change is achievable because mining and oil and gas extraction account for just 1.4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, while estimates of the cost of climate disruption go as high as 10 percent of GDP by the end of this century.

A central plank of the analysis — that expanding U.S. oil and gas production and infrastructure now to meet the surge of new industry activity will lock in higher greenhouse gas emissions for years to come — is clear.

“Once polluting infrastructure is built, it can crowd out cleaner alternatives even as they become cost-competitive or cheaper,” the paper says.