In 2008, just as shale gas reached a tipping point, moving from small to massive amounts of production in the USA, questions abounded about the impact of shale gas on carbon emissions. Would shale gas have a big or little impact on the construction of new coal plants? Would shale gas displace large or small amounts of production at existing coal plants?
Or, if shale gas were stopped, would renewable energy production jump, take the place of gas, and displace coal, as those seeking to ban fracking frequently asserted?
The last 18 months have produced 3 critical energy facts that answer those questions, challenge some environmentalists to rethink, and demonstrate why banning shale gas is environmental folly.
First, coal boomed globally in 2011, with global coal consumption rising 5.4% but falling 5% in North America. Last year, coal provided 30.9% of the world's total energy, its highest portion of the world's total energy since the 1969. www.johnhanger.blogspot.com/2012/06/new-data-documents-shale-gas-is.html.
Second, coal generation is booming in the UK, rising to 42% of the UK's total electricity, as cheaper coal displaces expensive gas. www.johnhanger.blogspot.com/coal-generation-booms-in-uk-displaces.html. The UK has yet to produce shale gas, though that may be changing. Plainly, renewable energy currently cannot displace coal and oil, even when shale gas is not being produced.
Third, coal generation in the US declined from 48% in 2008 to 32% in April 2012; the US led the world in reducing carbon emissions since 2006; US energy related carbon emissions were back to 1996 levels in 2011 and may fall in 2012 to 1990 levels. www.johnhanger.blogspot.com/2012/06/climate-change-stunner-shale-gas-makes.html.
Shale gas has displaced huge amounts of existing coal generation and caused the cancellation of more than 100 new coal plants in the one and only place in the world where it has boomed--the USA! In the USA, natural gas is more competitive than coal, because the price of natural gas has plummeted from $13 to $2 for a thousand cubic feet, as a result of the shale gas boom that now accounts for 37% of gas production
Everywhere else in the world shale gas is not yet being produced for a variety of reasons, including environmental opposition in some cases. And from China to Western Europe, where shale gas is yet to boom, coal consumption grows.
While renewable energy is growing around the world and in the USA too, renewable energy is not filling the vacuum opened, when natural gas is not an option. Only gas and renewables together can currently displace large amounts of more carbon intensive coal and oil.
Still don't believe it? Again, 2011 globally was coal's best year since 1969!
Saying no to shale gas means using more coal and oil. It also means rising carbon pollution. Conversely, using shale gas displaces coal and oil and slashes carbon emissions.
Blocking shale gas is climate folly, at a time of rising global coal and oil consumption. And responsibly producing shale gas will be essential to cutting carbon emissions and will remain so for the next 20 to 40 years. The last 18 months of global experience proves these facts.