President Joe Biden claims his climate policy is based on science. Maybe so, but it is short on math and logic. I’m glad the president is taking action, but unfortunately, he is attacking the production and transportation of petroleum rather than the consumption. That is dangerously backward.
Under his plan, the Department of Interior would ban fracking on federal lands, from which they claim come “more than 25% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.” That is grossly inaccurate. While 25% of our energy supply does come from federal lands, only a small portion of greenhouse emissions 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.
The state of New York provides proof that banning oil and gas development has zero effect on our consumption. In 2015, Governor Cuomo banned fracking in New York, even though the state sits over the prolific Marcellus Shale. In 2014, prior to the ban, the state used 1.35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Five years later they still consumed 1.31 TCF, virtually unchanged, according to EIA data. Instead of allowing the development of their own gas reserves, New York continued to import from neighboring Pennsylvania. Although they exported the drilling, they also 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. 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. The math on the full-scale buildout of wind and solar doesn’t work. While “green and free,” a total wind and solar world would occupy enormous amounts of surface lands, require massive changes to our transmission systems, and since they only generate 25% of the time, would literally require more lithium than in all the mines in China. 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. There is nothing free or green about it.
The environmentalists will not like it, but if we are ever to achieve carbon neutrality, we absolutely need more nuclear energy. 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, Biden says he is heeding the science. I’m glad to hear it. But could someone also please do the math?