"The Energy Boom Is Bad for Climate Change."
It doesn't have to be. If there's one thing that critics of oil and gas development on the left have right, it's that we've done far too little to combat climate change. Serious action to mitigate the problem will require moving close to zero carbon emissions over the long run. That's right, zero. That will eventually mean little or no coal, oil, or gas consumption, unless the emissions produced by burning those fuels are captured and buried deep underground. Nor can we wait to start taking action: Because investments today can last decades, a meaningful strategy to curb U.S. emissions must begin, well, yesterday.
So is more oil and gas production fundamentally at odds with confronting climate change? It's not that simple. New natural gas production is actually great news for climate change. Gas is largely displacing coal, and it produces only half as much carbon dioxide when burned. Furthermore, while new coal-fired power plants are expensive and thus tough to displace later, gas-fired facilities are much cheaper. That makes it easier to replace them as lower-carbon options, such as nuclear energy, solar power, or coal or gas plants that capture their carbon dioxide emissions, become more attractive. All of this means gas is better for the climate.
Oil presents a tougher problem. New U.S. production doesn't displace dirtier fuels; indeed, insofar as it lowers gasoline and diesel prices, it feeds higher demand for crude. Yet unless massive U.S. production fundamentally overturns world oil market dynamics, the impact of new supplies on world prices (and hence emissions) will be modest. Instead, new U.S. output will largely displace production overseas, particularly from OPEC members. Not only will the scale of additional emissions be limited, but the gains to the U.S. economy will be larger than the accompanying climate damage.
Ultimately, U.S. efforts to combat climate change should focus mostly on the demand side of the equation. Curbs on fossil fuel usage, through steps like fuel-economy standards, carbon pricing, power plant regulation, and targeted incentives for clean energy, are far less likely to lead to additional emissions elsewhere than restraints on fossil fuel production. If U.S. policy aimed at oil demand ends up crashing crude prices, and that in turn reduces domestic production, the net result will still be good for the United States. But if the United States goes after the drillers without cutting back on demand, it'll just be shifting production to other countries.