Opposing fracking is climate denial
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By: Steve Everley
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This week in Philadelphia, environmental activists are pressuring Democrats to oppose fracking during the Democratic National Convention. Their antics have been widely covered by the media, which often describe them as “climate action” or “clean energy” protests.
In reality, these activists are engaging in climate denial. Consider the following facts.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – which climate activists have called the “gold standard” and “the most authoritative group in the business” – has directly linked greenhouse gas reductions to fracking. In its 2014 Fifth Assessment Report, the IPCC said the “rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies” had “increased and diversified the gas supply,” which it added “is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.”
Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges that “natural gas plays a key role in our nation’s clean energy future.” When asked whether natural gas was a “net positive,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy responded: “From a greenhouse gas perspective it certainly is.” McCarthy has also said natural gas is a “game changer with our ability to really move forward with pollution reductions.”
Activists conveniently deny all of this. Instead, they typically make two climate-focused arguments about fracking, both of which are dubious.
The first is that fracking results in methane emissions, and according to the EPA, methane has a warming potential that is 25 times greater than carbon dioxide. That’s where the argument typically stops, and it’s easy to see why.
The question is not whether methane emissions exist, but whether they’re large enough to negate the benefits of natural gas. Scientists have found that as long as leakage rates are kept below 3.2 percent, the climate benefits of natural gas are maintained.
The IPCC’s assessment of declining greenhouse gas emissions in the United States acknowledged methane emissions, but the body of research indicated they were low enough for natural gas to maintain its advantage. In fact, since 2013, at least five peer-reviewed studies found leakage rates well below three percent.
Between 2005 and 2014, U.S. natural gas production increased by more than 40 percent. But according to the EPA, methane emissions from natural gas systems actually decreased over that same period. Since 1990, methane emissions have decreased by nearly 15 percent.
Activists typically rely on outlier research from Cornell University, which the scientific community has repeatedly rejected. One of the Cornell researchers is actually on the board of Food & Water Watch, which has been leading many of the Democratic convention protests.
A second argument is that natural gas is a fossil fuel, and no matter how strongly it’s regulated, it will still emit carbon dioxide. This is true, but it’s hardly an argument against fracking.
The United States is projected to become one of the largest natural gas exporters in the coming years, providing lower-carbon fuel to countries all over the world. Many of the export facilities are already being built along the Gulf Coast here in Texas. But opposing fracking would in turn restrict exports, preventing vulnerable populations from having access to clean energy. That means more global CO2 emissions and, unfortunately, more premature deaths.
For these reasons, among many others, even President Obama’s top science adviser says it is “unrealistic” to stop producing fossil fuels such as natural gas.
Wind and solar emit no CO2 while in use, but the sun isn’t always shining and the wind isn’t always blowing. We expect the lights to stay on until we turn them off, so the electric grid needs baseload power and “peakers” to ramp up and down to meet demand. Coincidentally, this is why the wind and solar industries tout how natural gas and renewables are complementary. It’s no coincidence that Texas leads the country in installed wind power and is also the largest consumer of natural gas. The second largest gas consumer is California, which leads the country in solar power capacity.
Fracktivists often say climate change is humanity’s greatest threat. So why are they denying the facts about climate progress?
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