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Report Says Texas' Oil And Gas Boom Could Spell Climate 'Disaster'

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

If the oil and gas boom continues as projected, the planet could experience "catastrophic climate change" by 2050, according to an analysis released yesterday.

The report from Oil Change International, a coalition of environmental groups, says continued growth in fossil fuel extraction – much of which occurs in Texas – could derail any hope of avoiding dire effects of climate change.

The report, entitled "Drilling Towards Disaster," focuses on both the increase in oil and gas extraction and the required amount of carbon emission-reductions to stave off catastrophic effects of climate change, which was established last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Growth of the U.S. oil and gas industry will make up over half of the world's new oil- and gas-related production by 2030, the analysis found. That will lead to a massive increase in CO2 emissions. The report  notes that the brunt of those emissions, 39 percent, could come from the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico by 2050.

That increase in emissions, researchers say, is incompatible with the IPCC projection to limit catastrophic climate change – a 40-50 percent reduction by 2030.

"Those two trajectories are incompatible," said Kelly Trout, a senior research analyst at Oil Change International and the lead author of the report. "Our analysis shows that, if unchecked, this drilling expansion could unleash as much carbon pollution as the lifetime emissions of nearly 1,000 coal plants between now and 2050."

Trout says political leaders need to acknowledge that climate change can’t be combatted without creating policies to keep oil and gas in the ground and providing pathways to transition to renewable energy.

"We need to be rapidly de-carbonizing to avoid runaway climate disaster," says Trout.

A Hard Sell in Texas

While the study’s recommendations mirror others – including those of the IPCC – they sound like a hard sell in Texas and in the White House, where political leadership generally champions the fossil fuel industry.

The same day the report was released, former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler said he did not view climate change as "the greatest crisis"in his confirmation hearing to lead the EPA, adding he opposed favoring one fuel source over another to address it.

Other analysts who agree with the goal of CO2-reduction may disagree with the global focus on U.S. oil production, pointing to growing energy consumption by countries like China as an equal, or greater, threat to achieving emission-reduction goals.

However, Trout argues there is a growing movement to slow and eventually end fossil fuel development nationally. Specifically, she points to the growing popularity of a so-called green new deal, which would invest in renewable energy and move the U.S. economy away from its reliance on fossil fuels.

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated an analysis found 39 percent of CO2 pollution from oil and gas emissions could come from the Permian Basin in 2018 alone. That estimate was for development between 2018 and 2050. 

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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