It turns out that the US is one of the few industrialized nations to meet the terms of the Kyoto protocols (reduce CO2 emissions to 1997 levels) despite the fact we never signed it or did anything to try to meet the goals.
Thank the recession and probably more importantly the natural gas and fracking revolution. Fracking will do more to reduce CO2 than the entire sum of government and renewable energy projects (since a BTU from natural gas produces about half the CO2 as a BTU form coal). Of course, environmentalists oppose fracking. They would rather carpet the desert with taxpayer-funded solar panels and windmills than allow the private sector to solve the problem using 50-year-old technology.
From our paper this morning:
California regulators have launched an investigation into offshore hydraulic fracturing after revelations that the practice had quietly occurred off the coast for the past two decades.
The California Coastal Commission promised to look into the extent of so-called fracking in federal and state waters and any potential risks.
Hydraulic fracturing has been a standard tool for reinvigorating oil and gas wells for over 60 years. While it gets headlines as something new, it decidedly is not. What is new is its use in combination with horizontal drilling as a part of the initial well design, rather than as as a rework tool for an aging field.
What California regulators are really saying is that they have known about and been comfortable with this process for decades**, but what has changed is not the technology but public opinion. A small group of environmentalists have tried to, without much scientific basis, demonize this procedure not because they oppose it per se but because they are opposed to an expansion of hydrocarbon availability, which they variously blame for either CO2 and global warming or more generally the over-industrialization of the world.
So given this new body of public opinion, rather than saying that "sure, fracking has existed for decades and we have always been comfortable with it", the regulators instead act astonished and surprised -- "we are shocked, shocked that fracking is going on in this establishment" -- and run around in circles demonstrating their care and concern. Next step is their inevitable trip to the capital to tell legislators that they desperately need more money and people to deal with their new responsibility to carefully scrutinize this decades-old process.
**Postscript: If regulators are not familiar with basic oil-field processes, then one has to wonder what the hell they are going with their time. It's not like anyone in the oil business had any reason to hide fracking activity -- only a handful of people in the country would have known what it was or cared until about 5 years ago.
So, why do we have all these "dirty" coal plants? Market failure? Industry greed? Nope -- Carter-era government policy. For you younger folks, here is a law you may have never heard of:
The Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act (FUA) was passed in 1978 in response to concerns over national energy security. The 1973 oil crisis and the natural gas curtailments of the mid 1970s contributed to concerns about U.S. supplies of oil and natural gas. The FUA restricted construction of power plants using oil or natural gas as a primary fuel and encouraged the use of coal, nuclear energy and other alternative fuels. It also restricted the industrial use of oil and natural gas in large boilers.**
In other words, all new fossil fuel-powered boilers had to be coal-fired (which in a year or so, after Three Mile Island, translated to all new boilers since nuclear was essentially eliminated as an option). Yes, this may seem odd to us in an era of so much environmental concern over coal, but something coal opponents don't tell you is that many of the exact same left-liberal-government-top-down-energy-policy types that oppose coal today lobbied hard for the above law several decades ago. Here is a simplified timeline:
1. Government energy policy sets price controls that create artificial shortages of oil and gas
2. Government-created shortages of oil and gas lead to this law, with government demanding that all new fossil fuel-powered electric plants and boilers be coal powered.
3. Government mandates on coal use create environmental concerns, which lead to proposals for taxes and bans on coal power.
4. The need for government action against coal is obviated by a resurgence of oil and gas supply once government controls were removed. However, in response, government beings to consider strong controls on expansion in oil and gas production (e.g. fracking limits).
** I got involved with this because I worked in an oil refinery in the 1980's. We had to get special exemptions to run our new boilers on various petroleum products (basically byproducts and waste products of the refining process). Without these, the law would have required we bring in coal to run our oil refinery furnaces.
Anything Vladimir Putin fears can't be all bad
Whilst it is exceedingly difficult to summon up much sympathy for either Russia’s state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom or Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin, the dynamic rise of natural gas produced by hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,” has raised alarm bells in the highest reaches of the Kremlin.
Because Gazprom’s European customers, tired of being ripped off by Gazprom, are avidly exploring the possibilities of undertaking fracking to develop their own sources of the “blue gold,” and nowhere is interest higher than in the Russian Federation’s neighbors Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and China.