Oil lobby fends off 2020 candidates' calls to ban fracking with new ad campaign

 BY DINO GRANDONI  washingtonpost.com

The oil and gas industry is fighting back: It's throwing in big bucks to counter attacks from Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren that it's contributing to climate change. 

The American Petroleum Institute is planning to spend upward of $1 million through 2020 on a new advertising campaign arguing that it's actually part of the solution when it comes to slowing the rise of global temperatures.

The main lobbying arm of the oil and gas industry will pour money into broadcast televisions spots, social media posts, billboards and airport placards promoting natural gas as a reason the United States is reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

The ad blitz comes as Sanders (I-Vt.), Warren (D-Mass.) and a number of other presidential candidate have promised to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, should they win the White House. And API's message runs up against the advice of thousands of scientists who say we must keep the remaining oil and gas in the ground as the only way to forestall dangerous warming of the Earth.

A ban on fracking would be a major blow to the industry — one it is increasingly seeking to avoid amid a presidential campaign where polling shows voters are more concerned than ever about climate change. API warns that banning fracking would constitute economic self-sabotage for the United States. 

“Here's a glimpse of that vision... In the short run, a fracking ban would quickly invite a global recession,” API chief Mike Sommers told members of Congress, Trump administration officials, oil executives and labor union leaders gathered for the group's annual January luncheon in Washington on Tuesday. “You don't abolish the most dynamic asset of the world's leading energy producer without severe consequences.”

But outside economists say that and other warnings API made Tuesday are overblown. 

"I think is highly unlikely that a fracking ban in the US alone would lead to a global recession, but it could slow economic growth in the short term in the U.S. unless it is accompanied by other policies that spur growth," said Kenneth Gillingham, an economics professor at Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

API points to how the gush of cheap gas from fracking over the past decade has helped shutter hundreds of coal-fired power plants as they are replaced by less-polluting, gas-fired ones. Fracking, along with horizontal drilling, are "as important as the invention the iPhone,” Sommers said.

“We have to serve the vast and growing demand for affordable energy and we have to accelerate progress on the serious challenge of climate change,” added Sommers, who once served as chief of staff for former House speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

The API ad campaign is running nationwide, with an emphasis on oil- and gas-producing states such as New Mexico and Pennsylvania, and swing congressional districts in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and elsewhere. The lobbying group produced seven videos featuring residents from seven states it is targeting.

And in what is likely a bid to emphasize the low emissions of gas compared to coal, the ads referred to the industry as “gas and oil” rather than oil and gas.

“This is natural gas and oil,” the ads read. “This is energy progress.”

When it comes to the new marketing initiative, longtime environmental critics of the oil and gas industry see it as nothing more than an "embarrassing attempt at rebranding [that] doesn't change anything about the dirty fossil fuels API is pushing," according to Kelly Martin, director of the Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign at the Sierra Club, which promotes renewable energy sources as a solution to climate change.

Speaking to reporters before the luncheon, Sommers demurred when asked whether API would support specific emissions-reduction targets. But API did release a report in conjunction with the luncheon with hard-number claims on the economic effects of a ban on fracking. The group is saying a ban could lead to as many as 7.3 million fewer jobs.

Yet Jason Furman, a professor of economic policy at Harvard, said that although a ban on fracking would hurt economic growth, the hit would not be nearly enough to make that many people lose their jobs. 

“It's a ludicrous exaggeration of what would be a meaningful hit to the U.S. economy,” Furman said, noting that the U.S. economy shed nearly 9 million jobs economywide during the Great Recession.

He added that “it would be very hard to go from this to a global recession.”

Gillingham, the Yale economist, agreed by noting that the total employment in oil and gas extraction as of last November was 164,800 — an order of magnitude lower than the job losses API projected.

"I am very skeptical of those jobs numbers," he said for API's claim.

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Democrats and Republicans should both embrace this common-sense, planet-saving reform

By Editorial Board Washington Post  Feb. 13, 2020 at 11:23 a.m. CST

CLIMATE CHANGE was the most important issue for a quarter of voters in the Democratic primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday; only health care ranked higher, according to exit polls. Every serious Democratic candidate has a plan. Even some Republican politicians, their science-denying president notwithstanding, are concluding that action on climate is essential for their political survival as well as the planet’s well-being.

But what action? Sometimes we seem to face an unpalatable choice among President Trump’s obstruction and backsliding, feel-good Republican Band-Aids (let’s plant a few trees!) and the overweening, inefficient and ultimately unrealistic overreach of the the Green New Deal. So there’s reason to celebrate the release Thursday of a climate plan by an alliance of corporations, environmental advocacy groups, economists and prominent citizens that bills itself as “the broadest climate coalition in U.S. history.”

The coalition includes giant oil companies such as ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil, utilities (Exelon) and car manufacturers (Ford, General Motors) but also the World Resources Institute, Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund. It has luminaries from Republican administrations, including former secretaries of state James A. Baker III and George P. Shultz, and Democratic ones, such as Janet L. Yellen, President Barack Obama’s appointment as Federal Reserve chair, and Steven Chu, Mr. Obama’s energy secretary.

What unites them is a plan that is more ambitious and effective in carbon reduction than Mr. Obama’s energy plan or the Paris accord; doesn’t increase the deficit by so much as a dime; leaves most Americans financially better off; encourages innovation; and provides an incentive for other emitters, including China and India, to act. How is that possible? The plan would levy a steadily rising tax on carbon (oil, gas, coal) to cut U.S. carbon emissions in half from 2005 levels by 2035. The timeline is aggressive — steep cuts, and soon — and there’s a backstop if they don’t materialize.

Such a tax is the best way to promote innovation, Ms. Yellen told us, and encourage firms and consumers to switch to cleaner energy (though the government would still be wise to invest in research to speed the transition). The government would remit all of the tax receipts in equal shares; a family of four would get a $2,000 dividend check every year. Seventy percent of households would get more back than they would pay in higher energy costs, with the poorest faring best.

Two other key features: The plan would impose a fee on imports from countries without comparable plans. That would keep companies from just moving factories to countries where they could emit more — and it would encourage other nations to join what would quickly become a customs union of lower emitters. And the carbon fee would replace most federal energy-sector regulation, though automobile standards, appliance efficiency regulation and state rules (if states so chose) would be retained.

That deregulation will offend advocates who would rather dictate the mix of solar, wind and other renewables to be attained. But, as long as the price continues to rise, a tax is a more efficient, predictable route to wringing carbon out of the system than bureaucratic fiat could ever be. In short, the only reason for a Republican to oppose this plan is that there’s nothing here for a Democrat to dislike, and vice versa. Congress should find its way past that obstacle to embrace common-sense, planet-saving reform.

Common Sense seems to be a lost trait these days! I agree 100% with your points, appreciating common sense thinking inside and outside the BOX for the good of all parties concerned! Thank-you Skip! 

Thanks, Gale.  The ranks of climate deniers is quickly thinning.  And conservative politicians are realizing that continuing to deny the science is a losing proposition.  Maybe the debate and plans of action will move a little quicker now.

Red-state Utah embraces plan to tackle climate crisis in surprising shift

theguardian.com  Andrea Smardon in Salt Lake City

Wed 19 Feb 2020 06.00 EST Last modified on Wed 19 Feb 2020 06.02 EST

Utah aims to reduce emissions over air quality concerns as other red states are also starting to tackle global heating

In a move to protect its ski slopes and growing economy, Utah – one of the reddest states in the nation – as just created a long-term plan to address the climate crisis.

And in a surprising turnaround, some of the state’s conservative leaders are welcoming it.

“If we don’t think about Utah’s long-term future, who will?” Republican state house speaker Brad Wilson said at a recent focus group to discuss the proposals.

At the request of the Republican-dominated state legislature, a University of Utah economic thinktank produced the plan to reduce carbon emissions affecting both the local air quality and the global climate.

Project lead Thomas Holst, an energy analyst, never expected to be at the helm of an effort like this. A few years ago, the Utah legislature passed a resolution urging the EPA to “cease its carbon dioxide reduction policies, programs, and regulations until climate data and global warming science are substantiated”.

But now the perspectives of some state lawmakers – and of Holst, who spent most of his career in the oil and gas industry – have shifted.

“The economist Adam Smith talked about an invisible hand that guides the economy, and in this particular case, the cost of renewable energy, whether it’s wind or solar, has gone down so rapidly and made itself so market efficient versus fossil fuels, that there is a change, and the change can’t be ignored,” Holst said. “So now is the opportunity for a state like Utah which is rich in both renewables as well as fossil fuels to embrace that change and get out ahead of it.”

Other red states and municipalities are slowly starting to address global heating. After banning the words “climate change” from state environmental agencies, Florida now has a chief resilience officer tasked with preparing for sea level rise. After a year of disastrous flooding, Nebraska lawmakers advanced a bill to develop a climate change plan for a full legislative debate.

Utah prides itself on being business friendly – and it has a rapidly growing tech sector concerned about environmental issues, as well as booming tourist economy that revolves around the ski industry and public lands.

The Utah plan, known as the Utah Roadmap, began, like a number of recent environmental initiatives, with young people clamoring for action. High school students drafted a resolution that recognized the impacts of the climate crisis and encouraged emissions reductions, and persuaded two Republican lawmakers to sponsor it. Environmental advocates say it was the first measure of its kind to pass in a red state. The legislature followed up with state money for experts to provide policy recommendations.

Another factor that has primed Utah leaders to address the climate crisis is the state’s unique air quality issues. The majority of the population lives in mountain valleys where in winter, temperature inversions can trap air pollutants, often reaching levels that impact health, particularly among children and the elderly.

 “It cuts across political lines. [Clean air] is not a partisan issue in our state,” said Utah speaker Wilson. “There is absolutely overlap between air quality concerns we have and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Natalie Gochnour, the head of the economic policy institute that drafted the Utah Roadmap, said its proponents managed to turn a hyper-partisan issue into a shared priority by emphasizing the local impacts of the climate crisis. Research suggests that framing policy around economic benefits and sustainability allows local leaders to respond to climate change without getting caught up in political divisions.

“That tends to pull some of the politics out of it – not for everybody – but for many. I think enough to create momentum on Capitol Hill,” Gochnour said.

Clean air concerns are also the reason officials are pushing Utah gas refineries to produce cleaner gasoline, and when the Trump administration announced plans to roll back clean car standards, Utah’s bipartisan clean air caucus held a press conference urging Congress to resist the move.

It cuts across political lines. Clean air is not a partisan issue in our state

Holst, the roadmap project lead, acknowledged that blue coastal states have taken the initiative on ameliorating climate change, but he sees potential for Utah. “Is there an opportunity for a red state to take a leadership role? We believe that there is. And by composing a road map, by encouraging our legislative leaders to embrace this, we believe that there can be a change, and that Utah will be willing to take a leadership role,” he said.

Utah’s per capita carbon emissions are higher than most states, in part because it’s nearly twice as reliant on coal, but utilities serving Utah customers plan to close many of their coal power plants by 2030, converting to wind, solar, natural gas, and possibly hydrogen. Republican state lawmaker Melissa Garff Ballard has an ambitious plan to make Utah a source of hydrogen power serving the western US.

Among the Utah Roadmap’s top priorities is to reduce CO2 emissions by half over the next decade – a challenge for a state with a growing population. The plan suggests focusing on energy-efficient buildings and clean transportation options. It recommends expanding Utah’s network of charging stations, incentivizing the purchase of electric vehicles, and involving auto dealers in strategies to increase the zero-emissions vehicle supply.

Business leaders have told Holst they are drafting a document that would pledge to move forward with the Utah Roadmap’s recommendations.

“What I’m interested in is a viable future for the state of Utah,” Republican state representative Stephen Handy said. “There are still a number of Utah legislators who don’t want to look at the science that’s very obvious on climate change, but we’ve come a long way.”

Revealed: quarter of all tweets about climate crisis produced by bots

Draft of Brown study says findings suggest ‘substantial impact of mechanized bots in amplifying denialist messages’

Oliver Milman in New York  Fri 21 Feb 2020 03.00 EST theguardian.com

The social media conversation over the climate crisis is being reshaped by an army of automated Twitter bots, with a new analysis finding that a quarter of all tweets about climate on an average day are produced by bots, the Guardian can reveal.

The stunning levels of Twitter bot activity on topics related to global heating and the climate crisis is distorting the online discourse to include far more climate science denialism than it would otherwise.

An analysis of millions of tweets from around the period when Donald Trump announced the US would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement found that bots tended to applaud the president for his actions and spread misinformation about the science.

The study of Twitter bots and climate was undertaken by Brown University and has yet to be published. Bots are a type of software that can be directed to autonomously tweet, retweet, like or direct message on Twitter, under the guise of a human-fronted account.

“These findings suggest a substantial impact of mechanized bots in amplifying denialist messages about climate change, including support for Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement,” states the draft study, seen by the Guardian.

On an average day during the period studied, 25% of all tweets about the climate crisis came from bots. This proportion was higher in certain topics – bots were responsible for 38% of tweets about “fake science” and 28% of all tweets about the petroleum giant Exxon.

Conversely, tweets that could be categorized as online activism to support action on the climate crisis featured very few bots, at about 5% prevalence. The findings “suggest that bots are not just prevalent, but disproportionately so in topics that were supportive of Trump’s announcement or skeptical of climate science and action”, the analysis states.

Thomas Marlow, a PhD candidate at Brown who led the study, said the research came about as he and his colleagues are “always kind of wondering why there’s persistent levels of denial about something that the science is more or less settled on”.

The researchers examined 6.5m tweets posted in the days leading up to and the month after Trump announced the US exit from the Paris accords on 1 June 2017. The tweets were sorted into topic category, with an Indiana University tool called Botometer used to estimate the probability the user behind the tweet is a bot.

Marlow said he was surprised that bots were responsible for a quarter of climate tweets on an average day. “I was like, ‘Wow that seems really high,’” he said.

The consistent drumbeat of bot activity around climate topics is highlighted by the day of Trump’s announcement, when a huge spike in general interest in the topic saw the bot proportion drop by about half to 13%. Tweets by suspected bots did increase from hundreds a day to more than 25,000 a day during the days around the announcement but it wasn’t enough to prevent a fall in proportional share.

Trump has consistently spread misinformation about the climate crisis, most famously calling it “bullshit” and a “hoax”, although more recently the US president has said he accepts the science that the world is heating up. Nevertheless, his administration has dismantled any major policy aimed at cutting planet-warming gases, including car emissions standards and restrictions on coal-fired power plants.

The Brown University study wasn’t able to identify any individuals or groups behind the battalion of Twitter bots, nor ascertain the level of influence they have had around the often fraught climate debate.

However, a number of suspected bots that have consistently disparaged climate science and activists have large numbers of followers on Twitter. One that ranks highly on the Botometer score, @sh_irredeemable, wrote “Get lost Greta!” in December, in reference to the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

This was followed by a tweet that doubted the world will reach a 9-billion population due to “#climatechange lunacy stopping progress”. The account has nearly 16,000 followers.

Another suspected bot, @petefrt, has nearly 52,000 followers and has repeatedly rejected climate science. “Get real, CNN: ‘Climate Change’ dogma is religion, not science,” the account posted in August. Another tweet from November called for the Paris agreement to be ditched in order to “reject a future built by globalists and European eco-mandarins”.

Twitter accounts spreading falsehoods about the climate crisis are also able to use the promoted tweets option available to those willing to pay for extra visibility. Twitter bans a number of things from its promoted tweets, including political content and tobacco advertising, but allows any sort of content, true or otherwise, on the climate crisis.

Research on internet blogs published last year found that climate misinformation is often spread due to readers’ perception of how widely this opinion is shared by other readers.

Stephan Lewandowsky, an academic at the University of Bristol who co-authored the research, said he was “not at all surprised” at the Brown University study due to his own interactions with climate-related messages on Twitter.

“More often than not, they turn out to have all the fingerprints of bots,” he said. “The more denialist trolls are out there, the more likely people will think that there is a diversity of opinion and hence will weaken their support for climate science.

“In terms of influence, I personally am convinced that they do make a difference, although this can be hard to quantify.”

John Cook, an Australian cognitive scientist and co-author with Lewandowsky, said that bots are “dangerous and potentially influential”, with evidence showing that when people are exposed to facts and misinformation they are often left misled.

“This is one of the most insidious and dangerous elements of misinformation spread by bots – not just that misinformation is convincing to people but that just the mere existence of misinformation in social networks can cause people to trust accurate information less or disengage from the facts,” Cook said.

Although Twitter bots didn’t ramp up significantly around the Paris withdrawal announcement, some advocates of action to tackle the climate crisis are wary of a spike in activity around the US presidential election later this year.

“Even though we don’t know who they are, or their exact motives, it seems self-evident that Trump thrives on the positive reinforcement he receives from these bots and their makers,” said Ed Maibach, an expert in climate communication at George Mason University.

“It is terrifying to ponder the possibility that the POTUS was cajoled by bots into committing an atrocity against humanity.”



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