January 30, 2018
The Fracking Debate Goes On
A newspaper in New York cites Amir Jina's Forbes post on the Social Cost of Carbon and hidden subsidies for fossil fuels.
It’s been more than a decade since the landsmen started knocking on the doors of property owners in the region and offering promises of riches in exchange for the right to drill for gas on those properties.
Back then, few people had heard of the process of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) but it quickly became the issue of debate as scientists, business people and property owners argued about whether it was safe, benign or possible deadly.
The debate still rages. The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is in the midst of a series of public hearings about new regulations for fracking in the Delaware River. At one of two hearings in Waymart on January 16, people weighed in on the proposed fracking ban contained in the regulations. Thirty people spoke in opposition to the ban and 59 people spoke in favor of it.
In the decade or so since the debate began, fracking has become a reality in much of Pennsylvania, the country and the world, and the same dangers that come with fracking gas wells also comes with fracking oil wells. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, fracking now accounts for more than 50% of all U.S. oil production in the United States, up from about 2% in 2000, and about two thirds of all natural gas. There are hundreds of thousands of fracked gas and oil wells in the country, which has led to a sharp reduction in the global price of oil and gasoline and also helped to keep the price of natural gas down.
The industry has blossomed despite the fact that for decades there has been an ever-growing body of evidence showing that the burning of fossil fuels is harmful to the environment and to human health—and fracking as an extraction method comes with its own set of problems.
Amir Jina of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago wrote last year in Forbes (tinyurl.com/y8nk7ou7), “The U.S. emitted 5.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2015, with a cost per ton of $36 (the current Social Cost of Carbon). That means the U.S. is paying $200 billion to cover the costs of all the emissions being burned. In effect, it’s a $200 billion hidden subsidy to the fossil fuel industry. This $200 billion is a cost in real money—in lost labor productivity, healthcare costs, increased energy expenditures, coastal damages—that is paid somewhere in the world for each ton of carbon dioxide that is emitted.
“The Trump administration has argued that fossil fuels are not on an equal playing field due to ‘job-destroying regulations.’ They’re right about one thing—the playing field is not equal. Numbers on the exact direct fossil fuel subsidies in the U.S. vary, but it’s probably on the order of $20 billion being handed out to the fossil fuel industry each year. That’s on top of the $200 billion hidden subsidy they’re already getting for polluting our air and contributing to climate change.” Jina wrote that the U.S. spends only $15.4 billion subsidizing clean energy.