Fracked Gas Wont Achieve Paris Climate Goals, But Empowering Communities Could
By Josh Fox
The United States is undergoing a massive energy transition that isn’t receiving enough attention, and it could render the Paris climate agreement meaningless. We’re swapping one climate-damaging fuel, coal, for another that is actually worse: fracked gas.
It’s a stark contradiction for U.S. climate policy. The Obama administration used its executive power to push the agreement and its aspirational goal of keeping warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. The agreement is a good thing. But for the U.S., a big part of reaching its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) commitment is implementing the Clean Power Plan, the EPA’s framework for states to reduce their carbon emissions. It’s designed to facilitate a wholesale transition from coal to natural gas, much of which is a product of fracking.
Phasing out coal is also a good thing, but replacing it with gas will send emissions soaring, and put that “below 2 degree” goal out of reach – that is, unless communities succeed in standing up to the fossil fuel industry and replacing coal with renewables, not gas. By themselves, current INDCs connected to the Paris agreement will lead to a 3.5-degree warmer future. Any hope of grounding Paris’s lofty goals in reality depends on the grassroots acting fast to stop the gas industry juggernaut.
Gas power plants emit less CO2 than coal, so they sneak under the Clean Power Plan CO2 limits, and it’s easy and cheap to swap gas burners for coal burners in existing power plants. But natural gas is mostly methane, which is about a hundred times more powerful than CO2 as a warming agent. Gas drilling, fracking, and transport via pipelines and compressors means massive amounts of it will leak directly into the atmosphere before it’s even burned, swamping any potential gains in CO2 emissions for the global climate, while also causing local environmental and health damage.