'Short-Term Folly': U.S. Adds 38 Percent More Oil and Gas Rigs
By John R. Platt
The number of oil and gas rigs in the U.S. has increased an astonishing 38 percent over the past year. That's according to S&P Global Platts Analytics, which reported this week that the country had 1,070 rigs at the end of January, up from just 773 a year earlier.
Experts expressed fear that all of this new development does not bode well for the planet. "This will have a very significant climate impact," said Romany Webb, climate law fellow with the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. "The oil and gas industry is a huge source of methane, which is a really potent greenhouse gas. And then on top of that you also have the carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of this oil and gas. So this is very concerning from a climate perspective."
Webb links the increase in drilling, in part, to the recent rise in prices for crude oil and natural gas. "Oil is now above $60 a barrel, which is what the industry always said that they needed to ramp up production," she said.
Experts also connect the boom to the policies of the Trump administration, which has prioritized the extraction of oil, natural gas and coal over the development of renewable energies even as the planet continues to warm. "That the hottest years in human history coincide with a dramatic increase in U.S. drilling for oil and gas is a reminder of what a rogue nation we now live in," said noted environmentalist Bill McKibben.
The extraction boom took place nationwide, with all but one of S&P's reporting regions (see below) gaining new rigs. The fastest growth occurred in two states in the natural gas-rich Permian Basin: Texas gained 141 rigs, while New Mexico added 43. S&P also noted that extraction companies are moving outside the Permian Basin, which, according to senior analyst Trey Cowan, indicates "future growth being led from other regions in the months ahead."
The analysis includes rigs located on U.S. land, as well as in inland waters and the Gulf of Mexico.
It doesn't look like this will slow down any time soon. The number of rigs has already increased in the few days since January ended. The weekly Platts RigData Locations & Operators Report for Feb. 5 revealed that there are now three additional rigs in operation, for a total of 1,073, with 61 more facilities "waiting to spud" (industry terminology for getting ready to start drilling).
The Future: More Drilling, More Impact
S&P released its data the same day the U.S. Energy Information Administration issued its annual Energy Outlook report for 2018, which projects U.S. oil production will soar past 11 million barrels a day by the end of this year.
The report also found that natural gas use in this country will increase at an annual rate of 0.8 percent through the year 2050. The use of wind and solar energies is also projected to increase at a similar rate. Coal and oil are expected to decline, but that won't be enough to offset the increase in emissions caused by the use of natural gas. The Energy Information Administration predicts that the U.S. carbon footprint will dip slightly over the next few years and then increase by mid-century.
The impact won't just occur in the U.S., as the agency found that the U.S. will become a net energy exporter by the year 2022, pushing an additional rise in emissions worldwide. As Inside Climate News put it, "the U.S. would almost single-handedly exhaust the whole world's carbon budget by midcentury."
The total effect of this mad rush to drill may be felt for even longer than that. "Our short-term folly will be felt for tens of thousands of years in the geologic record," said McKibben.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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