Al Gore is wrong about a key energy and climate change issue. I know that won't surprise all of my readers, while others will insist Gore is not wrong at all.
Al Gore tweeted last night to support Vermont's ban of hydraulic fracturing. http://t.co/42fwSUFw. Gore's embrace of Vermont matters, as he has the respect of millions, including me. Those thinking otherwise misjudge our diverse nation.
But, if his position wins the day, Gore would unintentionally increase carbon pollution, over the next 20 years, and would reverse the collapse in coal's electricity market share. Indeed, Al Gore will find support for his proposal to ban fracking in some parts of coal country.
Beyond causing more pollution and not less, banning hydraulic fracturing would also bring more hardship for Americans straining to pay bills and looking for jobs. To the affluent, energy savings matter not much.
But to Pennsylvanians at or below the median income of $49,000 before taxes, $1,450 matters a lot. And shale gas has saved many Americans, including tens of millions of poor Americans, $1,450 per year in lower natural gas heating and electricity bills, savings that would not have happened and would be lost, if all states took the path walked by Vermont and urged by Gore.
Gore's anti-fracking tweet comes, just when massive displacement of coal by gas has played a key role in rolling back US carbon emissions to 1998 or before levels. EIA projects that US energy related carbon emissions will decline another 2.9% in 2012, after declining significantly in 2011, and for 4 of the last 5 years. www.johnhanger.blogspot.com/2012/05/eia-latest-report-shows-coal-hits-new.html.
Coal generation declined from 52% of electricity generation in 2000 to 48% in 2008 and then collapsed to a forecasted 36% in 2012. The collapse in coal generation and the resulting significant declines in carbon emissions both result from the shale gas boom that took off in 2008.
Enormous new gas supplies from shale resources caused plummeting natural gas prices that stopped a rush to build 150 new coal plants, pushed other coal plants to retire, and spurred massive switching from coal generation to gas. In those ways, shale gas has been instrumental in avoiding annually 1 billion tons of carbon. johnhanger.blogspot.com/2012/05/truth-some-environmentalists-dare-not.html.
Exhibit A for how powerfully low natural gas prices is causing massive switching from coal to gas is Southern Company, until recently a huge consumer of coal. It has cut its coal generation from 70% to about 33%, all because natural gas now is a cheaper way to generate electricity than burning coal.
While US has embraced shale gas and seen its energy related emissions plummet, Europe has yet to do so and has recently burnt more coal. China is just beginning to develop shale gas but still gets about 70% of its total energy from coal. Poland generates 93% of its electricity from coal. The opportunity to substitute gas for coal exists around the world.
But what about renewable energy and the impact of gas on it? The boom in shale gas in the USA coincides, just since 2008, with a doubling of wind energy just and an 8-fold increase in solar that saw nearly 2,000 megawatts installed just in 2011. Globally investment in renewable energy power plants exceeded investment in all fossil fuel plants during 2011.
Declining prices for renewable energy and supportive public policies around the world are insuring a global renewable boom. Moreover, as Governor Brown of California says, by lowering overall energy costs, more affordable natural gas creates more political will to support renewable energy.
Hard economic times make addressing climate and boosting renewable energy more difficult. The natural gas boom is helping to make climate action possible in two, key ways. It is displacing higher carbon coal and gas and also creating more economic opportunity and less hardship, thereby building will to face inconvenient climate truths, including that fracking will avoid 1 billion tons of carbon this year.