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New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog.

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:40SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington PostBloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

The debate over the natural gas industry’s climate change effects has raged for several years, ever since researchers from Cornell University stunned policy-makers and environmentalists by warning that if enough methane seeps out between the gas well and the burner, relying on natural gas could be even more dangerous for the climate than burning coal.

Natural gas is mostly comprised of methane, an extraordinarily powerful greenhouse gas, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than carbon dioxide during the two decades after it enters the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so even small leaks can have major climate impacts.

The team of researchers echoed many of the findings of the Cornell researchers and described how the federal government’s official estimate proved far too low.

“Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Adam Brandt, the lead author of the new report and an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

The new paper drew some praise from Dr. Robert Howarth, one of the Cornell scientists.

“This study is one of many that confirms that EPA has been underestimating the extent of methane leakage from the natural gas industry, and substantially so,” Dr. Howarth wrote, adding that the estimates for methane leaks in his 2011 paper and the new report are “in excellent agreement.”

In November, research led by Harvard University found that the leaks from the natural gas industry have been especially under-estimated. That study, published inthe Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported that methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction and oil refineries in some regions are nearly five times higher than previous estimates, and was one of the 200 included in Thursday’s Science study.

EPA Estimes Far Off-Target

So how did the EPA miss the mark by such a high margin?

The EPA’s estimate depends in large part on calculations — take the amount of methane released by an average cow, and multiply it by the number of cattle nationwide. Make a similar guess for how much methane leaks from an average gas well. But this leaves out a broad variety of sources — leaking abandoned natural gas wells, broken valves and the like.

Their numbers never jibed with findings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy, which approached the problem by taking measurements of methane and other gas levels from research flights and the tops of telecommunications towers.

But while these types of measurements show how much methane is in the atmosphere, they don’t explain where that methane came from. So it was still difficult to figure out how much of that methane originated from the oil and gas industry.

At times, EPA researchers went to oil and gas drilling sites to take measurements. But they relied on driller’s voluntary participation. For instance, one EPA study requested cooperation from 30 gas companies so they could measure emissions, but only six companies allowed the EPA on site.

“It’s impossible to take direct measurements of emissions from sources without site access,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co-author of the new analysis in a press release. “Self-selection bias may be contributing to why inventories suggest emission levels that are systematically lower than what we sense in the atmosphere.” (DeSmog haspreviously reported on the problem of industry-selected well sites in similar research funded by the Environmental Defense Fund.)

Worse than Coal?

There was, however, one important point that the news coverage so far missed and that deserves attention — a crucial point that could undermine entirely the notion that natural gas can serve as a “bridge fuel” to help the nation transition away from other, dirtier fossil fuels.

In their press release, the team of researchers compared the climate effects of different fuels, like diesel and coal, against those of natural gas.

They found that powering trucks or busses with natural gas made things worse.

“Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective” explained the study’s lead author, Adam R. Brandt, an assistant professor in the Department of Energy Resources at Stanford, calling into question a policy backed by President Obama in his recent State of the Union address.

The researchers also described the effects of switching from coal to natural gas for electricity — concluding that coal is worse for the climate in some cases. “Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows,” the team wrote in a press release.

But they failed to address the climate impacts of natural gas over a shorter period — the decades when the effects of methane are at their most potent.

“What is strange about this paper is how they interpret methane emissions:  they only look at electricity, and they only consider the global warming potential of methane at the 100-year time frame,” said Dr. Howarth. Howarth’s 2011 Cornell study reviewed all uses of gas, noting that electricity is only roughly 30% of use in the US, and describing both a 20- and a 100-year time frame.

The choice of time-frame is vital because methane does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, so impact shifts over time. “The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report from last fall — their first update on the global situation since 2007 — clearly states that looking only at the 100 year time frame is arbitrary, and one should also consider shorter time frames, including a 10-year time frame,” Dr. Howarth pointed out.

Another paper, published in Science in 2012, explains why it’s so important to look at the shorter time frames.

Unless methane is controlled, the planet will warm by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 17 to 35 years, and that’s even if carbon dioxide emissions are controlled. That kind of a temperature rise could potentially shift the climate of our planet into runaway feedback of further global warming.

“[B]y only looking at the 100 year time frame and only looking at electricity production, this new paper is biasing the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions between natural gas and coal in favor of natural gas being low,” said Dr. Howarth, “and by a huge amount, three to four to perhaps five fold.”

Dr. Howarth’s colleague, Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, raised a similar complaint.

“Once again, there is a stubborn use of the 100-year impact of methane on global warming, a factor about 30 times that of CO2,” Dr. Ingraffea told Climate Central, adding that there is no scientific justification to use the 100-year time window.

“That is a policy decision, perhaps based on faulty understanding of the climate change situation in which we find ourselves, perhaps based on wishful thinking,” he said.

For its part, the oil and gas industry seems very aware of the policy implications of this major new research and is already pushing back against any increased oversight of its operations.

“Given that producers are voluntarily reducing methane emissions,” Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, told The New York Times in an interview about the new study, “additional regulations are not necessary.”
Photo Credit: “White Smoke from Coal-Fired Power Plant,” via Shutterstock.

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog.

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:40SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington PostBloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

The debate over the natural gas industry’s climate change effects has raged for several years, ever since researchers from Cornell University stunned policy-makers and environmentalists by warning that if enough methane seeps out between the gas well and the burner, relying on natural gas could be even more dangerous for the climate than burning coal.

Natural gas is mostly comprised of methane, an extraordinarily powerful greenhouse gas, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than carbon dioxide during the two decades after it enters the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so even small leaks can have major climate impacts.

The team of researchers echoed many of the findings of the Cornell researchers and described how the federal government’s official estimate proved far too low.

“Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Adam Brandt, the lead author of the new report and an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

The new paper drew some praise from Dr. Robert Howarth, one of the Cornell scientists.

“This study is one of many that confirms that EPA has been underestimating the extent of methane leakage from the natural gas industry, and substantially so,” Dr. Howarth wrote, adding that the estimates for methane leaks in his 2011 paper and the new report are “in excellent agreement.”

In November, research led by Harvard University found that the leaks from the natural gas industry have been especially under-estimated. That study, published inthe Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported that methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction and oil refineries in some regions are nearly five times higher than previous estimates, and was one of the 200 included in Thursday’s Science study.

EPA Estimes Far Off-Target

So how did the EPA miss the mark by such a high margin?

The EPA’s estimate depends in large part on calculations — take the amount of methane released by an average cow, and multiply it by the number of cattle nationwide. Make a similar guess for how much methane leaks from an average gas well. But this leaves out a broad variety of sources — leaking abandoned natural gas wells, broken valves and the like.

Their numbers never jibed with findings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy, which approached the problem by taking measurements of methane and other gas levels from research flights and the tops of telecommunications towers.

But while these types of measurements show how much methane is in the atmosphere, they don’t explain where that methane came from. So it was still difficult to figure out how much of that methane originated from the oil and gas industry.

At times, EPA researchers went to oil and gas drilling sites to take measurements. But they relied on driller’s voluntary participation. For instance, one EPA study requested cooperation from 30 gas companies so they could measure emissions, but only six companies allowed the EPA on site.

“It’s impossible to take direct measurements of emissions from sources without site access,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co-author of the new analysis in a press release. “Self-selection bias may be contributing to why inventories suggest emission levels that are systematically lower than what we sense in the atmosphere.” (DeSmog haspreviously reported on the problem of industry-selected well sites in similar research funded by the Environmental Defense Fund.)

Worse than Coal?

There was, however, one important point that the news coverage so far missed and that deserves attention — a crucial point that could undermine entirely the notion that natural gas can serve as a “bridge fuel” to help the nation transition away from other, dirtier fossil fuels.

In their press release, the team of researchers compared the climate effects of different fuels, like diesel and coal, against those of natural gas.

They found that powering trucks or busses with natural gas made things worse.

“Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective” explained the study’s lead author, Adam R. Brandt, an assistant professor in the Department of Energy Resources at Stanford, calling into question a policy backed by President Obama in his recent State of the Union address.

The researchers also described the effects of switching from coal to natural gas for electricity — concluding that coal is worse for the climate in some cases. “Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows,” the team wrote in a press release.

But they failed to address the climate impacts of natural gas over a shorter period — the decades when the effects of methane are at their most potent.

“What is strange about this paper is how they interpret methane emissions:  they only look at electricity, and they only consider the global warming potential of methane at the 100-year time frame,” said Dr. Howarth. Howarth’s 2011 Cornell study reviewed all uses of gas, noting that electricity is only roughly 30% of use in the US, and describing both a 20- and a 100-year time frame.

The choice of time-frame is vital because methane does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, so impact shifts over time. “The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report from last fall — their first update on the global situation since 2007 — clearly states that looking only at the 100 year time frame is arbitrary, and one should also consider shorter time frames, including a 10-year time frame,” Dr. Howarth pointed out.

Another paper, published in Science in 2012, explains why it’s so important to look at the shorter time frames.

Unless methane is controlled, the planet will warm by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 17 to 35 years, and that’s even if carbon dioxide emissions are controlled. That kind of a temperature rise could potentially shift the climate of our planet into runaway feedback of further global warming.

“[B]y only looking at the 100 year time frame and only looking at electricity production, this new paper is biasing the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions between natural gas and coal in favor of natural gas being low,” said Dr. Howarth, “and by a huge amount, three to four to perhaps five fold.”

Dr. Howarth’s colleague, Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, raised a similar complaint.

“Once again, there is a stubborn use of the 100-year impact of methane on global warming, a factor about 30 times that of CO2,” Dr. Ingraffea told Climate Central, adding that there is no scientific justification to use the 100-year time window.

“That is a policy decision, perhaps based on faulty understanding of the climate change situation in which we find ourselves, perhaps based on wishful thinking,” he said.

For its part, the oil and gas industry seems very aware of the policy implications of this major new research and is already pushing back against any increased oversight of its operations.

“Given that producers are voluntarily reducing methane emissions,” Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, told The New York Times in an interview about the new study, “additional regulations are not necessary.”
Photo Credit: “White Smoke from Coal-Fired Power Plant,” via Shutterstock.

Keystone XL Decision Highlights Coziness Between Oil and Gas Industry, Obama Administration | DeSmogBlog

Keystone XL Decision Highlights Coziness Between Oil and Gas Industry, Obama Administration | DeSmogBlog.

Mon, 2014-02-03 11:59SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

This past week was good to the oil and gas industry. First, President Obama talked up jobs gains from drilling and labeled natural gas a “bridge fuel” in his State of the Union address, using terminology favored by natural gas advocates.

Then, on Friday, the Obama administration released a much-awaited assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts which concluded that pipeline construction “remains unlikely to  significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands,” effectively turning a blind eye to the staggering carbon emissions from tar sands extraction and expansion plans.

While Mr. Obama’s warm embrace of fossil fuels surprised some environmentalists, it should come as little surprise in light of prior comments made by the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API).

“It’s our expectation it will be released next week,” Jack Gerard confidently told Reuters, referring to the Keystone XL assessment, while many were still speculating that the report might not be issued until after the November mid-term election. “We’re expecting to hear the same conclusion that we’ve heard four times before: no significant impact on the environment.”

Mr. Gerard added that these predictions were based on sources within the administration.

In fact, as the Keystone decision-making process has unfolded, the oil and gas industry has had — as they’ve enjoyed for decades — intensive access to decision-making in the White House.  This access has helped form the Obama administration’s schizophrenic energy policy, in which the President backs both renewable energy and fossil fuels without acknowledging that the two are competitors. When fossil fuels gain market share, renewables lose.

While even the World Bank has called for immediate action on climate change, the API, which has worked hard to shape Obama’s views on fossil fuels, has also worked to create doubt around the very concept of fossil-fuel-driven climate change and to downplay the impact their industry has had.

There’s no question that the oil and gas industry wields enormous sway inside Washington D.C.

The API has spent $9.3 million dollars this year alone on reportable lobbying expenses, the highest amount in the group’s history, according to data from OpenSecrets.org. This summer, a DeSmog investigation found that API spent $22.03 million dollars lobbying at the federal level on Keystone XL and/or tar sands issues since June 2008, when the pipeline project was first proposed.

The API has also worked hard to convince lawmakers that voters overwhelmingly back the pipeline (despite a groundswell of grassroots organizing that has led to the project’s declining popularity).

This summer, Mr. Gerard’s group launched a massive ad campaign — featuringformer Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — that was timed to be seen by lawmakers in Washington D.C. and when they headed back to their home states for recess. API has also funded astroturf campaigns (exposed by leaked documents), cited questionable job creation numbers, and drawn fire from media watchdogs for playing fast and loose with the facts.

The industry’s influence over Obama’s administration on Keystone XL has at times been downright scandalous. Obama’s State Department hired an API member, Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM), to evaluate the Keystone XL pipeline’s potential environmental impact.

In a blockbuster investigative reportMother Jones revealed that ERM’s Keystone experts previously worked for TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone project, along with other oil and gas companies poised to profit from the pipeline’s construction. When the report was released publicly by the State Department, reporter Andy Kroll had noticed something especially odd: the biographies of each expert had been redacted, suggesting that the State Department may have known of those potential conflicts and attempted to hide that fact.

The State Department’s inspector general promised to investigate the conflict of interest allegations, but the results of those investigations are still not public.

The API has tended to strongly favor Republicans over Democrats in its campaign contributions, but over the past several years, the Obama administration hasreached out to the oil and gas industry group, soliciting its views. Nonetheless, Mr. Gerard remained unsatisfied. “At least they’re listening,” he told Oil and Gas Journal in 2012. “But they’re not following every one of our recommendations.”

If this past week is any indication, that might be starting to shift.

After Obama’s State of the Union address, Mr. Gerard was quick to applaud the President’s description of natural gas — which emits a little more than half as much carbon dioxide when burned as coal, but whose total climate impacts could actually be worse than coal once methane emissions are tallied — saying that the President was evolving.

“This year he gave a full-throated endorsement to natural gas,” Mr. Gerard told theWall Street Journal. “Next year, he’ll be giving a full-throated endorsement to U.S. oil production.”

“His words are going in the right direction for us,” Mr. Gerard added.

The API has emerged as a significant influence over the Obama administration, and its inherently flawed all-of-the-above vision for our energy future.

The reason Keystone XL matters so much is not just as its symbolic importance as the fact that it would reflect a major long-term commitment to continued fossil fuel extraction — at a moment when climate experts are saying we must takeimmediate and drastic action and leave two-thirds of known fossil reserves in the ground.

In his State of the Union, Mr. Obama talked up benefits of oil and gas and thengave mention to renewables like wind and solar, but he showed no awareness that a long-term commitment to fossil fuels is in direct tension with furthering renewable energy.

“If we are truly serious about fighting the climate crisis, we must look beyond an ‘all of the above’ energy policy and replace dirty fuels with clean energy,” the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune said. “We can’t effectively act on climate and expand drilling and fracking for oil and gas at the same time.”

For its part, the API’s stance on climate has long been one of obfuscation. A 1998 API “Communications Action Plan” reads: “Victory will be achieved when … citizens ‘understand’ uncertainties in climate science … [and] recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.'”

Jack Gerard has argued that fracking represents a benefit for the environment,citing the fact that carbon emissions have dropped since the shale boom began.

Not only does this ignore the role that the recession has played in reducing energy consumption, but it also ignores the effects of another key greenhouse gas: methane. There is strong evidence that methane emissions from the oil and gas industry could make natural gas even worse than burning coal, in terms of its overall climate impact.

And, there are signs that the reductions cited by Mr. Gerard are already over. Earlier this month, the EIA announced that CO2 emissions rose 2 percent in 2013, reversing earlier declines.

Of course, if Keystone XL is ultimately approved, carbon emissions can be expected to spike. The pipeline will carry up to 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day. Opening Keystone would emit as much CO2 into the atmosphere as opening six new coal-fired power plants, the Pembina Institute estimated.

“This is a large source of carbon that’s going to be unleashed,” Larry Schweiger, the president of the National Wildlife Federation told The New York Times after the State Department’s Keystone report was released. “We’re headed in a terribly wrong direction with this project, and I don’t see how that large increase in carbon is going to be offset.”

But if you ask Jack Gerard, there’s nothing to worry about. “This final review puts to rest any credible concerns about the pipeline’s potential negative impact on the environment,” he said in a statement. “This long-awaited project should now be swiftly approved.”

Photo Credit: Oil and Gas Well, via Shutterstock.

Keystone XL Decision Highlights Coziness Between Oil and Gas Industry, Obama Administration | DeSmogBlog

Keystone XL Decision Highlights Coziness Between Oil and Gas Industry, Obama Administration | DeSmogBlog.

Mon, 2014-02-03 11:59SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

This past week was good to the oil and gas industry. First, President Obama talked up jobs gains from drilling and labeled natural gas a “bridge fuel” in his State of the Union address, using terminology favored by natural gas advocates.

Then, on Friday, the Obama administration released a much-awaited assessment of the Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts which concluded that pipeline construction “remains unlikely to  significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands,” effectively turning a blind eye to the staggering carbon emissions from tar sands extraction and expansion plans.

While Mr. Obama’s warm embrace of fossil fuels surprised some environmentalists, it should come as little surprise in light of prior comments made by the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API).

“It’s our expectation it will be released next week,” Jack Gerard confidently told Reuters, referring to the Keystone XL assessment, while many were still speculating that the report might not be issued until after the November mid-term election. “We’re expecting to hear the same conclusion that we’ve heard four times before: no significant impact on the environment.”

Mr. Gerard added that these predictions were based on sources within the administration.

In fact, as the Keystone decision-making process has unfolded, the oil and gas industry has had — as they’ve enjoyed for decades — intensive access to decision-making in the White House.  This access has helped form the Obama administration’s schizophrenic energy policy, in which the President backs both renewable energy and fossil fuels without acknowledging that the two are competitors. When fossil fuels gain market share, renewables lose.

While even the World Bank has called for immediate action on climate change, the API, which has worked hard to shape Obama’s views on fossil fuels, has also worked to create doubt around the very concept of fossil-fuel-driven climate change and to downplay the impact their industry has had.

There’s no question that the oil and gas industry wields enormous sway inside Washington D.C.

The API has spent $9.3 million dollars this year alone on reportable lobbying expenses, the highest amount in the group’s history, according to data from OpenSecrets.org. This summer, a DeSmog investigation found that API spent $22.03 million dollars lobbying at the federal level on Keystone XL and/or tar sands issues since June 2008, when the pipeline project was first proposed.

The API has also worked hard to convince lawmakers that voters overwhelmingly back the pipeline (despite a groundswell of grassroots organizing that has led to the project’s declining popularity).

This summer, Mr. Gerard’s group launched a massive ad campaign — featuringformer Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — that was timed to be seen by lawmakers in Washington D.C. and when they headed back to their home states for recess. API has also funded astroturf campaigns (exposed by leaked documents), cited questionable job creation numbers, and drawn fire from media watchdogs for playing fast and loose with the facts.

The industry’s influence over Obama’s administration on Keystone XL has at times been downright scandalous. Obama’s State Department hired an API member, Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM), to evaluate the Keystone XL pipeline’s potential environmental impact.

In a blockbuster investigative reportMother Jones revealed that ERM’s Keystone experts previously worked for TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone project, along with other oil and gas companies poised to profit from the pipeline’s construction. When the report was released publicly by the State Department, reporter Andy Kroll had noticed something especially odd: the biographies of each expert had been redacted, suggesting that the State Department may have known of those potential conflicts and attempted to hide that fact.

The State Department’s inspector general promised to investigate the conflict of interest allegations, but the results of those investigations are still not public.

The API has tended to strongly favor Republicans over Democrats in its campaign contributions, but over the past several years, the Obama administration hasreached out to the oil and gas industry group, soliciting its views. Nonetheless, Mr. Gerard remained unsatisfied. “At least they’re listening,” he told Oil and Gas Journal in 2012. “But they’re not following every one of our recommendations.”

If this past week is any indication, that might be starting to shift.

After Obama’s State of the Union address, Mr. Gerard was quick to applaud the President’s description of natural gas — which emits a little more than half as much carbon dioxide when burned as coal, but whose total climate impacts could actually be worse than coal once methane emissions are tallied — saying that the President was evolving.

“This year he gave a full-throated endorsement to natural gas,” Mr. Gerard told theWall Street Journal. “Next year, he’ll be giving a full-throated endorsement to U.S. oil production.”

“His words are going in the right direction for us,” Mr. Gerard added.

The API has emerged as a significant influence over the Obama administration, and its inherently flawed all-of-the-above vision for our energy future.

The reason Keystone XL matters so much is not just as its symbolic importance as the fact that it would reflect a major long-term commitment to continued fossil fuel extraction — at a moment when climate experts are saying we must takeimmediate and drastic action and leave two-thirds of known fossil reserves in the ground.

In his State of the Union, Mr. Obama talked up benefits of oil and gas and thengave mention to renewables like wind and solar, but he showed no awareness that a long-term commitment to fossil fuels is in direct tension with furthering renewable energy.

“If we are truly serious about fighting the climate crisis, we must look beyond an ‘all of the above’ energy policy and replace dirty fuels with clean energy,” the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune said. “We can’t effectively act on climate and expand drilling and fracking for oil and gas at the same time.”

For its part, the API’s stance on climate has long been one of obfuscation. A 1998 API “Communications Action Plan” reads: “Victory will be achieved when … citizens ‘understand’ uncertainties in climate science … [and] recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.'”

Jack Gerard has argued that fracking represents a benefit for the environment,citing the fact that carbon emissions have dropped since the shale boom began.

Not only does this ignore the role that the recession has played in reducing energy consumption, but it also ignores the effects of another key greenhouse gas: methane. There is strong evidence that methane emissions from the oil and gas industry could make natural gas even worse than burning coal, in terms of its overall climate impact.

And, there are signs that the reductions cited by Mr. Gerard are already over. Earlier this month, the EIA announced that CO2 emissions rose 2 percent in 2013, reversing earlier declines.

Of course, if Keystone XL is ultimately approved, carbon emissions can be expected to spike. The pipeline will carry up to 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day. Opening Keystone would emit as much CO2 into the atmosphere as opening six new coal-fired power plants, the Pembina Institute estimated.

“This is a large source of carbon that’s going to be unleashed,” Larry Schweiger, the president of the National Wildlife Federation told The New York Times after the State Department’s Keystone report was released. “We’re headed in a terribly wrong direction with this project, and I don’t see how that large increase in carbon is going to be offset.”

But if you ask Jack Gerard, there’s nothing to worry about. “This final review puts to rest any credible concerns about the pipeline’s potential negative impact on the environment,” he said in a statement. “This long-awaited project should now be swiftly approved.”

Photo Credit: Oil and Gas Well, via Shutterstock.

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