The biggest problem behind the shale boom in the United States



US shale production is expected to continue to skyrocket into the 2020s. And it is a major problem.

In the last decade, US oil production has more than doubled, from 5 million barrels per day (Mb / d) to nearly 12 Mb / d today. Natural gas has also increased significantly, from 21 trillion cubic feet per year (Tcf / yr) in 2008 to 29 Tcf / yr in 2017.

Natural gas has been equated with "bridge fuel", allowing the United States to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while switching to cleaner energy. Cheap shale gas has killed many coal-fired plants and, with a GHG profile equivalent to half that of coal, this switch has been a godsend for the fight against climate change.

This story, of course, remains to be debated. Shale gas operations emit methane and, at some point, large amounts of fugitive methane emissions completely offset the benefits of gas over coal. Various studies, for and against, explain exactly the amount of methane emitted and emitted.

But there are other reasons why carbon-gas narration has been oversold. Billions of dollars of investment in gas drilling and gas-fired power plants extract capital from renewable energy. Cheap shale gas also destroyed nuclear power, the largest source of carbon – free electricity.

More specifically, new plants represent long-term investments and their owners expect to use them for decades. In other words, the United States locks itself into the gas, even though science imposes a relatively short timetable for the energy transition.

Nevertheless, the abandonment of coal has advantages, and the argument against gas is not entirely clear.

However, what about crude oil? The increase in oil production in the United States and its impact on greenhouse gas emissions have not been widely studied. A new report by Daniel Raimi of Resources for the Future (RFF) studies the impact on GHG emissions from various oil production situations. Raimi is the author of the very impartial book "The Fracking Debate".

Raimi presented several scenarios examining the impact of US oil and gas production on greenhouse gas emissions (higher or lower output, more or less stringent climate policies, methane assumptions). ) and found that GHG emissions were highest in all scenarios in which the United States produces more oil compared to the baseline EIA case.

Notably, even climate policy was offset by the precise level of oil and gas production. The Obama Administration's Clean Energy Plan, which required a major overhaul of the electricity sector and would have shut down a number of coal-fired power plants, was a historic policy and one of the most more importantly by the government to accelerate the energy transition. The CPP was suspended by the Supreme Court and is replaced by the Trump administration.

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However, according to the Raimi study, even if we assume the full implementation of the CPP, emissions are still higher in the "high oil production" scenario, even compared to the non-PCP scenario but with oil production and lower gas.

"In other words, the low levels of oil and natural gas production reduce emissions more than the implementation of the CPP," Raimi concluded, noting that the only caveat that invalidates this conclusion is that the estimates methane have been largely overestimated.

The conclusion deserves to be repeated. The Obama-era CPP – President Obama's climate policy, which is at the heart of the US's participation in the Paris Climate Agreement – has less impact on GHG emissions than the precise level of oil and gas production.

In other words, the weather penalty in an aggressive scenario in which American shale production will continue to increase over the next ten years more than offsets the benefit of closing a group coal plants.

The main reason is CO2, but methane. It's not the people who burn more gas in their cars because of the increased production of oil. Demand is relatively inelastic in the United States.

Instead, the major climate penalty comes from higher methane emissions associated with upstream production. CO2 emissions remain huge and are a huge problem to solve, but these emissions do not change much. Methane emissions are excessively higher than the reference scenario if oil and gas production exceeds the baseline.

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"In a scenario characterized by high levels of oil and natural gas production, an increase in methane emissions is likely to overwhelm the effects of policies such as the PPC on greenhouse gas emissions, unless emissions methane levels are drastically reduced below current levels, "Raimi warned.

At the same time, increased oil production in the United States has global effects, driving down prices and stimulating demand. The effects are harder to control, but by 2030, the world could consume 1.6 mb / d more than it would otherwise in the high production scenario in the United States. US oil is exported abroad, driving down prices and boosting demand.

The world ends up emitting 200 to 50 million tons of CO2 more than it would otherwise, according to RFF. For the moment, Brazil has issued 417 million metric tons in 2016. In other words, increased oil and gas production in the United States could add additional greenhouse gas value to Brazil. here 2030.

Every model has many uncertainties and assumptions, and we must not forget that. But the RFF study is a very bad warning. In short, the American bonanza under shale is a disaster for the fight against climate change.

Last month, a report from Oil Change International was more direct. The US oil and gas industry "tackles the biggest explosion of new carbon emissions in the world by 2050".

By Nick Cunningham from Oilprice.com

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