Agenda 2030 United Nations & US Oil Production
Goals for Climate Change and Oil Production are at Odds – United States
President Joe Biden re-entered the Paris Agreement on his first day in office temporarily halted all new oil and gas leases on federal land, and revoked permission for the contentious Keystone XL pipeline. In April, the president conducted a virtual climate summit in which he pledged that the world’s second-largest economy would slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by Agenda 2030 United Nations compared to 2005, and reach net-zero emissions by 2050, going even further than the Paris climate promises.
On Earth Day, Biden reminded world leaders, “The signs are apparent, the science is undeniable, and the cost of inaction keeps mounting.” “Countries that act decisively now will reap the clean-energy benefits of the impending boom.” Then, on the route to decarbonization, something unexpected happened. Shortly after Biden’s bold climate announcement, the administration approved ConocoPhillips’ massive new Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), which the oil giant estimates will produce nearly 600 million barrels of oil over the next 30 years by pumping up to 160,000 barrels of oil per day from 250 wells. Last year, while she was a member of Congress, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland was a vocal opponent of the proposal.
Despite killing the Keystone XL pipeline, Biden’s government fought in court in April against shutting down the Dakota Access pipeline, which transports 500,000 barrels of oil per day between South Dakota and Illinois. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is also opposed to the pipeline, which they regard as a threat to their water supply and holy sites. Shortly after, Biden’s Justice Department barricade more than 400 oil & gas leases on public land in Wyoming issued by the Trump management in late 2020, even though environmental groups had successfully sued in a lower court to block the leases due to the potential impact on sage grouse and other wildlife.
“Many of us had high hopes for the new administration,” says Sergey Paltsev at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). “We need to be at net zero as fast as possible. And we are manifesting that current efforts are not enough.“
The leases were eventually blocked by a federal judge in June. In May, Biden’s State Department lifted sanctions against the developers of Nordstream 2, a large gas pipeline that runs beneath the Baltic Sea from the Russian Arctic to Germany, with climate and political implications. The pipeline would increase Europe’s reliance on Russian gas while also avoiding a present pipeline that goes through Ukraine, which would be a financial blow to the country’s war-torn economy. Several liquefied natural gas projects and efforts that potentially be a source of emissions for decades have received implicit backing from the administration. In the spring, US LNG shipments reached new highs.
During her confirmation hearings in February, Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm made no bones about her support for LNG exports, despite the administration’s silence on the issue. Granholm told senators, “I believe US LNG exports can play a vital role in decreasing international consumption of fuels that contribute more to GHGs emissions.”
Many environmental groups were outraged when Biden’s climate czar, John Kerry, told the head of the International Monetary Fund in April that “A coal-fired power plant will not be funded in Europe by any bank, financial institution, or even private source, but we must move away from coal as quickly as possible… Gas will serve as a bridge fuel to some extent.” Political observers believe that the support for large projects in Alaska and Wyoming is likely political horse-trading to gain favor with unions and the moderate Republican senators from those states, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Liz Cheney (R-WY), whose votes Biden will need to pass his larger agenda.
“If you approve a pipeline, you instantly create thousands of jobs. It’s difficult for politicians to refuse, “Duke University’s Drew Shindell agrees.
“However, you cannot sit on two chairs at the same time,” Paltsev argues.
The stakes are really high. In May, the International Energy Agency, the world’s staid economic watchdog of the energy sector released an alarming report warning that all new investment in oil and gas infrastructure must end this summer if we are to stay below 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) increase in global temperatures that have been identified as our best hope for avoiding catastrophic climate change.
Which bridge to the future – Agenda 2030 United Nations
Biden’s fossil fuel movements include natural gas, which has long been regarded as a “bridge fuel” between coal and a zero-carbon future. However, according to Paltsev, deputy director of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, this is no longer the case. “There were various reports from MIT and others that thought it was a bridge fuel five to ten years ago,” Paltsev explains. “We were largely comparing coal and natural gas at the time.”
“But now the story has taken a drastic turn,” Paltsev continues. “Now it’s renewables since wind and solar costs have plummeted so low that they are competitive.”
Methane, which accounts for 70 to 90 percent of natural gas has proven to be both a boon and a bane for the environment. It emits less than half the Carbon dioxide that coal does when burned. When it is released into the atmosphere, however, it has more than 80 times the global warming potential of Carbon dioxide in the first 20 years. And, according to several reports over the previous few years, it leaks almost everywhere it is pumped, piped, and manufactured. As a result, methane emissions have increased dramatically during the previous two decades.
Riley Duren, a research scientist at The University of Arizona who has spent the last decade measuring and quantifying methane emissions for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says, “Methane is a leaky system, just like your yard’s irrigation system.” “Methane will leak everywhere humans create it.”
Duren and colleagues flew over the Permian Basin at 30,000 feet with a hyperspectral imaging camera that could not only see but also accurately measure invisible methane leaks with a resolution of 10 square meters or less on the ground in a recent study of the nation’s largest oil and gas reservoir, which lies beneath West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. More than a thousand “super emitters” were creating plumes from wells, pipelines, compressors, collection stations, and lighted flares, with enough precision to actually identify the leaking equipment.
Over 150 of these chronic leaks accounted for nearly 10% of total methane emissions from the whole US oil and gas industry.
“When you look down at the Permian from 30,000 feet, you see plumes of smoke all flowing in the same way as the prevailing wind, one after another across this landscape,” Duren adds. “It was like seeing wildfires rage all down the California coast.” The resemblance is especially poignant in light of the recent wildfires, which were sparked in part by climate change.
According to Duren, the average leakage rate for natural gas production facilities in the United States is 2%, with a rate of roughly 3% in the Permian Basin. “That’s ten times greater than what would be considered a low-carbon bridge fuel,” he says, “so if that’s the goal, leak rates must be drastically reduced.”
The Good News
According to Duke University’s Drew Shindell, the main author of the UN Environmental Program’s latest Global Methane Assessment, most methane leaks are easy and very affordable to plug, especially in oil and gas infrastructure, coal mines, and landfills. Shindell argues, “It’s not even low-hanging fruit.” “It’s just sitting on the ground, waiting for us to pick it up.” Moreover, unlike CO2, methane has intrinsic value. Capturing methane can be profitable for businesses. Converting waste gas to energy is a profitable business for municipalities.”
According to the Global Methane Assessment, available targeted methane reduction initiatives may reduce methane emissions by 45 percent by 2030, preventing global warming of 0.5°F (0.3°C) by the 2040s.
According to MIT’s Paltsev, the optimal policy on natural gas might just be to keep most of it in the ground. His group’s most recent study called for the earth to make a massive course correction and a much faster shift to renewable energy. He emphasizes that natural gas is still a fossil fuel.
“We are hurting renewables by promoting natural gas, which is cleaner than coal but still a fossil fuel that emits a lot of CO2 and, more crucially, a lot of methane. In the long run, cheap natural gas will sabotage efforts to reduce emissions, according to Paltsev.