By Rebecca Leber
Republicans and conservative commentators in the last week have had a field day using Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity to bemoan US energy policy and champion fossil fuel reserves. They’ve pointed fingers at the Biden administration, environmentalists, and even Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, alleging that climate priorities are what have kept America from its “energy independence.” If only oil and gas companies were allowed to drill or frack more, we’d have a quick fix to rising energy prices in the US and Europe and to Putin’s influence, they’ve said.
There are many problems with these claims, and the stakes of this conversation are very high: The way western Europe and the US respond to this crisis could determine the course on climate change and energy costs in the long run.
Let’s walk through the myths currently circulating and how to avoid falling for them.
Myth No. 4: We can ignore climate concerns because boosting gas will counter dependence on Russia
In an op-ed for Fortune, American Petroleum Institute CEO Mike Sommers suggested the oil industry is ramping up production for patriotic reasons: “U.S. natural gas producers and exporters have mobilized to help ease Europe’s ongoing energy crisis,” he wrote, adding “as in World War II and other crises, America has Europe’s back.”
None of the suggestions Sommers suggest, like boosting LNG capacity, actually help in the immediate crisis. Sommers says himself this is a lesson for the long run.
In the long run, investing in fossil fuel infrastructure can seriously backfire by raising energy costs for Europeans and increasing reliance on Russian gas. LNG will always be the more expensive option because of its processing and transport. “By locking yourself into a gas-powered future, you’re locking in higher costs for the long haul,” Williams-Derry said. “There’s not a good alternative to Russian gas if you want to have inexpensive gas in Europe.”
“If you’re going to double down on gas, essentially, you’re doubling down on Russia,” Williams-Derry added.
Skyrocketing energy prices during periods of global instability is nothing new, but countries have still not learned that “part of what we’re seeing here is the cost of reliance on fossil fuels,” said Sam Ori, executive director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.
Clean energy isn’t a panacea either. “Once you’re in the [energy] crisis, it’s too late,” Ori noted. But Ori noted that the world will have to make choices anyway of how to respond to Russia. Countries will invest in new energy infrastructure. They will have to make a choice what kind of energy future to support. And there’s a real opportunity to break the cycle of instability.
But the US risks learning the wrong lessons. Sen. Manchin, who has voiced support for historic funding for climate and clean energy investments but blocked the passage of the original Build Back Better bill, has rallied for an all-of-the-above energy approach that boosts fossil fuels. “To continue to ask other countries to do what we can do for ourselves in a cleaner way is hypocritical,” Manchin said in a statement last week. Lobbyists from the US Chamber of Commerce and American Petroleum Institute are beating the same drum.
The biggest risk is if the US and Europe respond to this crisis by over-investing in the future of fossil fuels. Actions like building LNG terminals and approving new leasing don’t help in the short term when people are struggling to pay high bills. It doesn’t achieve energy independence. But it would lock the world onto a dangerous path for climate change.