Science Fiction Double Feature: Dan Yergin’s Industry-Funded Frack-Fest & Mischa Barton’s Zombie Fracking Movie


LipsWe learned of two new works of fracking science fiction this week. One is a Hollywood-funded post-apocalyptic epic, “Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard” starring Mischa Barton. The other is an industry-funded pre-apocalyptic epic, “America’s New Energy Future: The Unconventional Oil & Gas Revolution and the US Economy,” from Dan Yergan’s consulting company IHS CERA.

As always, here at Climate Progress we strive for the middle ground between the extremists on both sides. On the one hand, we are pretty confident that fracking will not lead to a zombie apocalypse. On the other hand, we are even more confident that fracking has a signficant economic harm that should not be completely ignored in what purports to be a complete analysis of the economic impact of unconventional oil and gas — see, for instance, Economics Stunner: “Oil and Coal-Fired Power Plants Have Air Pollution Damages Larger Than Their Value Added”; Natural Gas Damage Larger Than Its Value Added For Even Low CO2 Prices.

Here is Barton explaining the premise of what we cannot in good conscience call a pre-documentary:

We take zombies seriously at Climate Progress. We have, for instance, repeatedly warned that climate zombies now run the House of Representatives. We have even written about the bombshell epidemiology analysis explaining the only way one can stop a zombie apocalypse.

We are very concerned about the impact of fracking on global warming (because of the carbon content of unconventional oil and gas, including methane leakage from gas fracking) and on our water supplies (because in a great many cases we are using scarce water supplies unsustainably for fracking, with a high risk of permanent contamination).

But we draw the line at Hollywood types suggesting fracking could cause a zombie apocalypse, when in fact there is no scientific evidence that we are aware of supporting that view.

We also draw the line at industry-funded “studies” that purport to calculate the economic impact of fracking but ignore entirely the well-catalogued negative impacts.

IHS CERA’s pre-apocalyptic epic, “America’s New Energy Future,” is a 69-page report funded by groups like America’s Natural Gas Alliance, the American Petroleum Institute, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised there is no discussion whatsoever of global warming or the potentially devastating impact of fracking on water supplies — except a very brief mention in passing of how state and federal regulators might slow the fracking juggernaut if that mild-mannered group of underachievers suddenly became steely superheroes.

And so here is one of many fictional statements in this work:

Value added for the entire unconventional energy value chain and energy-related chemicals was more than $284 billion in 2012 and is expected to reach almost $397 billion by 2015.

In fact, there is a very good chance that unconventional oil and gas have no net value added for the economy — indeed that they have a net value subtracted — and that IHS CERA’s energy guru Dan Yergin knows it.

Two years ago we reported on the analysis of some of the leading (center-right) economists in the country — Nicholas Z. Muller, Robert Mendelsohn, and William Nordhaus — in a top economic journal, the American Economic Review. Their article, “Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy” [aka MMN11], models the impact of emissions of major pollutants from the country’s 10,000 pollution sources.

Even using a ridiculously low price for the social cost of carbon — $27 per ton of carbon [about $7 a ton of CO2] — total damages from natural gas exceed its value! At a price of $65 a ton of carbon, the total damages from natural gas are more than double its value-added.

Note that a study published last year in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences found that the real Social Cost of Carbon was at least between $55 and $266 per ton of CO2 [$200 to $975 a ton of C]. And as I reported on Labor Day, virtually every study ignores the impact on labor productivity from warming, which may well exceed all of the other costs combined.

It is a dangerous fiction that unconventional fossil fuels have only benefits and no costs. Indeed, the International Energy Agency has said that two-thirds of all proven reserves of oil, gas, and coal have to be left in the ground to avoid dangerous warming — and that doesn’t even count much of the unconventional fuels we are now pursuing with a fervor that rivals a zombie’s taste for brains.

The IHS CERA news release adds this:

“The unconventional oil and gas revolution is not only an energy story, it is also a very big economic story that flows throughout the U.S. economy in a way that is only now becoming apparent,” said Daniel Yergin, IHS Vice Chairman and author of The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World.

Sadly, like the report, Yergin has nothing to say about any negative environmental impacts from unconventional fossil fuels. Yet Yergin’s book has 100 full pages (!) devoted to climate. As one reviewer described it, “That book contains six full chapters detailing the evolution of modern climate science and leaves no doubt about the fundamental validity of the observation that the phenomena of global warming from the burning of petroleum and other fossil fuels is indeed, very real.”

Yergin’s climate discussion ends:

[Climate change] has also become the focus of policy and politicians. The general objective is to keep concentration from going over 450 parts per million [of CO2 in the air] in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. As it is, some warn that rising carbon levels may already hold out the risk of an “iceless world” in that humanity is heading toward an ice list age.

Others say but the bounds of uncertainty are wider, the knowledge of how climate works is less developed, and that fluctuations always characterize the weather. Some also believe that the target of 450 parts per million is unrealistic….

Wishy washy, it’s true, but nonetheless a pretty clear statement that 450 ppm of CO2 is an important target.

The IEA, which was once a big booster of all things hydrocarbon like Yergin, noted back in 2008 that you need a CO2 price in 2030 of “$180/tonne in the 450 Policy Scenario” — $660 a metric ton of carbon. I’d love to see IHS CERA redo their value-added calculation for unconventional oil and gas with that figure.

The story of IHS CERA’s Yergin is a tale of a man at war with himself, desperately struggling to reconcile an irreconcilable internal conflict between his love of hydrocarbons and his understanding of what they are likely to do humanity. It isn’t a zombie tale, but more like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Fight Club.