For the Global Frackdown to Paris in 2015, over 1,200 groups from 64 countries, including over 700 organizations based in the United States, signed this letter urging world climate leaders to say “au revoir” to fracking.
2 November 2015
Dear Head of State/Parliamentarian:
As the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris (COP 21) approaches, we implore you to take bold action. This means not just setting emissions -reduction targets, but also by explicitly addressing the fundamental, science-based need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Specifically, we call on you to reject hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and the use of acidization for oil and natural gas production and all of the related infrastructure. Instead you must take action to move aggressively to a 100% renewable energy future, which is necessary for remediating global warming and ensuring climate stability.
Last December, Governor Cuomo of New York finalized a review of the health impacts of fracking and moved to ban the practice in his state. This move followed the lead of countries such as France and Bulgaria, which have also banned fracking. Such precaution is a response to mounting scientific evidence concerning the negative impacts of fracking, which include air and water pollution, public health problems, and earthquakes, not to mention the significant impacts that frac sand mining, pipelines, and other infrastructure projects have on communities, the environment, and public health.
With respect to climate impacts, it is true that burning natural gas produces less carbon dioxide than does burning coal or oil. For this reason, fracked gas has been touted as having climate benefits and billed as a bridge fuel. However, the reality is that fracked gas is a bridge to climate chaos with no exit in sight. There are three basic reasons why.
First and foremost, increased natural gas use in the electricity sector does not just displace other fossil fuels, it also displaces cleaner solutions, such as solar, wind and energy efficiency. These solutions are paramount to meeting the climate challenge, yet fracking and an expanded energy infrastructure based on gas will continue to forestall their deployment.
Second, more natural gas, and thus more of the potent greenhouse gas methane, is leaking from well sites and pipelines than previously thought, and methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than previously understood. As a consequence, the increase in methane emissions that comes with using natural gas instead of other fossil fuels offsets, and may outpace, the decrease in carbon dioxide used to justify switching to natural gas.
Third, setting aside the industry’s problems with methane leaks and looking at carbon dioxide alone, extracting and burning fracked gas threatens to release significantly more carbon dioxide than the world can afford. To avoid the irreversible effects of climate change, almost all of the natural gas that could be extracted by fracking must actually stay underground, unburned. That is the case even if aggressive global action is taken to wind down the use of oil and coal.
To illustrate this final point, it is widely accepted that no more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to have a better than 50-50 chance of avoiding 2 degrees Celsius of warming. But there are two ways in which this statistic understates the problem. First, it is only based on proven reserves — before accounting for most of the fracked gas, fracked oil, Arctic oil and tar sands oil now targeted. Almost all of this oil and gas must stay underground. Second, the estimate of “unburnable” proven reserves derives from dated climate science, and the 2-degree threshold is too permissive. Now, climate science is clear that surpassing even 1.5 degrees of warming will lead to unacceptable impacts, particularly in the Global South.
Put simply, we cannot afford to continue down an energy path that relies on fossil fuels if we are to maintain the stability of our climate and the health of the planet. Despite this fact, vested interests have succeeded in convincing many governments that fracking for shale gas is a harmless “bridge fuel” toward renewables. This is a dangerous and deeply flawed point of view.
The world is facing a climate crisis that has already brought devastating impacts that will only escalate to catastrophic levels without swift action. Fracking amounts to inaction, and it is anathema to developing sustainable energy systems available to all and premised on the efficient use of safe, abundant, affordable and renewable energy resources, subject to regional conditions and constraints.
At the Paris climate summit, it must be made clear that fracking for shale gas, tight gas, coalbed methane and tight oil, as well as other extreme fossil fuel extraction methods, are incompatible with climate stability. We implore you to support a ban on fracking and related processes, both as national policy and toward international agreements, and to make explicit the need to maximize the amount of fossil fuels to be kept underground and unburned.