A few weeks ago the Wall Street Journal ran a piece (I don't have the link off-hand, I am on the road) discussing how the Sierra Club has thrown natural gas under the bus (call it Sierra Clubbed! Update: Chris M. found the link, thanks!). They have a movement bubbling called "Beyond Gas" or something like that. But the Club was/is famous for its "Beyond Coal" movement. And the Beyond Coal movement is looking like it's going to be successful.
Because of gas. Really.
So, let's do a quick review before I get to the data. The emergence of natural gas has led to a dramatic decrease in electricity costs. The energy equivalent cost of gas is less than $20 per barrel of oil – or about 1/5 to 1/4 of the cost of actual oil (the EIA has the data). In Pennsylvania, electricity bills for an average household have been lowed by over $1,000 (yes, $1,000). Think of how many social programs have delivered that kind of a real benefit especially without making them a direct transfer? And remember that this disproportionately favors lower income households, as energy makes up a larger share of their expenditures than richer households. Beyond this, we explored yesterday the potential for gas to clean up water in areas where coal mining was/is popular.
But perhaps most important, natural gas — largely due to fracking — has led the way in reducing carbon emissions. And seriously, has anything we have done on the policy front over the last 25 years done much to eliminate CO2? In just 12 years, coal's market share of generation in the US has fallen from 52% to 37% today. Renewables picked up five percentage points in market share while gas has picked up 10. Together, it is estimated that this change has reduced energy related carbon emissions in the US by 18%. It has amounted to a 3% decrease in world carbon pollution. These are huge reductions. The aggregate one billion tons avoided is worth approximately $25 billion according to the damage estimates of carbon emissions via the IPCC.
The shale boom is very responsible for this change. The rapid decrease in the price of coal has led many power companies to shift from burning coal to burning gas – a transition that is far more seamless than converting coal plants to sequestration and capture plants or converting to solar or some other production technique. It's almost unthinkable that shale gas is being demonized like it has been and the "E"nvironmental groups would do themselves, their members, the American public and the world a great favor by making this observation a bit more regularly. If it is true that we want clean, safe, affordable energy, then we ought to celebrate large moves in that direction, particularly as some of the false idols of alternatives are not going to get us there – either environmentally or in the wallet. Coming out against any and every new energy source that comes our way seems to indicate that the problem is not fossil fuels at all, but something else. If you want to maintain the support of "middle America" that tune has to change. I doubt it will.
UPDATE: Just as this post hit the press, I saw this compete hack job. What country has reduced carbon emissions the most since 2005?