Why Will Fracked-Shale Oil and Gas Worsen the Climate Crisis?

The Biggest Problem Behind The U.S. Shale Boom

Nick CunninghamOilprice.com

U.S. shale production is expected to continue to soar well into the 2020s. And that is a major problem.

Over the past decade, U.S. oil production has more than doubled, surging from 5 million barrels per day (mb/d) to close to 12 mb/d today. Natural gas also rose significantly, rising from 21 trillion cubic feet per year (Tcf/y) in 2008 to 29 Tcf/y in 2017.

Natural gas has been likened to a “bridge fuel,” allowing the U.S. to lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) while it transitions to cleaner energy. Cheap shale gas has killed off a lot of coal plants, and with a GHG-profile half that of coal, the switch has been a boon for the fight against climate change.

That narrative, to be sure, remains up for debate. Shale gas operations emit methane, and at some point high volumes of fugitive methane emissions completely offset the benefit that gas has over coal. Various studies, for and against, argue over exactly how much methane is and has been emitted.

The major oil and gas fracked-shale zones in the USA now:


But there are other reasons why the coal-to-gas narrative has been oversold. Billions of dollars of investment in gas drilling and gas-fired power plants sucks capital away from renewable energy. Cheap shale gas has also killed off nuclear power, the largest source of carbon-free electricity.

More to the point, new power plants are long-lived investments, and their owners expect to be using them for decades to come. In other words, the U.S. has been locking itself into gas, even though the science dictates a relatively short timetable for the energy transition.

Still, knocking off coal does have its benefits, and the case against gas isn’t exactly clear cut.

However, what about crude oil? The surge in oil production in the U.S. and the resulting impact on greenhouse gas emissions has not been studied all that much. A new report from Daniel Raimi of Resources For the Future (RFF) studies the impact on GHG emissions from a variety of future oil production situations. Raimi is the author of the very even-handed book, “The Fracking Debate.”

Raimi laid out several scenarios looking at the GHG impact of U.S. oil and gas production (higher or lower production; more or less stringent climate policies; assumptions about methane) and found that GHG emissions are the highest in all scenarios in which the U.S produces more oil relative to the EIA’s baseline reference case.

Notably, even climate policy was outweighed by the precise level of oil and gas production. The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which required a significant overhaul of the electricity sector and would have shut down a number of coal-fired power plants, was a landmark policy and one of the most significant efforts by the government to accelerate the energy transition. The CPP was stayed by the Supreme Court and is being replaced by the Trump administration.

However, according to Raimi’s study, even if we assume the full implementation of the CPP, emissions are still higher in the “high oil production” scenario, even when compared to the no CPP but lower oil and gas production.

“In other words, low levels of oil and natural gas production do more to reduce emissions than implementation of the CPP,” Raimi concluded, noting that the only caveat that undercuts this conclusion is if methane estimates have been vastly overstated.

The conclusion is worth repeating. The Obama-era CPP – President Obama’s signature climate policy, and the one at the core of the U.S.’ participation in the Paris Climate Agreement – is of less consequence to GHG emissions than the precise level of oil and gas production.

Put another way, the climate penalty in an aggressive scenario in which U.S. shale production continues to rise over the next decade more than offsets the benefit of shutting down a bunch of coal plants.

The main reason for this is not CO2, but methane. It’s not people burning more gasoline in their cars because of higher oil production. Demand is relatively inelastic in the U.S.

Instead, the major climate penalty comes from higher methane emissions associated with upstream production. CO2 emissions remain enormous and a massive problem to tackle, but these emissions don’t change all that much. Methane emissions inordinately jump relative to the reference case if oil and gas production exceeds the baseline.

“Under a scenario with high levels of oil and natural gas production, increased methane emissions are likely to swamp the GHG effects of policies such as the CPP unless methane emissions are dramatically reduced below current levels,” Raimi warned.

Meanwhile, higher U.S. oil production has global effects, lowering prices and boosting demand. The effects are more difficult to tease out, but by 2030, the world could consume 1.6 mb/d more than it otherwise would under the high U.S. production scenario. U.S. oil is exported abroad, lowering prices and boosting demand.

The world then ends up emitting 200 to 50 MMT of CO2 more than it otherwise would, according to RFF. For context, Brazil emitted 417 MMT in 2016. In other words, higher U.S. oil and gas production could add another Brazil’s-worth of greenhouse gases by 2030.

There are plenty of uncertainties and assumptions built into any model, and that needs to be kept in mind. But the RFF study offers a stark warning. In short, the ongoing U.S. shale bonanza is calamitous for the fight against climate change.

A report last month from Oil Change International was more direct. The U.S. oil and gas industry “is gearing up to unleash the largest burst of new carbon emissions in the world between now and 2050.”

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

The Job Guarantee with Pavlina Tcherneva at Left Forum 2018

#JobGuarantee, not “Job Creation.”

America’s state governments, county governments, and municipal governments are at the mercy of gigantic corporations acting as hostage takers.

Hostage-takers of jobs, that is. The corporations say, give us our demand for $X____ Million in special concessions–tax breaks, a building site, an addition to your technical college to train our workforce, etc.–and we’ll “create” Y____ number of jobs to reduce the level of unemployment misery in your communities.

More often than not, it seems the Y_______ number of jobs never materialize. Sometimes the hostage-taker corporation merely takes the money on the basis of their vague job creation promise, and actually moves out of the area, rather than expanding there.

See the intriguing history of the looting that went on in Walker’s Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) in Wisconsin, by former State Senator Kathleen Vinehout.  In her piece, Ms. Vinehout reports,

“Earlier this year, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that WEDC’s claims of jobs created were based on “faulty calculations”. They went on to report, “The agency gave out almost $90 million more in awards, but the total number of related jobs fell by nearly 6,000.”

“Job creation” has really nothing to do with providing livelihood for our people, and everything to do with plutocrats looting the public treasuries of the nation.

With all the interest being generated in the Green New Deal proposals (there are several afloat on the cyberseas), we think it’s time to abandon the dead paradigm of “job creation” — which serves no one except corporations in their “rent-seeking behavior.”  It’s time instead to take a look at the Job Guarantee proposal of Pavlina Tcherneva.


Here’s Dr. Tcherneva speaking at Left Forum 2018 on her Job Guarantee proposal, a working paper from Levy Institute:





Stephanie Kelton: Modern Monetary Theory at Left Forum 2018

Stephanie Kelton gives a brief introduction to the field of Modern Monetary Theory (searchable in Twitter as #MMT).  It’s also a demolition of some old brittle paradigms left over from conservative think-tanks and politicians. Paradigms such as “pay-as-you go” or “pay-fors,” and the every popular (but incorrect, she says) “find the money” paradigm (e.g., “Where is Bernie going to find the money to give away all those free ponies”).  If you want to explore this field in more detail, search through Dr. Kelton’s Twitter feed, or do a search engine for Modern Monetary Theory.

This video is a segment from the longer video hosted at the Next System Project
at this web address (with transcript).  (Click to go there)





Stephanie Kelton’s Twitter profile:  @StephanieKelton – Prof. of Economics & Public Policy . Was Chief Economist for the Dems on U.S. Senate Budget Committee. Contributor






Do Not Forget That Ideas are Also Weapons

Ideas Are Also Weapons

by Subcomandante Marcos

Toward Freedom magazine, November 2000

The world is not square, or so we learn at school, yet, on the brink of the third millennium, it is not round, either. I do not know which geometrical figure best represents the world in its present state but, in an era of digital communication, we could see it as a gigantic screen-one of those screens you can program to display several pictures at the same time, one inside the other. In our global world, the pictures come from all over the planet. But some are missing-not because there is not enough room on the screen but because someone up there selected these pictures rather than others.

What do the pictures show? On the American continent, we see a paramilitary group occupying the Autonomous National University of Mexico (Unam); but the men in gray uniforms aren’t there to study. Another frame shows an armored column thundering through a native community in Chiapas. Beside this, we see US police using violence to arrest a youth in a city that could be Seattle or Washington. The pictures in Europe are just as gray.



Intellectuals have been part of society since the dawn of humanity. Their work is analytical and critical. They look at social facts and analyze the evidence, for and against, looking for anything ambiguous, revealing anything that is not obvious-sometimes even the opposite of what seems obvious.

These professional critics act as a sort of impertinent consciousness for society. They are non-conformists, disagreeing with everything-social and political forces, the state, government, media, arts, religion, and so on.

Activists will just say, “We’ve had enough,” but skeptical intellectuals will cautiously murmur “too much” or “not enough.” Intellectuals criticize immobility, demand change and progress. They are, nevertheless, part of a society which is the scene of endless confrontation and is split between those who use power to maintain the status quo and those who fight for change.

Intellectuals must choose between their function as intellectuals and the role that activists offer them. It is also here that we see the split between progressive and reactionary intellectuals. They all continue their work of critical analysis. But whereas the more progressive persist in criticizing immobility, permanence, hegemony, and homogeneity, the reactionaries focus their attacks on change, movement, rebellion, and diversity. So, in fact, reactionary intellectuals “forget” their true function and give up critical thought. Their memory shrinks, excluding past and future to focus only on the immediate and present. No further discussion is possible.


Many leading right-wing intellectuals start life as progressives. But they soon attract the attention of the powerful, who deploy innumerable stratagems to buy or destroy them. Progressive intellectuals are “born” in the midst of a process of seduction and persecution. Some resist; others, convinced that the global economy is inevitable, look in their box of tricks and find reasons to legitimize the existing power structure. They are awarded with a comfortable armchair, on the right hand of the prince they once denounced.

They can find any number of excuses for this supposedly “inevitable” outcome: It is the end of history; money is everywhere and all-powerful; the police have taken the place of politics; the present is the only possible future; there is a rational explanation for social inequality. There are even “good reasons” for the unbridled exploitation of human beings and natural resources, racism, intolerance, and war.

In an era marked by two new paradigms- communication and the market-right-wing intellectuals have realized that being “modern” means obeying one rule: “Adapt or go under.” They aren’t required to be original, just to think like everyone else, taking their cue from international bodies like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, or World Trade Organization.

Far from indulging in original, critical thought, right-wing intellectuals become remarkably pragmatic, echoing the advertising slogans that flood the world’s markets. In exchange for a place in the sun and the support of certain media and governments, they cast off their critical imaginations and any form of self-criticism, and espouse the new, free market creed.


The problem isn’t why the global economy is inevitable, but why almost everyone agrees that it is. Just as the economy is becoming increasingly global, so is culture and information. How are we to prevent vast media and communications companies like CNN or News Corporation, Microsoft or AT&T, from spinning their worldwide web?

In today’s world economy, the major corporations are essentially media enterprises, holding up a huge mirror to show us what society should be, not what it is. To paraphrase Regis Debray, what is visible is real and consequently true. That, by the way, is one of the tenets of right-wing dogma. Debray also explains that the center of gravity of news has shifted from the written word to visual effects, from recorded to live broadcasts, from signs to pictures.

To retain their legitimacy, today’s right-wing intellectuals must fulfill their role in a visual era, opting for what is immediate and direct, switching from signs to images, from thought to TV commentary.


In Mexico, left-wing intellectuals are very influential. Their crime is that they get in the way. Well, at least one of their crimes, since they also support the Zapatistas in their struggle. “The Zapatista uprising heralds the start of a new era in which native movements will emerge as players in the fight against the neoliberal global economy,” they say. But we are neither unique nor perfect. Just look at the natives of Ecuador and Chile, and the demonstrations in Seattle, Washington, Prague- and those that will follow. We are just one of the pictures that deform the giant screen of the world economy.


The prince has consequently issued orders: “Attack them! I shall supply the army and media. You come up with the ideas.” So, right-wing intellectuals spend their time insulting their left-wing counterparts, and because of the Zapatista movement’s international impact, they are now busy rewriting our story to suit the demands of the prince.


In one of his books, Umberto Eco provides some pointers as to why fascism is still latent. He starts by warning us that fascism is a diffuse form of totalitarianism, then defines its characteristics: refusal of the advance of knowledge, disregard of rational principles, distrust of culture, fear of difference, racism, individual or social frustration, xenophobia, aristocratic elitism, machismo, individual sacrifice for the benefit of the cause, televised populism, and use of Newspeak with its limited words and rudimentary syntax.



These are the values that right-wing intellectuals defend. Take another look at the giant screen. All that gray is a response to disorder, reflected in demands for law and order from all around us. But, is Europe once more the prey of fascism? We may well see skinheads, with their swastikas, on the screen, but the commentator is quick to reassure us that they are only minority groups, already under control. But it may also take other, more sinister forms.

After the fall of the Berlin wall, both sides of the political spectrum in Europe rushed to occupy the center. This was all too obvious with the traditional left, but it was also the case with the far right. It went out of its way to acquire a new image, well removed from its violent, authoritarian past, enthusiastically espousing neoliberal dogma.


The task of progressive thinkers-to remain skeptically hopeful-isn’t an easy one. They have understood how things work and, noblesse oblige, they must reveal what they know, dissect it, denounce it, and pass it on to others. But to do this, they must also confront neoliberal dogma, backed by the media, banks, major corporations, army, and police.

What is more, we live in a visual age. And so, to their considerable disadvantage, progressive thinkers must fight the power of the image with nothing but words. But their skepticism will get them out of that trap, and if they are equally skeptical in their critical analysis, they will be able to see through the virtual beauty to the real misery it conceals. So, perhaps there is reason to hope.

There is a story that when Michelangelo sculpted his statue of David, he had to work on a “second-hand” piece of marble that already had holes in it. It is a mark of his talent that he was able to create a figure that took account of these limitations. The world we want to transform has already been worked on by history and is largely hollow. We must nevertheless be inventive enough to change it and build a new world. Take care, and do not forget that ideas are also weapons.



Subcommandante Marcos led the Zapatista National Liberation Army in Chiapas, Mexico until he exited the stage. The above is excerpted from “La droite intellectuelle et lefascisme liberal,” first published in Le Monde diplomatique, August 2000.