Coming Soon: More Oil, Gas and Coal


It’s no secret that fossil fuels are still going strong, as we discussed last month. But a new United Nations-backed report paints an alarming picture of how dramatically coal, oil and gas production is expected to grow in the coming years.

If current projections hold, the United States will drill for more oil and gas in 2030 than at any point in its history, our colleague Hiroko Tabuchi reports. So will Russia and Saudi Arabia.

In fact, almost all of the top 20 fossil fuel-producing countries plan to produce more oil, gas and coal in 2030 than they do today. If those projections hold, the world would overshoot the amount of fossil fuels consistent with limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius — the level scientists say would result in vastly more life-threatening heat waves, drought and coastal flooding.

“Governments are literally doubling down on fossil fuel production; that spells double trouble for people and planet,” António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, said in a statement accompanying the report. “We cannot address climate catastrophe without tackling its root cause: fossil fuel dependence.”

Some of the increases are projected to take place in several large democracies whose leaders have pledged to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

  • In the United States, where President Biden campaigned under a “no more drilling on public lands” slogan, the Willow project will extract 600 million barrels of oil from pristine federal land in Alaska. The U.S. is now the world’s biggest crude oil producer, and is ramping up exports of natural gas. Its two biggest oil companies are buying up smaller rivals in a bet that fossil fuels will remain profitable for decades to come.

  • Brazil, where President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has vowed to “prove once again that it’s possible to generate wealth without destroying the environment,” plans to increase its oil production by 63 percent and to more than double its gas output in the next decade.

  • India, which has promised to significantly expand renewable energy production, will more than double its production of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, by 2030.

  • Canada, which wrote its 2050 net-zero commitment into law, is on track to boost its oil output by 25 percent in the next 12 years.

Meanwhile, major fossil fuel producers like Saudi Arabia and Russia seem to be vying to become the last ones standing as the world transitions to cleaner energy sources.

Saudi Arabia, as Hiroko reported last year, has an “aggressive long-term strategy to keep the world hooked on oil for decades to come and remain the biggest supplier as rivals slip away.” The country plans to increase production by up to 47 percent by 2050.

Only a handful of countries among the biggest fossil fuel producers plan to reduce their total output by 2030, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway and China. China remains by far the world’s biggest fossil fuel emitter, largely through oil, gas and coal that it imports from other countries.

As global leaders gather in Dubai for the United Nations’ climate talks known as COP28 later this month, there will once again be calls for collective action to reduce planet-warming emissions and expand renewable energy.

“COP28 must send a clear signal that the fossil fuel age is out of gas — that its end is inevitable,” Gutteres said. “We need credible commitments to ramp up renewables, phase out fossil fuels, and boost energy efficiency, while ensuring a just, equitable transition.”

But it’s far from certain that countries would reach an agreement about how — or whether — to phase out fossil fuels. This year’s talks are taking place in the United Arab Emirates, overseen by the chief executive of the state oil company, who expects production to expand “as long as the market demands it.”

In the absence of a tax on carbon, which has been politically untenable in the United States and elsewhere, there are few incentives for state-owned or private companies to cut production.

What’s more, the world still lacks examples of industrialized countries that have successfully moved away from oil and gas.

  • Norway has mostly phased out the use of fossil fuels for its own energy needs, but remains a major exporter of oil and gas. The country’s prime minister has said that phasing out fossil fuel “will have to come from the demand side,” not “political decisions to cut the supply side.”

  • Britain cut 46 percent of its emissions from 1990 levels, but in July announced that it would grant hundreds of new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea, as prime minister Rishi Sunak’s administration started to reverse earlier climate policies.

  • And Colombia’s government announced in January that it would ban all new oil drilling, but has faced harsh criticism and low approval ratings as it struggled to present a credible transition plan.

Until those basic dynamics change, the world is likely to face more emissions — and more intense warming — in the years ahead.

“It’s looking really dire,” said Niklas Hagelberg, the U.N. Environment Program’s global coordinator for climate change. “We’re really on life support here.”

— Additional reporting by Hiroko Tabuchi

The first commercial plant to pull carbon directly from the air in the United States opened today in Tracy, Calif. The technique, called direct air capture, could be crucial for fighting climate change if it succeeds at a larger scale.

Heirloom, the start-up that built the facility, will take the carbon dioxide it pulls from the air and have the gas sealed permanently in concrete, where it can’t heat the planet. To earn revenue, the company is selling carbon removal credits to companies paying a premium to offset their own emissions.

The artificial methods of removing carbon dioxide from the air are wildly expensive, and some critics fear they could distract from efforts to reduce emissions.

The small California plant can absorb a maximum of 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, equal to the exhaust from about 200 cars. But Heirloom hopes to expand quickly.

“We want to get to millions of tons per year,” said Shashank Samala, the company’s chief executive. “That means copying and pasting this basic design over and over.”

Heirloom’s technology hinges on a simple bit of chemistry: Limestone, one of the most abundant rocks on the planet, forms when calcium oxide binds with carbon dioxide. In nature, that process takes years. Heirloom speeds it up.

At the California plant, workers heat limestone in a kiln powered by renewable electricity. Carbon dioxide is released from the limestone and pumped into a storage tank.

The calcium oxide that remains is then doused with water and spread onto large trays, which are exposed to open air. Over three days, the white powder absorbs carbon dioxide and turns into limestone again. Then the process repeats.

“That’s the beauty of this, it’s just rocks on trays,” Samala said. — Brad Plumer

Read the full story here.


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