clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Why the federal leasing ban won’t expedite Biden’s climate goals

If we’re serious about emboldening renewable energy, we don’t have to make power generation an either/or proposition.

President Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington. Experts say Biden’s pledge to undo his predecessor’s anti-regulatory policies on the environment won’t be accomplished easily, despite a fast start. After taking office in January, Biden returned the U.S. to the Paris climate accords, revoked the Keystone oil pipeline’s federal permit and halted oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Alex Brandon, Associated Press

Shortly after taking office, the Joe Biden administration announced a series of executive orders aimed at tackling climate change. One of the more ambitious goals of the order is the elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector by 2035 and from across the economy by 2050. It may sound paradoxical, but the United States cannot do this (or even come close) without the oil and natural gas sector.

I realize I have a credibility problem with that statement, considering I’m president of the Utah Petroleum Association. But I’m also a mom and a Utahn who cares deeply about the health, happiness and prosperity of our state and our country. I want to leave this world better for our kids, and I also recognize that renewable energy will play a key role in achieving that.

But renewables on their own cannot support our way of life and the ways in which we live, work and play. The nonpartisan U.S. Energy Information Administration provides independent statistics and analysis for all things energy-related. Visiting that site is illustrative because it paints the picture of where we stand today.

In terms of total power used — think all personal, transportation and industrial uses — oil and natural gas represent 69% of the total energy consumption by source. Renewables, by contrast, represent just 11%, which includes all biofuels, hydroelectric and geothermal among others alongside wind and solar. If you look at wind and solar individually, wind represents just over 2.5% of energy consumption by source, and solar is just under 1%.

This is a long walk uphill for renewable energy if we seek to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from the economy by 2050, especially when you look at the EIA’s own projections of our fuel mix for the next 30 years. According to their analysis, natural gas climbs to more than 45% while renewables excluding hydroelectric climb to nearly 20%. These are the only two sectors projected to increase their share of the fuel mix. Why?

Contrary to much of the rhetoric that seems to follow this issue around, natural gas and renewables work together harmoniously. By getting bundled with natural gas, wind and solar projects increase their affordability and reliability. As Americans in 2021, we expect to be able to heat and cool our homes, for the lights to turn on every time we flick the switch, and for the electronics that power our daily lives to run without interruption. The sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow, and the U.S. power grid is an aging dinosaur ill-equipped to keep up. Natural gas is the battery, there to ensure reliable baseload power when it’s needed.

Additionally, the oil and gas industry puts its money where its mouth is on this issue. Solar panels power remote well monitoring capability. Drillers in Texas’ Permian Basin are utilizing wind power for their operations. Major oil companies have been ramping up their investments in hydrogen. The oil and gas industry is not the enemy of renewable energy, we are one of its champions.

In 2013, Rhone Resch, who was at the time the president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, one of the largest solar energy advocacy trade groups in the country, said, “Natural gas and renewables complement each other very nicely. … I think it can happen: In the next 30 years we’re going to have 50% renewables and 50% natural gas.” Mr. Resch’s job was to advocate for getting as much solar energy to market as possible, and his aspirational goal was to achieve 50% renewables by 2040 or so, which puts President Biden’s own power generation targets into sharp relief.

The point here is not to demonize or undermine the use and proliferation of renewable power. Quite the contrary, actually. If we’re serious about emboldening renewable energy, we don’t have to make power generation an either/or proposition. Natural gas has been, currently is, and will continue to be one of the most effective tools in ensuring their continued growth.

And as that continues to be true, we’re faced with a pragmatic question. If we need fossil fuels to help us get to where we want to go, where will we source them from? Will it be from our abundant resources here at home? Or will we offshore our energy production, sending money overseas to countries that don’t have the rigorous environmental standards we do?

As long as President Biden’s federal leasing ban stands, the question answers itself.

Rikki Hrenko-Browning is president of the Utah Petroleum Association, which represents Utah’s oil and gas workers, and celebrates their role in delivering safe, clean and local energy that drives Utahns and our way of life.