The San Luis Obispo, Goleta, Berkeley, and Arcata city councils passed resolutions this past month opposing oil and natural gas production through hydraulic fracturing (fracking). By taking this action, the California city councils are choosing to support an environmental catastrophe in the name of opposing oil and natural gas.
Two common themes presented in the city council resolutions are a desire to protect wildlife and a concern over global warming. For example, the San Luis Obispo resolution asserts, “President Trump may not understand climate science or the threat offshore drilling poses to wildlife and coastal communities. But we do, and we’ll fight to phase out dirty and dangerous drilling.” The Goleta resolution states, “Goleta knows firsthand the impacts of oil spills. After the May 2015 oil spill there, over 300 dolphins, seals, sea lions, pelicans and other animals washed up dead. Their beaches were closed and their fishing and tourism industries took a big hit.”
The resolutions betray a lack of understanding regarding the wildlife impacts of competing energy sources. Wind and solar power, the presumed energy preference of the city councils, impose a more devastating toll on wildlife than fracked oil and natural gas. For example, California’s Ivanpah solar power facility by itself incinerates at least 6,000 birds each year. The Altamont, California, wind power facility kills 4,700 birds each year.
The 2015 oil spill cited in the Goleta resolution had nothing to do with the fracking process. As CNN reported, the spill “was caused not by an offshore well or an oil tanker, but by a rupture in a 24-inch, onshore oil pipeline.” Moreover, the spill could have been prevented if the Obama administration enforced existing pipeline safety laws. The pipeline operator was cited for 175 safety and maintenance violations during the decade preceding the oil spill.
Even if such occasional spills are unavoidable, the annual wildlife toll imposed by solar and wind power facilities dwarfs those of the occasional oil spill. Wind turbines kill more than 1.4 million birds and bats each year in the United States. Many of these are endangered and protected species. By contrast, the Goleta city council cites merely 300 marine animals killed by the 2015 California oil pipeline spill. The preventable deaths of 300 marine animals is sad and unfortunate. The preventable deaths of more than 1.4 million birds and bats every year is even sadder and more unfortunate.
Regarding the city councils’ climate concerns, fracked natural gas is responsible for dramatic progress in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. U.S. carbon dioxide emissions steadily increased through 2005, when technological advances in fracking and directional drilling dramatically reduced the cost of producing natural gas and launched the natural gas revolution. By 2016, natural gas replaced coal as the leading source of American electricity. The result was a 12% percent decline in American energy-related carbon dioxide emissions between 2005 and 2015, and an additional 1.7% drop last year. Fracking has turned back America’s global warming emissions clock by 25 years. American emissions have fallen to 1991 levels thanks primarily to fracked natural gas.
Regarding oil and transportation, there is currently only one viable replacement for oil as a transportation fuel. Government mandates divert approximately 40% of the American corn crop to producing ethanol rather than food. Nevertheless, peer-reviewed studies document that ethanol mandates result in more carbon dioxide emissions than gasoline. Moreover, ethanol production induces farmers to turn increasing amounts of previously undeveloped lands into cultivated corn fields. The result is a loss of land conservation, the death and disruption of animal species, and the release of more pesticides and fertilizers into American air, soil, and waters.
The most realistic and sensible path – both environmentally and economically – to protecting wildlife and reducing global warming emissions is to encourage rather than obstruct the production of fracked natural gas. Unless government gets in the way, natural gas will continue to replace higher-emitting coal power plants. Also, with the potential for electric cars becoming a more realistic near-term option for American drivers, electricity produced by natural gas power plants offers the potential for declining transportation emissions as well.
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