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We need a new American understanding of energy
Edward Cross

America’s energy revolution has changed the global landscape. The U.S. has surpassed all expectations and achieved a level of domestic energy production that was unthinkable just a few years ago. We are now the number one producer of oil and natural gas. 

Additionally, this market-driven success has helped our nation achieve significant emission reductions. According to Energy Information Administration (EIA) data, U.S. carbon emissions are the lowest they have been in nearly seven decades. 

While we can thank American oil and natural gas producers for the hard work and entrepreneurial spirit that made this possible, we must ensure that elected officials work to ensure that our nation achieves its full energy potential. What we need from our elected leaders are smart energy policies that promote our nation’s position as a leader in energy production.

In general, the most affordable forms of energy come from fossil fuels, such as oil, natural gas, and coal. Compared to these energy sources, alternative fuels such as solar and wind power are considerably more expensive and less reliable.

Burning fossil fuels to generate electricity or provide power necessarily releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a gas we exhale every time we breathe. Erupting volcanoes, decaying trees, wildfires, and the animals on which we rely for food all emit CO2. This by-product, which is essential for plant life and an unavoidable aspect of human life, is at the center of today’s climate change controversies.

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its latest climate change report. The IPCC’s models emphasize the need for people to change their lifestyle and consumption patterns to more sustainable alternatives, specifically in areas they can control, like modes of transportation, the buildings they inhabit and their dietary preferences.  

While the 133 report authors are undoubtedly well accomplished in their scientific fields, they fail to understand the unintended consequences and high taxpayer and consumer costs that come with climate action. They want to drastically cut carbon emissions worldwide to limit global warming by 1.5 degrees over the next few decades. In order to meet the 1.5 degree goal, the IPCC envisions a future where people travel less using buses, trains, hybrid and electric cars. And in order to overhaul agricultural and land-use practices, the IPCC suggest eating less meat.  Going all in to limit warming to a degree and a half would mean bilking the poor around the world while increasing other environmental harms.

Those who believe that increased CO2 emissions inevitably lead to global warming believe this change is directly attributable to the widespread use of fossil fuels. Because they believe further warming will have catastrophic effects, they have waged a war on carbon for many years. They advocate restricting carbon-based fuels in favor of subsidized alternative energy and encourage policymakers to make fossil fuels more expensive in hopes of discouraging their use. 

If the goal is really to reduce carbon emissions, it’s worth noting that the U.S. is already doing a good job of achieving that goal.  Greenhouse gas emissions continue to plummet according to the latest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data. The EPA found that greenhouse gas emissions, mostly carbon dioxide, fell 2.7% from 2016 to 2017.  

Increased natural gas consumption has generated a truly incredible story for the environment as U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have fallen to their lowest levels since 1992. This downward trend is occurring even as U.S. oil and gas production grows dramatically.

Methane emissions from onshore U.S. oil and natural gas production fell 24%, while oil and natural gas production rose 65% and 19%, respectively, from 2011 to 2017, according to data from the EPA and the EIA.  

America’s oil and natural gas producers are working hard to develop America’s own abundant resources in a safe and environmentally sound manner. The federal government’s own data confirms methane emissions have fallen in recent years and are continuing to drop, even as oil and natural gas production has risen. Industry processes have become more efficient. Responsible energy development has and will continue to play a leading role in making the U.S. the world leader in greenhouse gas reductions.

Rational, data-driven, common-sense approach to energy policy is what our nation needs to fulfill its full energy potential, and sadly is all too often absent from today’s energy discussion. We need a new American understanding of energy and with it a national energy policy based on science, the free market, and entrepreneurial spirit. Those who act on our behalf at all levels of government should use those principles as the foundation for their energy policy decisions.  

The oil and gas industry has proven that over the long-term it is possible to lead in energy production and environmental stewardship. By focusing on more efficient use of energy, it is possible to lower emissions without imposing even more environmental restrictions. The key is to avoid placing unnecessary political or legal obstacles in the way of innovation and expansion. An American energy policy that values innovation over regulation can turn energy policy challenges into great opportunities for economic growth and energy security. This approach is not just good business, it’s good stewardship and a much better strategy for improving the quality of life for all.

Edward Cross, President, Kansas Independent Oil & Gas Association