Myth v. Reality on the Administration's Greenhouse Gas Claims: 7% Does Not Equal "Nearly a Quarter"
The Interior Department will be holding a forum on March 25th to “highlight perspectives” from various stakeholders on the president’s ban on oil and natural gas leasing. Hopefully the forum will shed light on what form the “comprehensive review” of the federal oil and natural gas program will entail. I anticipate it will be a multi-year environmental impact statement process that means that it is effectively a Biden leasing ban for most if not all of the first term.
I was struck that the new administration is parroting the talking points we’ve hear for a few years now from the environmental lobby about federal oil and natural gas greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. I figured it was past time to look into the main talking points.
“Nearly a Quarter of All Greenhouse Gas Emissions”
In discussing the leasing ban, the talking point that “fossil fuels extraction on public lands accounts for nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions” keeps being repeated. The talking point is based on a legitimate study from the U.S. Geological Survey commissioned during the Obama Administration, but it’s being distorted. Just doing some simple calculations from the study, here’s what I found.[i]
Myth Number One: Federal lands extraction is responsible for nearly a quarter of all U.S. GHGs
This talking point gives the impression that extraction itself produces a quarter of all GHGs. In actuality, the vast majority of emissions comes from the end-use combustion of fossil fuels, not from the extraction. The talking point includes coal, but yet is being used in messaging targeting just oil and natural gas. The USGS data show that 0.6% of U.S. GHGs come from the extraction of oil and natural gas on federal lands.
Myth Number Two: Federal oil and natural gas account for a large percentage of U.S. GHGs
In some ways, the talking point that about a quarter of U.S. GHGs come from federal production is unremarkable. It’s well understood that the consumption of fossil fuels produces GHGs. Since about 22% of U.S. oil production comes from federal lands and waters, it makes sense it would account for about the same amount of GHGs.
However, once again the administration uses sleight of hand with the USGS numbers. Indeed, USGS shows that federal lands account for 23% of U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but looking at the top three GHGs including methane, federal lands actually account for only 19% of all U.S. GHGs. Call me a stickler, but 19% does not equal “nearly a quarter.” Even including coal as this number does, that’s less carbon intensity when balanced against the energy benefits provided to Americans. If we look at just the oil and natural gas numbers, it turns out that federal oil and natural gas account for “about a quarter” of American energy but only 7% of U.S. GHGs.
Myth Number Three: Banning federal oil and natural gas will have a positive impact on climate change.
In the absence of an alternative that does everything oil and natural gas do (home heating, transportation, industrial energy, electricity generation, electronic components, petrochemicals, etc.), banning federal production does not reduce the demand for oil and natural gas but merely displaces it to other parts of the country without federal lands or overseas. Whether oil and natural gas are produced in Texas, Pennsylvania, Russia or Saudi Arabia, the resulting GHGs equally impact global climate change.
Conveniently Overlooked: The USGS study recognizes the emissions reductions industry has already achieved. “Compared to 2005, the 2014 totals represent decreases in emissions for all three greenhouse gases (decreases of 6.1 percent for CO2, 10.5 percent for CH4, and 20.3 percent for N2O).”
Full details and citations are available here in our position paper.
[i] All calculations come from Federal Lands Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sequestration in the United States: Estimates for 2005-2014, USGS, Table 1. The percentages are arrived at by comparing those numbers with total U.S. GHG emissions from the 2016 EPA GHG inventory using the year 2014, which is the year used in the USGS study.