Real climate solutions won’t happen without natural gas and oil

Energy from U.S. natural gas and oil is fundamental to economic recovery and addressing climate change goals.

Any student of U.S. history knows that America met the greatest challenges of our past — the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the space race — by eclipsing the politics of the moment and working together. People put our country first. That’s not to say that everyone agreed, but Americans came together for the greater good and a common purpose.

With a pandemic that has tested Americans in ways few others have, it is once again time to focus on problem solving and progress, not partisanship. As President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and new members of the House and Senate have indicated in preparing to take office, their first task will be supporting distribution of a historic vaccine.

But other priorities await, including solutions to three other important 21st-century challenges that remain — rebuilding the economy after a devastating pandemic, providing the affordable energy needed to fuel recovery and our modern way of life and addressing global climate challenges.

U.S. natural gas and oil have already taken some big leaps to support progress in all three areas.  As the country sheltered in place to ride out the pandemic, the natural gas and oil industry reliably provided the majority of affordable and reliable energy needed domestically, while displacing coal and other sources for power generation across the world by exporting cleaner natural gas to support emissions reduction goals. The U.S. has driven carbon emissions down to generational lows, even as U.S. energy production and energy demand have grown. And American energy produced today has a 90% smaller surface footprint than in the past and is produced cleaner than almost anywhere in the world. In citing this progress, we do not diminish or overlook the challenges before us; we understand firsthand how much more work there is to be done together.

Yet there are many inaccurate characterizations of our industry as outdated or inhibiting progress. It’s worth them taking another look and seeing for themselves the high-tech industry that has eclipsed these false narratives.

For example, you may not know it, but today natural gas and oil invests more than the entire federal government in transformative clean energy technologies. We’re capturing emissions and using them for other manufacturing processes. So yes — we proudly recycle.

Meanwhile, our products are the building blocks for millions of products that line store shelves. Natural gas and oil provide fuel, power or other material for nearly every other industry.

Discussions on energy policy and addressing climate challenges are incomplete without the experience, innovation and expertise of America’s natural gas and oil skilled workforce.

How We’re Meeting the Moment

Energy companies’ commitment to problem solving has never been clearer. In recent months, our industry has overcome strong headwinds — an abrupt drop in demand, an oil price war and a hollowed-out economy — to keep the lights on and support a nation in crisis.

Amid unprecedented challenges, we’ve maintained our focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and investing in technology to help us further reduce our environmental footprint. Several efforts are worth spotlighting:

  • Transitioning to Cleaner Natural Gas: Domestically produced natural gas is now the leading source of electricity generation in the U.S., replacing coal — a cleaner-energy trend that is widely expected to continue going forward. This substitution helped bring U.S. carbon dioxide emissions to generational lows in 2019. The S. Energy Information Administrationrecently reported that 61% of emission reductions in the power sector between 2005 and 2019 resulted from substituting natural gas for coal. Worldwide, the coal-to-natural gas shift has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 500 million metric tons, according to the International Energy Agency.
  • Reducing Methane Emissions: The Environmental Partnership — an alliance of 86 companies using new and proven technology to reduce methane emissions in natural gas and oil production and transmission — has tripled its membership since its launch in December 2017. This year, multiple pipeline companies joined the effort. Participating companies use cutting-edge technology to identify and repair leaks and deploy new low-emissions tools nationwide. These efforts and others have led to a 23% decrease in methane emissions from petroleum and natural gas production, even as production increased nearly 70% from 1990 to 2018. The Partnership is also partnering with Colorado State University’s Methane Emissions Technology Evaluation Center to help test and advance the next generation of methane detection tools.
  • Ramping Up Carbon Capture: Natural gas and oil companies have made significant investments in carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology, which removes carbon dioxide emissions and then either stores the carbon dioxide deep underground or uses it in manufacturing projects. There are nearly 70 CCUS projects worldwide — many administered by natural gas and oil companies — that are either running or in development. When these systems are fully operational, they will store millions of tons of carbon each year that otherwise would have been released into the atmosphere.

U.S. Policies Must Promote — Not Stifle — Climate Innovation and Progress

Even with this progress, we stand at a defining moment for the nation’s energy future, and the choices policymakers make during the next Congress will determine whether we build on America’s energy progress or shift to foreign energy sources with weaker environmental standards.

But it is clear that energy production and emission reduction can exist with economic growth. Since 2008 we have seen significant emission reductions from the use of natural gas in power generation, more than what some were predicting at the time. Domestic oil production has also reduced consumer price shocks and our dependence on foreign sources. All the while, the U.S. economy has continued to grow. This connection is important to understand as natural gas and oil will still be needed in the future. The International Energy Agency’s Sustainable Development Scenario — which outlines one path on how the world can tackle climate change — projects that in 2040, even if all the Paris Agreement goals are met, natural gas and oil still will comprise nearly half of the global energy mix.

Understanding energy’s critical role in society and pathways for emission reductions is the only way we’ll balance goals and advance on these issues. Imposing redundant regulations or hampering U.S. energy permits or delaying necessary energy infrastructure will hurt U.S. energy and environmental progress — not to mention American jobs and national security.

Our industry makes up a portion of global emissions and we are committed to taking action and innovating to reduce our environmental footprint. It’s what we’ve been doing and will continue to do. This ongoing work — aided by smart, pro-growth policies — will make it possible to reduce emissions, strengthen the economy and provide the energy America and the world need.

We’re eager to partner with the federal government to research the next generation of carbon capture technology. We’ll also need additional investments in the infrastructure that will allow the U.S. to remain a dominant energy power and minimize our dependency on unreliable foreign actors.

Innovation and 21st-century policies, not political stalemates, will help us move forward.

Collaborative Solutions for All

Of course, we cannot solve the challenges of global climate change in isolation. Federal and state governments, global partners, nonprofits and all industries must be at the table sharing expertise and lessons learned to arrive at workable, pragmatic solutions that serve the common good.

We know, too, that we’ll encounter those who are skeptical of our commitment to finding climate change solutions. To these people, we can only point to the challenges we’ve met, the technology we’ve adopted and the investments we’ll continue to make.

These are not the actions of an industry on the fence. On the contrary, they reflect the work of a serious, thoughtful and skilled workforce committed to working with the president-elect, vice president-elect and incoming Congress to forge real, enduring solutions.

We understand that there is much more to do to meet the challenges of our times. But the natural gas and oil industry recognizes the magnitude of what we face, and we are confident that we can help to bring about change that serves both people and our planet.

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