New Oil & Gas Projects Will Send U.S. Emissions Soaring, Study Says

by | Jan 14, 2020

If all the planned projects to expand oil and gas production in the U.S. are completed, they could add the equivalent of 50 coal-fired power plants worth of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, according to new research.

The report, Greenhouse Gases from Oil, Gas and Petrochemical Production, which was released by the Environmental Integrity Project, examined the growth of greenhouse gas emissions from petroleum and natural gas systems, chemical manufacturing and refineries. Using data from the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy and other government agencies, researchers found that  plans for 157 new or expanding plants, as well as expanded drilling, could release up to 227 million tons of additional greenhouse gas by the end of 2025.

“Oil and gas production and petrochemical manufacturing are responsible for most of the growth in greenhouse gas emissions today,” Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project said.

The study comes a day after another study was published showing that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell only slightly in 2019, a reduction that would have been much larger except for the rise in oil and gas production. The study, by the private data research firm Rhodium Group, showed an 18 percent drop in coal-fired power production, but nearly half of those gains were offset by oil and gas growth.

Most of the major oil companies in the U.S. say they support action to combat climate change and support the Paris Climate Agreement, but their business plans do not include plans to cut production, which is essential to slowing emissions. 

About half of the new oil and gas projects included in the new research are slated to be built in Texas and Louisiana, where future projects will result in about 75 percent of the expected rise in greenhouse gas emissions.  

Among the projects is the construction of a new Formosa Plastics facility in the predominantly black community of St. James, La. The proposed plant, whose site was recently discovered to be atop two slave burial sites, was granted an air permit by state regulators on Tuesday. It has the potential to create more greenhouse gas emissions than any of the other 156 projects studied.

“The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality doesn’t care about people’s lives,” said St. James resident Sharon Lavigne, founder and president of RISE St. James, a grassroots, faith-based organization dedicated to opposing new petrochemical facilities in the area.

“They are looking to gain wealth from making us sick. They know that these plants are too much and we’ve asked them not to let this plant come in. We went to the parish council. We went to the governor. They totally ignored us,” Lavigne said, adding that St. James is surrounded by petrochemical infrastructure and already has one of the highest cancer rates in the nation. 

Louisiana is already facing sea level rise and increases in extreme precipitation events and flooding, 

“Unfortunately, the permits being issued by states and EPA for the largest projects do not include cost-effective methods for controlling greenhouse gas pollution, even though this is required by the federal Clean Air Act,” Schaeffer said. “Unless you think global warming is a hoax, that needs to change.”

In neighboring Texas, three proposed liquified natural gas export terminals in the Rio Grande Valley were approved by FERC last year. When operating at full capacity, the burning of one year’s worth of gas exported from the proposed terminals is estimated to create greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 26 coal-fired power plants.

Further west, flaring in the shale gas fields of the Permian Basin is 21 times greater than it was in 2013 and flaring now releases more than enough gas to power every home in Texas, according to the new research.

“The U.S. is already struggling to meet climate commitments and transition to a low-carbon future,” said Courtney Bernhardt, research director at the Environmental Integrity Project. “This analysis shows that we’re heading in the wrong direction and really need to slow emissions growth from the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries.”

Lavigne, whose family has lived in St. James for five generations, said despite the go-ahead given to Formosa by Louisiana officials, Rise St. James will continue to oppose the Formosa project. 

“This is a slow death. I think this is genocide—you’re intentionally killing people. We are not about to give up.”

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Karen Savage is an investigative journalist who has reported on climate change-related itigation, environmental justice, policing, and other social justice issues. Her work has appeared in Climate Docket, Undark Magazine, In These Times, Project Earth, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Truthout, City Limits, and more. Karen is an alum of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she won the Sidney Hillman Award for Social Justice Reporting.