Drilling Towards Disaster: Why U.S. Oil and Gas Expansion Is Incompatible with Climate Limits

21 01 2019 | 14:18

A new study released by Oil Change International and 17 partner organizations examines the urgent need for U.S. leadership to manage a rapid and just decline of fossil fuel production.

The United States should be a global leader in winding down fossil fuel use and production. Instead, the U.S. oil and gas industry is gearing up to unleash the largest burst of new carbon emissions in the world between now and 2050. At precisely the time in which the world must begin rapidly decarbonizing to avoid runaway climate disaster, the United States is moving further and faster than any other country to expand oil and gas extraction.

Key findings include:

  • Unprecedented Oil & Gas Expansion: Between 2018 and 2050, U.S. drilling into new oil and gas reserves could unlock 120 billion metric tons of new carbon pollution, which is equivalent to the lifetime CO2 emissions of nearly 1,000 coal-fired power plants. If not curtailed, U.S. oil and gas expansion will impede the rest of the world’s ability to manage a climate-safe, equitable decline of oil and gas production.
  • Expansion Hot Spots: Some 90% of U.S. drilling into new oil and gas reserves through 2050 would depend on fracking; nearly 60% of the carbon emissions enabled by new U.S. drilling would come from the epicenters of fracking – the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico and the Appalachian Basin across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio.
  • Coal – Too Much Already: Given U.S. coal mining should be phased out by 2030 or sooner if the world is to equitably achieve the Paris Agreement goals, at least 70% of the coal in existing U.S. mines should stay in the ground.

These findings show that leadership is urgently needed towards a U.S. fossil fuel phase-out that aligns with climate limits, takes care of workers and communities on its front lines, and builds a more healthy and just economy for all in the process.

Key recommendations for what U.S. policymakers must do to show real climate leadership:

  1. Ban new leases or permits for new fossil fuel exploration, production, and infrastructure;
  2. Plan for the phase-out of existing fossil fuel projects in a way that prioritizes environmental justice;
  3. End subsidies and other public finance for the fossil fuel industry;
  4. Champion a Green New Deal that ensures a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy; and
  5. Reject the influence of fossil fuel money over U.S. energy policy.

Download the full report.
Download selected figures from the report.

This U.S. report is part of a series of publications in the Oil Change International Sky’s Limit series, based on our foundational global report released in 2016: The Sky’s Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production.


16 January 2019

Kelly Trout