The Obama administration is heralding the nearly 20-year low in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as President Obama prepares to talk climate change in China, but so far the fracking revolution isn’t getting any credit.
White House senior advisor Brian Deese cheered the falling carbon dioxide levels at a Monday press conference without mentioning the outsize role played by natural gas, as the cleaner-burning fuel increasingly overtakes coal in electricity generation.
“For those of you who are not breathlessly following the most recent data that has come out, I would note recent data that we’ve seen suggests or finds that for the first half of 2016, energy sector emissions in the United States are actually down 6 percent from last year, and 15 percent from 2005,” said Mr. Deese. “And they’re at their lowest level in nearly 20 years.”
He said nothing about the U.S. natural gas boom, an omission that critics say has become par for the course as the Obama administration highlights renewable energy and emissions restrictions without acknowledging the role of fracking in natural gas extraction.
“To add dishonesty to injury, his administration is bragging about the reduced CO2 emissions of [the] U.S. industry without crediting the fracking for natural gas, a fossil fuel, that largely caused it,” said Alex Epstein, author of the book “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.”
Indeed, the U.S. leads the world in greenhouse gas reductions, a trend that began well before Mr. Obama took office. He has attempted to lower emissions further with a bevy of regulations such as the Clean Power Plan, but that was put on hold in February by the Supreme Court.
The decrease also comes before any movement on the Paris climate accord, which Mr. Obama is expected to ratify by executive agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping prior to the G-20 Summit, according to the South China Morning Post.
Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, called on Mr. Obama Tuesday to recognize the role of natural gas and fracking as he embarks on a trip to Asia that includes a heavy climate change component.
The president’s schedule begins Wednesday with an appearance at the 20th annual Lake Tahoe Summit in Nevada, which is expected to focus on environmental issues.
“We’re hopeful that his comments tomorrow acknowledge the progress that our industry has made, through innovation and in technological advancement, leading the world in the production of oil and natural gas and in the reduction of carbon emissions, which are near 20-year lows,” Mr. Gerard said.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported in May that U.S. energy-related emissions are down 12 percent from 2005 even though the U.S. economy has grown during that time by 15 percent.
Natural gas electricity generation has also risen steadily during that same period, reaching a record high in July.
Wind and solar energy are also on the rise, but they represent a far smaller share of the power grid than do natural gas and coal. While wind is expected to account for nearly 6 percent of generation and solar for 1 percent in 2017, natural gas is forecast to hit 34 percent and coal to fall to 30 percent in 2016, the agency reported.
At the White House press conference, Mr. Deese noted that the president “will enter this trip in a situation where we’ve seen growth in the United States outpace most other advanced economies.”
Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance, said the reductions have occurred not because of the Obama administration but in spite of “concerted attempts by the federal government to overregulate fracking and make it more difficult to develop natural gas in America.”
She cited the EIA report, which found that “[m]any of the changes in energy-related CO2 emissions in recent history have occurred in the electric power sector because of the decreased use of coal and the increased use of natural gas for electricity generation.”
The problem for Democrats like Mr. Obama is that fracking is also a prime target of environmentalists, who argue that the technology poses risks to water quality, although the EPA released a preliminary study last year showing “no widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water.”
Even so, the Department of the Interior released a rule last year imposing regulations on fracking on public lands. A judge struck down the rule in June, saying the administration lacked congressional authority.
Two industry groups, FrackFeed and North Texans for Natural Gas, launched earlier this month a tongue-in-cheek public relations campaign called Fracking for President, including a national bus tour, aimed at touting the technology.
That led to an exchange with the Solar Energy Industries Association, which responded on Twitter by saying, “Solar respectfully won’t be Fracking’s VP. Given 90%+ approval, we have our own aspirations as America’s energy leader.”
Replied Fracking for President: “That’s a shame, we’ve been working so well together for years.”