Natural Gas Doesn’t Mean the End of Global Warming

Recently, a number of articles have been published gushing about the drop in US carbon emissions due to cheap natural gas. The recent glut of US natural gas has largely come from fracking. You can see an example at The Atlantic here, or in Foreign Policy here.

These articles appeal to people who might vaguely understand there’s something to this whole climate change problem after all, but really don’t care for hippies at Greenpeace and the EPA telling coal companies to reign in their emissions, and can’t be arsed to get out and support market-based solutions to the GHG externality problem like a carbon tax or cap and trade. They’re not anti-science, really. They’re just anti-proactively doing anything meaningful about the problem.

So you can imagine how news that US emissions have declined has been a godsend. Their inner monologue probably goes something like, “Look! No pesky regulations, no inconvenient carbon pricing. The magic of the market at work!” And of course, “Suck it, commies Europe!

Such articles fail to recognize two fundamental problems with the “Fracking Will Save Us All” meme.

1. Burning natural gas domestically doesn’t keep coal in the ground. As US coal consumption decreased, coal exports increased.

It’s great that US emissions dropped. But the atmosphere and ocean don’t care where the coal gets burned.

2. These low natural gas prices are unsustainable. The US Energy Administration forecasts:

Because of the projected increase in natural gas prices relative to coal, EIA expects the recent trend of substituting coal-fired electricity generation with natural gas generation to slow and likely reverse over the next year. From April through August 2012, average monthly natural gas prices to electric generators increased by 34 percent, while coal prices fell slightly. EIA expects that coal-fired electricity generation will increase by 9 percent in 2013, while natural gas generation will fall by about 10 percent.

EIA expects carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, which fell by 2.3 percent in 2011, to further decline by 2.4 percent in 2012. However, projected emissions increase by 2.8 percent in 2013, as coal regains some of its electric-power-generation market share.

If the authors of such nonsense find the EIA analyses too difficult to read, perhaps webcomics might be less intimidating:

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3 responses to “Natural Gas Doesn’t Mean the End of Global Warming

  1. I have a plan to save the planet, too.

    1) Have the government build a gigantic solar facility, large enough to power all the energy needs of the U.S. for the next 1,000 years, in the Mojave Desert at a cost of a couple of trillion dollars

    2) Upgrade our grid, inductively-electrify our roads, replace all carbon-based heating, production in our homes and industry with electric.

    3) Rip the electric meters off the walls of our homes and businesses. Solar power is free.

    4) This should take about five years. Then pop champagne, and celebrate how easy and cost-effective this would be.

    Screw market-based solutions. Let’s get it done already.

  2. There’s a third potential problem with fracking-as-planet-savior, and that is the fact that fracking potentially releases a large amount of methane. Methane of course, is a very potent greenhouse gas, and these fugitive emissions are not included in estimates of GHG emissions. If they are, by some estimates fracking is even worse than coal (http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/blogs/greeninc/Howarth2011.pdf).

  3. Pingback: When will they ever learn….(coal companies) « Everything is Connected

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