by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
What can possibly unite these two items? Not only do they seem unrelated, but they also seem opposite.
The first is from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It’s a graph showing how the United States has become the world’s top producer of petroleum and natural gas. We’re even beating Russia and Saudi Arabia. As you can see, that wasn’t the case just a decade ago.
The second item is from the International Energy Agency’s new report out this month on Global CO2 emissions in 2019. Here’s the entry for the U.S.:
The United States saw the largest decline in energy-related CO2 emissions in 2019 on a country basis – a fall of 140 Mt [million tons], or 2.9%, to 4.8 Gt [gigatons].
US emissions are now down almost 1 Gt from their peak in the year 2000, the largest absolute decline by any country over that period. A 15% reduction in the use of coal for power generation underpinned the decline in overall US emissions in 2019. Coal-fired power plants faced even stronger competition from natural gas-fired generation, with benchmark gas prices an average of 45% lower than 2018 levels. As a result, gas increased its share in electricity generation to a record high of 37%.
How is it that these are both true?
Hasn’t everything we’ve been told over the past two decades said that those were impossible? Weren’t we under the impression that those things worked in opposition — that we’d have to choose between one or the other?
The answer? Thank fracking.
America’s always had untold amounts of oil and natural gas trapped in shale rock. Getting to them was an age-old question. Cheap, plentiful, domestic oil and natural gas were made possible by the marriage of two old technologies, horizontal drilling, and hydraulic fracturing.
Now, thanks to fracking, plentiful oil has freed the U.S. from massive gasoline price spikes whenever there are troubles in the Middle East. Did you notice what happened at the pumps last month while all the media talking heads were fretting about “World War III” and “war with Iran”? They actually went down.
Now, thanks to fracking, cheap natural gas has become price-competitive to coal for producing electricity. Politicians and policymakers have been trying to make renewable energy sources replace coal, but they can’t. They’re not reliable or dispatchable. Natural gas is.
That’s why research finds that nuclear and natural gas are the most inexpensive, efficient ways to reduce emissions, while solar and wind are the most expensive and least efficient. The IEA report acknowledged price-competitive natural gas gaining more share of electricity generation in the U.S. as coal declined.
We see it at work in North Carolina, too. Look how electricity generation has changed and CO2 emissions have fallen all century in North Carolina.
Now, technological change, consumer preferences, and an expanding service sector are also contributing to lower emissions. But the lion’s share of the credit goes to the change to natural gas in electricity generation.
For all these reasons and more, when you hear the likes of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speak of banning fracking, you know it’s a very, very bad idea.
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