The White House released a report Wednesday touting the “real progress” made by President Obama’s plan to tackle global warming. But missing from the 15-page report is the fact that hydraulic fracturing is largely responsible for recent declines in greenhouse gas emissions.
“Already, the Administration has announced new efficiency standards, permitted renewable energy projects on public lands, and proposed carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants,” according to the White House report. “Alongside our State, Tribal, local, and private sector partners, we are taking steps to make our communities more resilient to the effects of severe weather; and we are working with other countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases internationally.”
Unmentioned is the massive amount of greenhouse gas emissions reductions from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which has drastically lowered natural gas prices and incentivized utilities to burn it instead of coal.
“In 2012, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion decreased by 3.8 percent relative to the previous year,” according to an Environmental Protection Agency report from April. “In 2012, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion were 5,072.3 Tg CO2 Eq., or 6.9 percent above emissions in 1990.”
The lion’s share of this emissions decrease came from power producers switching to natural gas instead of coal. Natural gas prices have dropped dramatically in recent years due to fracking, which allows for drilling companies to unlock shale formations deep underground.
“The decrease in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion was a result of multiple factors,” the EPA reported, citing “a decrease in the carbon intensity of fuels consumed by power producers to generate electricity due to a significant decrease in the price of natural gas compared to the slight increase in the price of coal.”
The EPA said that small improvements in fuel efficiency and warmer weather conditions during the winter also helped to lower energy-related greenhouse gas emissions as well.
The EPA’s finding was echoed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest assessment, which was released in April.
“A key development since AR4 is the rapid deployment of hydraulic‐fracturing and horizontal‐drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply and allowed for a more extensive switching of power and heat production from coal to gas … this is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States,” the IPCC states.
Though the IPCC does caution that fracking has increased “fugitive emissions of methane,” but fugitive emissions have been estimated to only be between one percent and five percent of the gas produced by a well.
The IPCC is considered the “gold standard” of climate science by environmentalists and climate scientists, so the groups’ recognition that fracking has been largely responsible for declining greenhouse gas emissions came as a shock to some.
But none of this is mentioned in the White House’s climate progress report. Instead the report highlights actions taken by the Obama administration to mandate greenhouse gas emissions limits, fund green energy production, close off federal lands to development and fund energy efficiency programs.
In 2009, Obama pledged to cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. According to the White House, the U.S. is on track to meet these goals and further cut 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions between 2020 and 2025.
But what the White House doesn’t tell you is that cheap natural gas has already helped to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to their lowest levels in two decades. In fact, the oil and gas industry has done more to lower greenhouse gas emissions than the Obama administration.
“It is no coincidence that U.S. carbon emissions have dropped to near 20-year lows, while U.S. shale gas production had quadrupled since 2008,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute. “America’s oil and natural gas industry has led an energy renaissance that is helping to grow the economy, create jobs, and provide environmental benefits.”
“In fact, from 2000 to 2012, America’s oil and natural gas industry invested more in zero- and low-emissions technologies than the federal government and nearly as much as all other industries combined,” Jerard added. “But America’s success as an energy superpower depends on an all-of-the-above strategy, where science and free markets determine investments — not politics and ideology.”
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