The study – published today in Climatic Change – found that a ban on new and renewed leases for fossil fuel production on U.S. public lands and waters could reduce global CO2 emissions by 280 million tons annually by 2030. That is equivalent to about 5% of U.S. emissions, a reduction that would represent substantial progress toward U.S. and global climate goals.
These findings highlight flaws in federal environmental reviews that often simply assume that every barrel of oil not produced in the U.S. will be produced elsewhere. The study comes as the Interior Department considers opening up most federal waters in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic to new drilling.
“Our models show that each barrel of U.S. oil left undeveloped leads to about a half-barrel drop in global oil consumption,” said Pete Erickson, an SEI senior scientist who co-authored the study. “In the long term, the smart choice –for the climate and the economy – is to phase down oil and gas production, not ramp it up.”
SEI researchers specifically examined the policies proposed in the “Keep It in the Ground Act,” as introduced in Congress in 2015 and 2016. The latest version was introduced at the beginning of the current Congress by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The study confirmed that the bill’s policies would have a substantial benefit in reducing global emissions – and thus help meet the Paris Agreement goal of keeping warming below 2°C.
Key findings include:
The findings could also help inform the environmental review of projects that affect future fossil fuel supply. Currently, reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act often assume that any oil not produced in the U.S. would be produced elsewhere.
But SEI researchers found that assumption is not supported by economic principles. In other words, every ton of coal or barrel of oil left in the ground would result in a drop in global consumption and a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our findings help cast aside the irrational belief in perfect substitution or, as some have called it, ‘whack-a-mole’. In most cases, leaving coal or oil resources undeveloped will lead to global CO2 benefits,” said Michael Lazarus, co-author of the study and director of SEI’s U.S. Center.
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