Carbon Pricing: The Oil & Gas Industry’s Latest Delay Tactic

The oil and gas industry’s history of responding to the climate crisis is a tall-tale of big promises  without action: first it funded the denial of climate science then acknowledged the same science once public opinion shifted. Today companies are now making voluntary commitments to reduce pollution, supporting rules in the abstract, or supporting inadequate rules with strings attached. What the industry as a whole has yet to do is act in proportion to the emergency. 

The newest talk–which has captured the attention of many journalists and investors–is a price on carbon: through fees or taxes, raising the cost of carbon intensive resources like fossil fuels to account for their cost to the climate. 

Whatever its ostensible policy value, trade groups like the American Petroleum Institute see carbon pricing policy as one thing: a means to avoid being tied to emission safeguards that require concrete pollution reduction targets and methods. API, and therefore some of the major oil companies on whose behalf they operate, want to trade a price on carbon for free rein to pollute as much as they can afford at that price. A price they would then use their lobbying and marketing might to keep as low as possible, avoiding closer oversight all the while.  

Our on the ground experts monitor oil and gas activity with industry standard Optical Gas Imaging cameras. They have found over and over again that industry has a serious methane pollution problem, especially in the Permian Basin. 

Last week our Field Team Manager Nathalie Eddy told the Department of the Interior that “given the projected pollution for the Permian Basin, it is quite literally a global climate bomb that will lead us to catastrophe if we fail to adjust our trajectory away from fossil fuels.”

This is the problem: Each year, the oil and gas industry releases 13 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere, and without swift federal action, methane pollution from the industry will continue to skyrocket. This is happening amid warnings from experts that methane pollution from the oil and gas industry is on track to rise 30 percent in the next five years, fueling the climate crisis. 

Methane isn’t the only gas polluted during oil and gas production. Fracking releases volatile organic compounds such as benzene, ethylbenzene, and n-hexane into the atmosphere which public health experts have shown are damaging to the health of frontline communities. 

The solution is not to allow companies to engage in bad faith negotiations intended to further delay dearly needed concrete actions that radically reduce pollution to protect health and prevent climate catastrophe.  

This is a good time to state the obvious: The simplest way to address the climate crisis is to stop polluting.

The pollution emitted from oil and gas operations right now is hurting the health of residents in oil and gas states. Federal safeguards could cut 65% of this harmful pollution by 2025 directly and put us on a path to a fossil free future.

The technology exists, it is cost effective, and could be implemented immediately. If oil and gas companies (and their trade groups) were serious about solving the climate crisis they would support these concrete plans. Instead they are kicking the can down the road.