Commentary: Biden’s climate policy short on math, logic
President Biden may claim his climate policy is based on science, but it is short on math and logic. As an engineer who has spent his career in the energy industry, I agree that mankind is affecting the climate, and I’m glad the President is taking action to reduce the emissions that come from the consumption of fossil fuels.
Unfortunately, under pressure from his progressive advisors, President Biden is attacking the production and transportation of petroleum rather than the consumption. That is dangerously backwards. Until other energy alternatives are built and available, America still needs oil and gas.
Under his plan, the Department of Interior would ban fracking and eliminate oil and gas development on Federal lands, from which they claim come “more than 25% of US greenhouse gas emissions.”
That is grossly inaccurate and illustrates the backwards logic of the Biden climate plan. While 25% of our energy supply does come from Federal lands, only a small portion of the nation’s greenhouse gasses come directly from the development of fossil fuels.
The bulk of the emissions come when we, the public, consume oil and gas. Stopping production on Federal lands will not stop our need for manufacturing, for products made from petroleum, and for fuel for our cars, homes, and businesses.
As long as we consume oil and gas, wells will still be drilled somewhere. Rather than drilling those wells under strict environmental guidelines on Federal lands where the jobs and taxes stay here, many of them will be drilled in foreign countries with few environmental safeguards. The products will then be shipped to our shores, increasing both the emissions and risk of spills.
Pulling the plug on the Keystone XL pipeline is another illogical move that will have the opposite effect as intended. Instead of pumping that oil through an underground pipeline in the safest and least invasive transportation process available, that oil will continue to be shipped by rail, again resulting in more emissions and an increased chance for an accident.
Trucking, the other alternative, is even worse. We have 2.6 million miles of pipelines in the US, and they are the most environmentally friendly way to transport anything.
The irony is that banning oil and gas development has zero effect on our need for it. If your 8th grader is looking for a science project, the State of New York is an excellent micro-study on the effects of a ban. In 2015, the EPA under the Obama-Biden administration concluded that the fracking process did not pose a widespread threat to our water supplies.
That same year, Governor Cuomo, making up his own science, banned fracking in New York, even though the state sits over the prolific Marcellus Shale.
In 2014, prior to the ban, the State consumed 1.35 TCF (trillion cubic feet) of natural gas. That heats a lot of homes and runs a lot of industries. Five years later, in 2019, they still consumed 1.31 TCF, virtually unchanged (EIA data).
Instead of allowing the development of their own gas reserves, New York continued to import the fuel from neighboring Pennsylvania. Along with exporting the drilling of the wells, they exported tens of thousands of jobs and denied landowners in New York the right to receive the lease payments and royalties their neighbors have enjoyed.
What New York did not export was the emissions associated with their consumption of the fuel, which is not going away until there is a viable alternative. Meanwhile, the environmental impact of drilling the wells still happened, just somewhere else. In this case, at least they imported from Pennsylvania, not Venezuela.
The reality is that the transition to a zero-carbon energy portfolio will take time. Wind and solar, while part of the solution, are not anywhere close to the final answer, as the math on a full-scale buildout just does not work.
While quote “green and free,” a total wind and solar world would occupy enormous amounts of surface lands, would require massive changes to our transmission systems, and since they only generate 25% of the time, would require more lithium than in all the mines in China.
There literally aren’t enough lithium reserves on the planet to power a world of electric cars, much less our cities. And 20 years from now, we get to dispose of all the old batteries and solar panels and wind blades and do it all again. Certainly that part of it is neither green nor free.
The environmentalists will not like it, but if we are ever to achieve carbon neutrality, nuclear energy is currently the only technically feasible grid scale alternative.
As opposed to wind and solar, nuclear does not have to be put in a windy, sunny place, it doesn’t take up much space (think nuclear sub), and it is reliable 24-7. But with the inevitable delays from the obstructionists, increasing our nuclear capacity is going to take time and significant political will.
In the meantime, just like New York, America still relies on oil and gas. Banning development and pulling the plug on pipelines won’t change that.
In closing, President Biden says he is heeding the science. I’m glad to hear it. But could someone also please do the math?
George Sharpe is an investment manager for Merrion Oil & Gas in Farmington and was a columnist for Energy Magazine.