Oil and Gas Industry Rebukes Fracking Ban Talk as UN Shows Just How Much Fossil Fuel Plans Are Screwing Climate Limits

By Dana Drugmand, a freelance writer and attorney who writes about climate issues. Originally published at DeSmog Blog

The American Petroleum Institute, the nation’s largest oil and gas trade association, is promoting a new video touting domestic natural gas production as essential to energy security. The video, titled “America’s Energy Security: A Generation of Progress At Risk?” comes at a time when calls for halting new fossil fuel production and infrastructure are getting louder and coincided with the release of a United Nations report highlighting the misalignment between global climate goals and countries’ plans to develop fossil fuels.

API’s video is part of a broader strategic campaign by the oil and gas industry to quash public support for a national ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and to promote itself as the “natural gas and oil industry.” The lobbying group released its video last week to coincide with the fifth Democratic presidential debate, saying, “some Democratic presidential candidates are now proposing restrictive energy policies that would erase a generation of American progress.”

Several leading Democratic presidential contenders have said they would include a ban on fracking as part of their climate plan.

Elizabeth Warren has pledged to immediately end oil and gas leasing offshore and on public lands, and also to “ban fracking — everywhere.” Bernie Sanders includes a ban on fracking in his comprehensive climate plan, and he repeatedly references via Twitter his commitment to ban fracking. Kamala Harris said during a televised “Climate Town Hall” in September that she would seek to ban fracking as well.

Tying Domestic Oil and Gas to Patriotism

The fact that presidential candidates are even talking about a fracking ban undoubtedly has the petroleum industry concerned, as the new API video implies. The video features former presidents from both political parties, from Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, declaring the importance of ending reliance on foreign oil and speaking to progress in advancing domestic petroleum production.

The video, which also features patriotic images like the Statute of Liberty and American flags, concludes with the message: “Support America’s Energy Security. Oppose a Fracking Ban.”

Patriotic imagery is central to the branding and messaging of another organization pushing gas industry talking points. That group, The Empowerment Alliance (TEA), is a new dark money organization devoted to “securing America’s energy independence” by singularly promoting natural gas. TEA launched at the end of September and, like API, is gearing up to push back against proposed climate policies and frameworks like the Green New Deal and a fracking ban.

The oil and gas industry pushback comes at a time when momentum is building in the U.S. and abroad towards serious climate action that includes a just transition away from fossil fuels. In September on the eve of the massive global climate strikes, over 400 activists sent a letter to UN Secretary General António Guterres calling for a worldwide ban on fracking.

The United Kingdom announced a temporary fracking ban in early November, and on November 14 the European Investment Bank announced that it would end financing for fossil fuel projects by 2021. In the U.S., California Governor Gavin Newsom recently took a step towards banning fracking in the state by announcing a moratorium on steam-injected drilling along with stricter review and regulations on oil and gas extraction. And last week, the greater Boston community of Brookline, Massachusetts, passed a ban on oil and gas systems in new buildings and renovations, following the lead of California communities that have passed similar measures.

The Gap Between Climate Ambitions and Fossil Fuel Plans

Also last week, on the same day API released its “energy security” video, the United Nations Environment Program and other research organizations published a new report that for the first time analyzes the planned production of fossil fuels in the context of the Paris Agreement goal to limit warming to 2.7º F (1.5°C) and well below 3.6°F (2°C) above preindustrial levels. That report found a large “production gap” between countries’ commitment to limit warming and their plans for expanding coal, oil, and gas production.

“Moving away from fossil fuel production…is possible and increasingly necessary to avoid dangerous climate change,” the report says. In other words, significant fossil fuel–producing nations like the U.S. must start curbing production to get in line with global climate commitments, though earlier this month President Trump made official his intention to withdraw the U.S.from the Paris Agreement. The UN is now saying that banning fracking or imposing other fossil fuel supply-side policies is necessary to confront the climate crisis.

The oil and gas industry, meanwhile, seems intent on convincing the American public and politicians that banning fracking is a terrible idea, climate crisis aside. On November 14 API posted a commentary claiming that a fracking ban would “devastate U.S.energy and the world economy,” citing another recent article by a Manhattan Institute senior fellow warning of a global recession should the U.S. ban fracking.

The Manhattan Institute is a recipient of fossil fuel funding and regularly attacks clean energy and climate policies, attacks which include making false claims about electric cars and calling the Democratic presidential candidates’ climate plans “pure fantasy.” Running the U.S.economy entirely on clean, renewable energy, the Manhattan Institute claims, is “simply not possible given today’s technology and basic physics.”

Contrast that with the assertion that it is entirely technologically possible, as outlined by Stanford researcher Mark Z. Jacobson. Furthermore, the claim that a fracking ban would cause a global recession completely ignores warnings that the climate crisis (which fracking worsens) literally threatens the global economy, according to sources such as the World Economic Forum.

Echoes From Industry Promoters

Nevertheless, fossil fuel producers and their promoters continue claiming that restraining oil and gas production is the real economic threat. The Detroit News ran a recent op-ed under the headline “Banning fracking would disrupt global economy.” The author of that op-ed, Hillsdale College economics professor Gary Wolfram, has been affiliated with notorious climate science–denying organization the Heartland Institute, which has received funding from Koch Industries and ExxonMobil. The Empowerment Alliance linked to Wolfram’s piece in the “News” section of its website.

Republicans in Congress, recipients themselves of oil and gas cash, are supporting the industry’s opposition to banning fracking. Several Republicans have introduced resolutions prohibiting a unilateral moratorium on fracking by a president. Democrats in the House already blocked one of those resolutions, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah.

Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania introduced a similar resolution in the Senate. “Natural gas has been a game changer for our country and our commonwealth,” Toomey said. “It is essential we push back on these ideas that threaten the prosperity and security of Pennsylvanians and Americans.”

As Sen. Toomey put it, “these ideas” like banning fracking may threaten the oil and gas industry, but citizens are increasingly viewing reining in the industry as essential to protecting their health and environment. The coalition “Pennsylvanians Against Fracking” is advocating for a fracking moratorium in Toomey’s home state, and last week the state, following visits from families of rare cancer patients, announced nearly $4 million in funding for studies on the health impacts of fracking.

In other states, including Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, a recent poll commissioned by Greenpeace found that two in three voters in these early primary states, regardless of political affiliation, support ending the production of fossil fuels.

API plans to target “key 2020 states” with a digital campaign promoting its new energy security video, relaying the misleading message that American oil and gas production is the only path to energy security, ignoring the fact that 100 percent renewable energy, which over 100 U.S.cities have already committed to, also creates energy security and independence.

‘A Wind-down of Gas Production’

But as the UN’s new “Production Gap” report reiterates, unrestrained oil and gas production is inconsistent with the world’s climate targets. Current production plans result in 43 percent more oil and 47 percent more gas in 2040 than would be consistent with a 2°C pathway, according to the analysis.

And while the oil and gas industry likes to point to the role of natural gas in reducing carbon emissions (while ignoring increases in globe-warming methane emissions), the Production Gap report warns that “the rapid rise in oil and gas production will push total U.S. extraction-based CO2 emissions 40 percent above 2005 levels by 2025.”

“The time to begin planning for a wind-down of gas production is, as with other fossil fuels, already upon us,” the report states.

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15 comments

  1. xkeyscored

    some Democratic presidential candidates are now proposing restrictive energy policies that would erase a generation of American progress

    The fossil fuel advocates’ policies will erase generations, if we let them. The east Germans occupying coal mines have the right idea: we need to stop this industry now, not wait another twenty or thirty years while we crash through a few more climate tipping points, leaving us powerless to control the demons we’ve unleashed.

    Reply
  2. John A

    If the various presidents claim it is about energy independence and not being reliant on foreign suppliers, why don’t the same presidents ensure the natural gas stays in the US for the sake of maintaining such independence, rather than being determined to strongarm Europe into accepting exports of gas in liquified form, which is far happier with the much cheaper non-liquified gas piped from Russia?

    Reply
  3. Eugene

    American progress, National Security, yet exactly who is benefiting? Considering that exporting such has increased, it certainly isn’t the American people, but the American Oil Companies & their stockholders. The losers being the American people who invest in the Fracking companies that are going insolvent. I wonder how much Calpers has invested in this?

    Reply
  4. JULIA WILLE

    well so far no president has stopped pretending that the US is exceptional, or under constant thread and attack ( meanwhile it is the US who constantly attacks and threatened other countries. So many things to learn…
    That does not mean, that my own country, Canada, is better – our Government bought a pipeline after all. It just requires to abandon the fairy tale idea of good and evil.

    Reply
  5. Susan the Other

    The argument that banning fracking will disrupt the global economy is a plus not a minus. Banning fracking is not the end of the world; it still leaves intact the use of piped natgas and oil. For the near future. But fracking is 10 times more destructive to the atmosphere because methane. And sloppy wildcatting just to stay ahead of the next debt rollover? It’s intrinsically a losing battle even for the frackers. This is not to mention water and land pollution. So to say that we mustn’t ban fracking is just stupid. And to use the boneheaded excuse that it will disrupt the global economy is equally stupid because that is exactly what we need to do – slow the ridiculous obsession with frivolous consumerism. Consumerism for what? It’s just insane. And kudos to Massachusetts and California – and all enlightened states because the margin is very thin for frackers and if enough states do likewise (ban new construction that uses petroleum products for heating) it will make even the easiest high-grading become totally unprofitable.

    Reply
    1. xkeyscored

      The excuse it’d disrupt the world economy is also stupid because, on its current path toward climate chaos, it’s going to effectively destroy itself before very long.

      Reply
  6. Keith McClary

    In the past, wars have been fought to grab oil and other FF resources. Now we supposedly have a global glut of FF, so why there are still conflicts centred around oil producing regions? It occurs to me that, if some FF must stay in the ground, we want that to be other countries’ FF, not ours. So the current conflicts are not about grabbing oil, but keeping it in the ground (eg. the blockades of Iranian and Venezuelan oil).

    Reply
  7. Jeremy Grimm

    Fracking is nasty, a nasty way to waste and pollute water and water tables, and much of the oil produced just goes into more plastics. National Security … nuts! Exxon can eat its bad investment in the Permian basin.

    I haven’t watched the American Petroleum Institute video with sound yet. Just the visuals suggest the oil industry is out of touch with their audience — or their audience is not the American populace. A campaign essentially promoting Fracking for National Security is pure nuts.

    And this post makes a strange opposition between “Running the U.S.economy entirely on clean, renewable energy, the Manhattan Institute claims, is ‘simply not possible given today’s technology and basic physics’” and “the assertion that it is entirely technologically possible, as outlined by Stanford researcher Mark Z. Jacobson.” I cannot regard either of these sources as credible.

    I do believe we must preserve some production of very heavy petroleum products — at least enough to coat a bunch of oil company executives with hot tar and feathers.

    Reply
    1. Roger Boyd

      Mark J. Jacobson paper in PNAS assumed a 15 times increase in the instantaneous availability of US hydroelectric power to balance off the intermittent renewables (removing the need for batteries or natural gas plants), even though total yearly hydro electricity would remain constant. When challenged on this in PNAS by a group of clean energy researchers (and some other questionable assumptions) he stated that he had assumed that more turbines would be added to existing hydro dams to increase the instantaneous output (this assumption was never stated in the PNAS paper). That is highly questionable at best – especially with climate models pointing to increased aridity in areas where many dams are located (e.g. the South West US).

      He was also challenged on some other assumptions (e.g. the space required for a wind turbine producing x amount of energy). He attacked the other scientists and then sued them and PNAS for millions for defamation, a suit he dropped two days after the defendants asked the court to dismiss it. That way he saved himself the professional embarrassment of the suit being dismissed.

      This was the comment from cleantechnica, one of the biggest clean energy sites:

      “For the sake of scientific completeness, any such pronouncements should include a disclaimer that the vision relies on a massive expansion of hydropower capacity without any practical mechanisms to deliver it. That adjustment, however, would threaten the snappiness of the slogan.”

      As this is how he got around the need for massive amounts of storage due to intermittency, the study was fundamentally flawed. This is still the core problem.

      As an exercise, you can take the actual electricity usage of any country and divide it by 365, and then 24, then 60. Thats the amount of electricity per minute that the nation uses. Then compare that to any reasonable forecasts for total installed battery capacity and you will see what the problem is. Even in the US there can be significant periods of little or no wind, and at night time there is no solar.

      Reply
      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I also chased down some of the links to Mark J. Jacobson’s websites and his affiliates — smarmy is the word they brought to my mind. As the ancient proverb says — birds of a feather … His affiliates felt to me as if they could be some component of whatever political force added the Grid access and rate structures for solar and wind power to the series of omnibus energy bills around 2005 and before. Those political forces added their provisions against the interests of the utility companies — which suggests a certain amount of ‘juice’.

        Reply
  8. Roger Boyd

    Mark J. Jacobson paper in PNAS assumed a 15 times increase in the instantaneous availability of US hydroelectric power to balance off the intermittent renewables (removing the need for batteries or natural gas plants), even though total yearly hydro electricity would remain constant. When challenged on this in PNAS by a group of clean energy researchers (and some other questionable assumptions) he stated that he had assumed that more turbines would be added to existing hydro dams to increase the instantaneous output (this assumption was never stated in the PNAS paper). That is highly questionable at best – especially with climate models pointing to increased aridity in areas where many dams are located (e.g. the South West US).

    He was also challenged on some other assumptions (e.g. the space required for a wind turbine producing x amount of energy). He attacked the other scientists and then sued them and PNAS for millions for defamation, a suit he dropped it two days after the defendants asked the court to dismiss it. That way he saved himself the professional embarrassment of the suit being dismissed.

    This was the comment from cleantechnica, one of the biggest clean energy sites:

    “For the sake of scientific completeness, any such pronouncements should include a disclaimer that the vision relies on a massive expansion of hydropower capacity without any practical mechanisms to deliver it. That adjustment, however, would threaten the snappiness of the slogan.”

    As this is how he got around the need for massive amounts of storage due to intermittency, the study was fundamentally flawed. This is still the core problem.

    As an exercise, you can take the actual electricity usage of any country and divide it by 365, and then 24, then 60. Thats the amount of electricity per minute that the nation uses. Then compare that to any reasonable forecasts for total installed battery capacity and you will see what the problem is. Even in the US there can be significant periods of little or no wind, and at night time there is no solar.

    Reply
  9. Another Amateur Economist

    A Brief Summary of Macroeconomics

    The arc of all civilizations: They start small.

    If they grow big, they grow until they start consuming at the margins of their environment.

    The margins never last long.

    The civilization then collapses.

    Usually with corruption and violence.

    Interlude.

    Some civilizations recover.

    Most don’t.

    End.

    Reply

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