As representatives from around the world work to finalize an agreement in the last few days at the Paris COP21 climate conference, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that hydraulic fracturing and the increased use of natural gas has done more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than any other government scheme or agreement.
Without adopting stringent policies such as the Kyoto treaty or cap-and-trade, the United States, the largest economy in the world, has the distinction of being the only country in the world to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why, in his address to world leaders at COP21, President Obama was able to tout that the “advances we’ve made have helped drive our economic output to all-time highs, and drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly two decades.”
The evidence of shale gas’ enormous role in reducing emissions is all around us. In fact, the world’s most prominent climate scientists, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has credited the fracking boom and U.S. natural gas for the great progress that’s been made on climate change:
“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 (IEA, 2012b); this is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.” (emphasis added)
According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), since 2005, natural gas has prevented more than one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted from power plants in the United States. Meanwhile, by comparison, the use of renewable energy has prevented only 600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. EIA also noted as natural gas fired electricity generation ramped up, power plant greenhouse gas emissions reached a 27-year low in April 2015.
If that’s not enough, the Paris-based International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest World Energy Outlook pointed out that natural gas is a “valuable component of a gradually decarbonizing electricity and energy system.” IEA previously hailed the “decline in energy-related CO2 emissions in the United States” as “one of the bright spots in the global picture” and went on to note, “One of the key reasons has been the increased availability of natural gas, linked to the shale gas revolution.”
Finally, The Breakthrough Institute (BTI) – an environmental group founded by individuals whom Time Magazine recognized as “heroes of the environment” – released a report in 2013 that demonstrated that natural gas has prevented 17 times more carbon dioxide emissions than wind, solar, and geothermal combined.
The science has been echoed by Obama, as well as his top regulators and administration officials, all of whom have touted the environmental benefits of natural gas. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy said recently, “Responsible development of natural gas is an important part of our work to curb climate change and support a robust clean energy market at home.” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz noted that natural gas bas “been a big contributor to our carbon reduction.” Obama has pointed out that natural gas “not only can provide safe, cheap power, it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.”
Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineObama gives fiery speech for McAuliffe: 'Don't sit this one out' Biden injects new momentum into filibuster fight Democratic frustration with Sinema rises MORE (D-Va.) put it well when he explained, “We’ve been improving our emissions in this county without agreeing to the Kyoto accords, without Congressional action because of innovation form the natural gas area.”
Despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that natural gas has played a huge role in reducing emissions, anti-fracking groups, such as Food & Water Watch, the Sierra Club the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, among others – who claim climate change poses the “largest environmental threat ever known by humankind” – continue to deny the science.
While they insist the IPCC is “gold standard” for climate science, they refuse to acknowledge what these scientists have determined about natural gas’ climate benefits. They have also launched a campaign that involves denying the science of the EPA’s five year comprehensive study, which found “no widespread, systemic impacts” to groundwater resources. For these groups, the facts and the science take a back seat to their overall ideology of eliminating all fossil fuels – an ideology that even former White House advisor John Podesta has called “completely impractical.”
As the Paris talks come to a close it’s important to remember that if the United States truly wants to make an impact it should move away from activists’ “completely impractical” solutions and instead take heed of the real – and very positive – environmental impacts of natural gas.
Brown is a spokesperson for Energy In Depth, a research and education program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA).