Elections are looming, and climate is the hottest subject on the debate agenda. Who wins what next fall will have a decisive impact on our industry's direction over the next decade.
Election results will determine whether our industries continue to grow or encounter major setbacks. New occupants of the White House, Congress, cabinet departments and regulatory agencies will be deciding whether pipelines can be built, natural gas export terminals are licensed, fracking is permitted, production on public land is allowed, and even whether natural gas and petroleum can be produced and consumed.
The millions of people in the energy infrastructure supply chain have much at stake and can make a big difference at the ballot box about who will be making these decisions. EEIA does not endorse or contribute to candidates for public office, but we do share information about the positions of candidates and our opinions about the effects their proposed policies would have on our industries, jobs, security, prosperity and environment.
Natural Gas: The Viable Path to Lower Carbon
Natural gas is by far the greatest contributor to lower carbon emissions in the US. It can be an even more important part of the solution globally, where much bigger climate problems loom. Countries like India, China and those on the African continent have two billion people with very limited or no access to electricity. Their leaders are driving to make energy available one way or another to their poorest people. Without access to enough natural gas they will resort to fuels that emit far more greenhouse gasses and other pollutants.
To put it in global context, the U.S. Energy Information Administration in a September 24, 2019 release projects that global energy consumption will grow by 50% between now and 2050, with nearly all of that growth occurring in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. These regions' consumption (which includes China, India and Africa) will more than double and account for 68% of global energy consumption, while the developed (OECD) countries' consumption will grow by only 17%.
By 2050 the non-OECD countries will generate two-thirds of the world's electricity.
Renewables (wind, solar and hydro) will be a major contributor to growing global consumption, rising from 15% today to 28% by 2050. Fossil fuels will account for 69% of total consumption, with natural gas remaining at 22% of the bigger total and growing by 47% in absolute terms.
Even though natural gas is the only currently available path to lower emissions and greater integration of renewables over the next few decades, its critical role as a global clean source of power is discounted and targeted for elimination by those who ignore the realities of what life would be like without it, here in the U.S. but especially for the world's poorest.
According to EIA, natural gas now fuels 35% of U.S. electric generating capacity, and its share is growing. As a direct result, U.S. carbon emissions have declined to levels not seen since the early 1990s. The reason is that the incredible new and growing abundance of shale gas (now 70% of all U.S. natural gas production), together with the infrastructure to move it, makes it a far more economical fuel for electricity generation. Gas provides reliable power when wind or solar aren't producing - which can be up to 75% of the time.
Even more important to the climate, U.S. natural gas is being produced in such abundance and at very low cost that it can be exported in large volumes to those countries around the world with little access to locally-sourced gas, but which would switch to lower-emitting fuels if they could. With U.S. LNG, now they can. But if they do not or cannot, by 2040 just China and India alone will account for 42% of global CO2 emissions, compared to the U.S.'s 12%.
So why is natural gas being opposed, rather than embraced and promoted, by many climate change activists and their favorite candidates for office? Why are they trying to shut down the only viable path to the lower carbon future we all want? Why are they trying to block the critical infrastructure needed to produce, consume and export this clean fuel?
We suggest three reasons: money, political power and ignoring the facts.
Environmental NGOs, the groups financing both grass-roots political activism and endless court challenges, cannot raise money from either their small or major donor bases with a complex message that essentially says, "we hate coal and oil but we love natural gas". This is way too nuanced, especially when natural gas often comes out of the same hole in the ground with crude oil. Easier to say, "stop fossil fuels now!" You can't attack the major producers as the great climate villains if you support natural gas as a transitional fuel and they are the world's largest producers of it.
The same principle holds true for political power. The simplest messages are the ones that resonate. With observable events such as wildfires, storms, ice melting and sea-level rise, it's easier to rally voters around a simple message calling for an immediate end to combustion of fossil fuels than to chart a complex path to lower carbon globally based on innovation and investment. It's harder to rally the American voter around the simple truth that even if we force a too-rapid transition to renewables and tank our grid, our economy and our standard of living in the process, it would not move the global climate needle because as shown above, what happens not in America but in Asia and Africa will determine the outcome.
The dominant messages on the anti-fossil fuel side are consistent:
"If elected I will ban fracking, stop pipelines, end oil and gas production offshore and on federal lands, raise taxes on businesses, hold oil and gas producers financially liable for storm and fire damage and the cost of coastal erosion and seawalls, and more." Too seldom heard are real solutions such as funding research and development into carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), encouraging other countries to switch to natural gas and providing them with the LNG to do it, incentivizing investments in new technologies to reduce methane release, and streamlining the permitting of pipelines to supply LNG exports and relieve midstream capacity bottlenecks to reduce flaring.
We remain optimistic that a majority of well-informed voters will respond positively to these intelligent solutions because they are key to the promise of a lower carbon environment, a stable and benign climate, and an enviable standard of living enabled by clean, abundant, affordable and reliable energy.