Obama has repeatedly stressed the importance of domestic natural gas output, pointing to natural gas as a possible area of compromise for Democrats and Republicans….

Obama’s address will also focus on the importance of not sacrificing environmental protections and investments in clean energy during this time of budget constraints and concerns about job creation, said Elgie Holstein, senior director for strategic planning at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Heather Zichal, a White House adviser on energy and climate change, released an editorial last week highlighting rising domestic oil and natural gas production, as well as falling oil imports under Obama.

Is this a good idea?  Is this a good approach to our energy problems?  The three primary issues motivating an energy shift are:

1. Climate change.

2. Economic concerns.

3. Energy independence / national security.

The three are of course deeply interrelated (climate change has major economic and national security impacts, etc.).  But those are the three standard arguments.

Will a modest increase in natural gas production do the trick?  Will an increase in domestic oil production?  Will small investments in renewables be enough or even meet the need we have?


Joe Romm is right (and it’s rare I say that because I tend to disagree with him on a number of issues):

Building lots of new gas plants doesn’t make much sense since we need to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next few decades if we’re to have any chance to avoid catastrophic global warming….

The fact that natural gas is a bridge fuel to nowhere was in fact, first demonstrated by the IEA in its big June 2011 report on gas — see IEA’s “Golden Age of Gas Scenario” Leads to More Than 6°F Warming and Out-of-Control Climate Change.  That study — which had both coal and oil consumption peaking in 2020 — made abundantly clear that if we want to avoid catastrophic warming, we need to start getting off of all fossil fuels.

Then came a remarkable new study by Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) that concluded:

   In summary, our results show that the substitution of gas for coal as an energy source results in increased rather than decreased global warming for many decades.

Read the whole thing: Romm clearly lays out why natural gas has been claimed to be a solution for decades and isn’t really a solution to anything.

(Setting aside the immediate climate issues, natural gas obtained via fracking has many well-known environmental problems.)

Economic concerns.

Natural gas has multiple problems beyond the environmental.  The “boom” in shale gas may by not much more than a speculative bubble—in land.  The land with claimed gas reserves is going for huge premiums while natural gas prices are at record lows.  That is: there is likely less natural gas than claimed.  See here or here for more.

Energy independence.

What sort of energy independence do we need?  Well let’s look at what we import:

That is, we already produce as much coal and natural gas as we consume domestically.  It’s oil that we import a ton of.  Jeffrey Brown has more, deconstructing the recent non-story about us exporting refined oil products.

In summary, natural gas isn’t the answer: it is unlikely there’s enough of it to be a real viable base for our energy needs but there is enough of it that it might push our climate over the edge.

What about other options?  Solar, wind, etc. will not plug the primary hole we’re facing: a liquid fuels bottleneck.  That is, we have plenty of ways of making cheap electricity right now.  Demand isn’t rising for electricity.  While I’m fully in favor of moving off of oil and fossil fuels, it’s important to highlight the panoply of false solutions out there right now.