New research from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) grabbed the headlines last week, and the news wasn’t good. The study shows that fracking for natural gas, still cheered as a climate-friendly ‘bridge fuel’ to a clean energy future, is warming the planet even more than we thought.
And yet right after releasing this report, EDF was at a conference in Washington, D.C., teaming up with… ExxonMobil.
Fracking’s big climate problem is that it leaks methane from beginning to end. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the decades after its release into the atmosphere. That much isn’t news; we have known this for years. What EDF’s research shows is that the problem is 60 percent worse than current government estimates. At this leakage level, the climate benefits of replacing coal with natural gas are essentially nullified.
And things are actually worse than that. These new findings, the result of years of collaboration between EDF and the industry, sugarcoat the dangers of fracking. The researchers admit that their headline-generating conclusion is a conservative estimate, and it doesn’t even begin to factor in the pollution of our air and water that fracking causes—risks that are amply documented in hundreds of other scientific studies.
So why is EDF teaming up with a notorious corporate polluter that has made billions destroying the planet while simultaneously bankrolling the climate denial industry in order to protect its profiteering? Probably because the whole point of their research was to give fracking a happy ending: If the industry simply decides to clean up its act by reducing methane leaks, the problem goes away. What’s more, it might not even cost the frackers a dime, since their costs could be recovered by turning that escaped methane into what EDF calls “sellable product.”
This ‘everyone wins’ fantasy needs a reality check. If dirty companies like ExxonMobil saw it in their economic interest to clean up operations, they would have already done so. The truth is, if Exxon was serious about mitigating its impact on the climate, it would have to put itself out of business. Interestingly, at the EDF-Exxon event, the president of a company subsidiary explained that voluntary measures have only reduced emissions by about 4 percent, and that the solutions being touted by EDF were far more expensive than advertised. If there’s one thing coming out of Exxon that you can believe, its that the company is not going to reduce climate pollution on its own.
While enacting necessarily aggressive climate legislation will require great political will, it is far more plausible than hoping that the corporations responsible for creating a planet-threatening problem are going to voluntarily fix it on their own.
We have known for years that fracking poses a dire threat to our air, water, and climate. That’s why Food & Water Watch was the first national group to call for a ban on fracking. This new research might help illustrate the folly of burning fossil fuels, but it does not tell us anything we didn’t already know. The only lesson that really matters is that we cannot waste time with bogus Band-Aid solutions that rely on voluntary compliance from the profit-driven fracking industry. Such an approach is the epitome of naivete.
The dire science of climate change demands immediate action to swiftly reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the world. Unfortunately, the United States has taken a fracking detour, thanks to the industry-sponsored myth of clean-burning natural gas. We must build a powerful movement to support bold climate policies like the OFF Act, which would get the United States off fossil fuels by the year 2035. It is already co-sponsored by 36 Congress members, and it should be a litmus test for serious climate champions, be they elected officials or grassroots activists.
While enacting necessarily aggressive climate legislation will require great political will, it is far more plausible than hoping that the corporations responsible for creating a planet-threatening problem are going to voluntarily fix it on their own. EDF would be wise to realize this.