The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Europe Needs to Frack to Save the Planet

One of the biggest advantages of America’s energy revolution also seems the most counterintuitive: It’s good for the environment. But fracking and other drilling techniques put cheap, clean natural gas on the market, allowing America to transition away from dirtier fuels like coal. As a result, American carbon dioxide production hit a 20-year low earlier this year and may drop further as the natural gas transition continues.

Unfortunately, the U.S. shale gas boom isn’t cutting global emissions as much as people had hoped. But don’t blame America for that: The problem is that the EU and Asia are leaping at the chance to buy cheap American coal. Thus the coal that we aren’t burning here is being burned overseas instead. The FT has more:

The report says there has been a “substantial increase” in the amount of coal the US is exporting to the UK, Europe and Asia. According to its calculations, more than half of the emissions avoided in the US may have been exported as coal.

“Research papers and newspaper column inches have focused on the relative emissions from coal and gas,” said John Broderick, the lead author. “However, it is the total quantity of CO2 from the energy system that matters to the climate. Despite lower-carbon rhetoric, shale gas is still a carbon intensive energy source.”

Green Eeyores are spinning this as more evidence that the American gas boom is bad news, but they have it backwards: It is Europe’s refusal to frack that is killing the planet. If Europe went ahead and did the environmentally responsible thing and raised its gas production, the EU might be on par to match America’s carbon dioxide reductions.

This highlights the bizarre reality of the new energy landscape: The heavily regulated, green EU is more addicted to coal than the (allegedly) anti-environmental U.S. It’s a strange world we live in.

Published on October 29, 2012 2:30 pm