Energy Secretary: Fracking Won’t Cook the Planet

US Department of Energy's Secretary Ernest Moniz, delivers a speech during the 57th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA at the UN atomic agency headquarters in Vienna, Austria on September 16, 2013. This meeting, following 10 other failed gatherings since early 2012, are aimed at clearing up allegations that Iran conducted nuclear weapons research before 2003 and possibly since.
National Journal
Ben Geman
Add to Briefcase
Ben Geman
Dec. 22, 2013, 9:01 a.m.

En­ergy Sec­ret­ary Ern­est Mon­iz is end­ing the year with a re­mind­er: Car­bon di­ox­ide is the biggest en­emy in the fight against cli­mate change.

Mon­iz, in a new in­ter­view, of­fers a quick tour of re­cent stud­ies on meth­ane emis­sions from nat­ur­al-gas de­vel­op­ment — a top­ic that’s plenty con­tro­ver­sial amid the U.S. frack­ing boom.

“We need more data,” he tells the news ser­vice Platts. But, he adds, meth­ane is far from pub­lic en­emy No. 1. That’s car­bon di­ox­ide.

“We do have, after all, meas­ure­ments of the meth­ane con­cen­tra­tions in the at­mo­sphere and what they tell us is that the car­bon di­ox­ide con­cen­tra­tions re­main by far the biggest for­cer of cli­mate change,” he said in an in­ter­view that aired Sunday.

“So CO2 re­mains the dom­in­ant con­cern for us,” Mon­iz said on Platts’ En­ergy Week TV.

The com­ments are the latest sign that Mon­iz does not see meth­ane leaks un­der­cut­ting the cli­mate ad­vant­ages that nat­ur­al gas holds over coal.

Nat­ur­al gas, which has been eat­ing in­to coal’s mar­ket share in power gen­er­a­tion, emits just half as much car­bon di­ox­ide when burned to cre­ate elec­tri­city.

It’s one of the ma­jor reas­ons U.S. car­bon emis­sions are fall­ing, and Mon­iz sees gas as an ally in the fight against glob­al warm­ing — at least for a while, al­though he be­lieves that even­tu­ally much steep­er car­bon cuts will be needed.

But leaks of meth­ane from gas wells and else­where on the sup­ply chain, crit­ics say, threaten to erode a big part of that car­bon ad­vant­age over coal (or all of it, ac­cord­ing to a Cor­nell Uni­versity pro­fess­or’s con­tro­ver­sial and con­trari­an ana­lys­is).

Mon­iz is not dis­missive of the threat from meth­ane — a gas that’s pound-for-pound about 20 times more heat-trap­ping that car­bon di­ox­ide, but emit­ted in much lower volumes and doesn’t stick around nearly as long.

His de­part­ment is part of an in­ter­agency group craft­ing a meth­ane strategy un­der Pres­id­ent Obama’s second-term cli­mate plan.

And Mon­iz is keep­ing up on his read­ing. In the in­ter­view, he cited the re­cent Uni­versity of Texas study, a product of work with the En­vir­on­ment­al De­fense Fund that had in­dustry fund­ing, which found low meth­ane emis­sions from gas wells sur­veyed.

Mon­iz, in not­ing that more data is needed, also cited more troub­ling re­search: A re­cent Har­vard Uni­versity study that found over­all U.S. meth­ane emis­sions are far above EPA es­tim­ates. That study looked at a wider ar­ray of sources, in­clud­ing gas dis­tri­bu­tion in­fra­struc­ture.

But Mon­iz, a former Mas­sachu­setts In­sti­tute of Tech­no­logy phys­ics pro­fess­or, of­fers a quick les­son.

“Car­bon di­ox­ide has a very, very long res­id­ence time in the at­mo­sphere. We are talk­ing cen­tur­ies. If we emit CO2 now, we are liv­ing with that, our chil­dren are liv­ing with it, our grand­chil­dren are liv­ing with it,” Mon­iz said.

“Meth­ane, you are talk­ing more the or­der of a dec­ade. If we can clamp down, meas­ure … re­duce those meth­ane emis­sions, a lot of that will, in fact, go away in a one or two dec­ades time scale,” he said.

Else­where in the in­ter­view, Mon­iz re­it­er­ated his view that it’s time to re­vis­it laws and policies that ef­fect­ively ban U.S. crude oil ex­ports.

Check out the full in­ter­view here.

What We're Following See More »
Tying Republicans to Trump Now an Actionable Offense
30 minutes ago

"Some Republicans are running so far away from their party’s nominee that they are threatening to sue TV stations for running ads that suggest they support Donald Trump. Just two weeks before Election Day, five Republicans―Reps. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), David Jolly (R-Fla.), John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican running for an open seat that’s currently occupied by his brother―contend that certain commercials paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee provide false or misleading information by connecting them to the GOP nominee. Trump is so terrible, these Republicans are essentially arguing, that tying them to him amounts to defamation."

Former Congressman Schock Fined $10,000
39 minutes ago

Former Illinois GOP Congressman Aaron Schock "recently agreed to pay a $10,000 fine for making an excessive solicitation for a super PAC that was active in his home state of Illinois four years ago." Schock resigned from Congress after a story about his Downton Abbey-themed congressional office raised questions about how he was using taxpayer dollars.

Clinton Reaching Out to GOP Senators
2 hours ago

If you need a marker for how confident Hillary Clinton is at this point of the race, here's one: CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports "she's been talking to Republican senators, old allies and new, saying that she is willing to work with them and govern."

Filipino President Duterte Threatens to Expel U.S. Troops
2 hours ago

On Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines threatened to kick U.S. troops out of the country, adding that if he remains president for more than one term he will move to terminate all military deals with America. Last week, Duterte called for a separation between the two countries, though other government officials immediately said he did not mean that literally.

Trump Admits He’s Behind
2 hours ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.