4. US Oil and Gas Industry Set to Unleash 120 Billion Tons of New Carbon Emissions

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The US oil and gas industry has the potential to “unleash the largest burst of new carbon emissions in the world” through 2050, according to a January 2019 report from Oil Change International, an organization that works to expose the true costs of fossil fuels and advocates for clean energy.

Oil Change International’s coverage is based on a study, “Drilling Towards Disaster,” produced in collaboration with 350.org, Amazon Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity, Food & Water Watch, Greenpeace USA, and a dozen other organizations. According to the report, new US oil and gas development could enable 120 billion tons of new carbon pollution, the equivalent to “the lifetime CO2 emissions of nearly 1,000 coal-fired power plants.”

Between now and 2030, the United States is likely to account for 60 percent of the world’s projected growth in oil and gas production. According to Kelly Trout, one of the report’s coauthors, the findings present “an urgent and existential emergency for lawmakers in the United States at all levels of government.”

The “Drilling Towards Disaster” report highlights a five-point agenda for what policymakers must do to check climate change, including, for example, banning new leases or permits for new fossil fuel exploration, production, and infrastructure; ending subsidies and other public finance for the fossil fuel industry; and championing a Green New Deal to promote transition to 100 percent renewable energy.

Asserting that there is “no more time to waste,” another of the report’s coauthors, Lorne Stockman, noted that, although the Trump administration and fossil fuel backers “portray climate change as a false choice between the economy and the environment,” their actions “favor an irresponsible and outdated fossil fuel sector over a clean energy sector that has proven it can deliver on jobs, economic growth, and reliable cheap energy.”

References to Oil Change International’s “Drilling Towards Disaster” report have been limited to independent media outlets, including the Austin, Texas, NPR affiliate, DeSmog Blog, and Common Dreams. Corporate news outlets have not covered the report’s release or its findings, including its prediction of 120 billion tons of new carbon pollution or its five-point checklist to overhaul fossil fuel production in the United States. Instead, much of the corporate news media’s coverage of carbon emissions has focused more narrowly on President Trump’s proposal to amend existing emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks and to establish new standards for future cars and trucks. Although such coverage highlighted the stakes of Trump’s proposal to weaken fuel-efficiency standards—the proposal “could be his most consequential climate-policy rollback yet,” one New York Times report stated—framing carbon emissions in terms of pollution from cars and trucks does not convey the extent of the problem. Instead, that frame effectively excludes from coverage the scope of new fossil fuel exploration, production, and extraction that led Oil Change International to characterize the potential for massive new carbon emissions as an “existential emergency” for US lawmakers.

David Turnbull, “Report: U.S. Oil and Gas Expansion Threatens to Unleash Climate Pollution Equivalent to Nearly 1,000 Coal Plants,” Oil Change International, January 16, 2019, http://priceofoil.org/2019/01/16/report-u-s-oil-and-gas-expansion-threatens-to-unleash-climate-pollution-equivalent-to-nearly-1000-coal-plants/.

Jake Johnson, “With US ‘Drilling Towards Disaster,’ Report Warns Anything Less Than Urgent Green New Deal will be ‘Too Little, Too Late,’” Common Dreams, January 16, 2019, https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/01/16/us-drilling-towards-disaster-report-warns-anything-less-urgent-green-new-deal-will.

Student Researcher: Tommy Hunt (City College of San Francisco)

Faculty Evaluator: Jennifer Levinson (City College of San Francisco)