If you don’t like fracking, hope you like global warming


So you don’t like fracking, huh?

Hope you like blood for oil.

Surely you remember “blood for oil.” Blood for oil was the reason we invaded Iraq — at least that’s the way the local peace and justice crowd told it.

Blood for oil — or more precisely, the slogan “no blood for oil” — was all the rage in 2003. During the Iraq War the hyperactive activists at the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center — the folks who are behind some of the local anti-fracking hysteria — were obsessed with blood for oil.

But that was then. Today the phrase “no blood for oil” seems almost quaint. That’s because U.S. petroleum imports peaked in 2005 and 2006 at about 13.7 million barrels a day (5 billion barrels a year), or about 73 percent of consumption, and started an abrupt decline. Last year they amounted to 10.6 million barrels a day (3.9 billion barrels a year, or about 62 percent of consumption), a 22 percent decline in the space of six years and the lowest level of imports in 20 years. A lot of analysts think imports could keep dropping at that rate indefinitely. Energy independence is a real possibility.

In no small part thanks to fracking.

Thanks to fracking, the United States’ strategic interest in what goes on in the Middle East is taking quantum leaps downward. The need to intervene militarily in the Persian Gulf, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, to secure access to oil is fading away like a Cheshire cat.

Blood for oil? Hey, that’s about to become a Chinese problem, not an American one.

But all of this would turn around in a heartbeat if the United States were to ban fracking, as the erstwhile “No blood for oil” activists are demanding.

Imports would again increase, along with prices and international blackmail, and the potential need to shed American blood to secure the oil on which the American economy and lifestyle is absolutely dependent (Boulder’s economy and lifestyle included) would return.

Under the circumstances, you would think that the peace and justice folks who do not approve of shedding American blood for oil would view a technology that reduced America’s need to import oil from hostile countries as the hottest thing to come along since Mahatma Gandhi. Uh, not exactly.

Still don’t like fracking? Hope you like global warming.

The glut of natural gas produced by fracking has resulted in plunging U.S. prices. They are currently about $3.30 per 1,000 cubic feet, down from more than $10 per thousand cubic feet in 2008. This has made it possible to substitute natural gas for coal in American power plants.

The switch has taken place at a breathtaking pace. In 2007, the U.S. got about 50 percent of its electricity from coal and 20 percent from natural gas. Last year it got about 32 percent of its electricity from coal and 31 percent from natural gas.

Since natural gas produces only half as much CO2 as coal, this has led to a spectacular drop in CO2 emissions from U.S. power plants that, in turn, led to overall U.S. CO2 emissions falling to their lowest level in 20 years in 2012.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, U.S. CO2 emissions in 2012 were 800 million tons lower than they were in 2007, the year they peaked. According to David Victor, an energy expert at the University of California-San Diego, 400 million to 500 million tons of the drop came from the switch to natural gas. In contrast, America’s 30,000 wind turbines accounted for just 50 million tons of the decline. Biofuels’ share was 10 million tons and solar’s was 3 million.

According to Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, the 400 million to 500 million ton reduction from the switch to gas from coal — made possible by fracking — is twice the total effect of the Kyoto Protocol on carbon emissions in the rest of the world, including the European Union. In other words, the American oil and gas industry’s merry fracksters have done more to reduce the country’s CO2 emissions than 20 years of eco-activism and government subsidies for alternative energy.

Of course, we would be much farther along the path to CO2 reduction if we were replacing both coal and natural gas with a genuinely carbon-free energy source.

Like nuclear power.

If we had not abandoned nuclear power in the 1970s, coal’s contribution to U.S. electricity generation would probably be measured in single digits by now, and natural gas’s contribution would be falling, not growing.

However, the anti-nuclear activists of the 1970s — aka the anti-fracking activists of today — succeeded in killing nuclear power in the United States. This resulted in a more than doubling of coal burning for electric power generation over the next 30 years. Between 1974 and 2006, coal burning increased by about 643 million tons a year, which produced 1.8 billion tons of CO2 a year — that could have been avoided if anti-nuclear activists had been less active.

Now the same activists are trying to take out another technology with a demonstrated ability to reduce the country’s carbon footprint. They claim that wind and solar can replace natural gas and oil, and therefore fracking can be banned. Some day they probably can. But not yet.

Because of their intermittent nature and the absence of suitable batteries, wind and solar can’t provide base-load electricity, which means they can’t provide more than 20 percent to 30 percent of the country’s electric power needs. And in the absence of practical, mass-produced electric cars (which are also absent because of the absence of suitable batteries), wind and solar are pretty irrelevant when it comes to replacing oil and gas as transportation fuels.

Which means that if fracking is banned, the U.S. will burn more coal and produce more CO2. If you don’t like fracking, learn to love global warming.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com