I watched with anticipation yesterday as President Obama delivered his speech laying out his new climate action plan. Climate change is one of the most pressing issue of our time, and one on which the United States desperately needs to lead. While it was heartening to hear the President take on climate deniers and pledge to fight the problem, his full-throated advocacy for fracked natural gas and oil was more a case of two steps back than a giant step forward.
A major pillar of the President’s climate action plan is increased production and use of domestic fracked natural gas – and it wasn’t just gas – he also lauded increased domestic oil production. While Obama didn’t use the word “fracking,” that is the method used to extract gas and oil in communities across the country. He repeatedly referred to “clean burning natural gas” and lauded it as a “bridge fuel.” But if our goal is stemming climate change, fracked gas is a bridge to nowhere. It’s true that we need to identify new sources of energy, but we can’t drill away our energy problems.
Studies show that the process of drilling, fracking, processing and transporting natural gas releases a tremendous amount of methane into the air. Methane is 70-100 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. Some recently published studies on methane emissions show that burning natural gas may be even worse, in terms of the overall greenhouse gas footprint, than burning coal for electricity and burning fuel oil to heat homes or run industrial boilers. A massive expansion of fracking threatens to undo any gains from other parts of his plan and may make matters even worse. For an excellent video on the intersection between fracking and climate change, check out this great explanation by Cornell Professor, Tony Ingraffea.
There is a strong and growing movement against fracking – not just because of its documented impact on water, air and communities, but also because it is a driver of climate change. Americans Against Fracking, a national coalition to ban fracking has over 200 organizational members and vibrant state based coalitions pushing for a ban in New York, Colorado, California and elsewhere. People across the country are growing to understand what climate scientists have said for years—that we must leave our fossil fuels in the ground to avert climate change.
When I heard Obama talking about boosting the development of natural gas and oil yesterday, I got angry, but then I got energized. I got energized by the tens of thousands of people in New York pushing Governor Cuomo to ban fracking; I got energized by the amazing organizing in Pennsylvania and California to move the Democratic Party to endorse moratoriums on fracking; and I got energized by the people in Boulder County, Colorado who won an 18 month moratorium on fracking.
Our movement is growing and our elected officials have not caught up to their constituents. It’s critical that we pressure President Obama to listen to the science and to this growing movement against fracking for oil and gas. We also need to continue to hold him accountable for decisions he is making that contribute to climate change. His Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, for example, is facing critical decisions about fracking on public lands and his administration is also making key decisions on liquefied natural gas exports, pipeline projects and other infrastructure projects.