Oil industry placing profits over public interest in new National Petroleum Council report on North American fossil fuels

Yesterday, the National Petroleum Council issued a report on North American fossil fuels that places the interests of the oil industry above the public interest. This report is meant for the Department of Energy and includes recommendations that would deepen our reliance on oil for many years to come, disregarding the very real economic and other dangers of climate change.  As noted by our executive director in his blog, the tone and content of the report show a strong bias towards the oil industry – and this should come as no surprise given the composition of the National Petroleum Council. What this report misses is that we cannot continue to expand our dependence on oil – including extracting and burning North American deepwater, Arctic, tar sands and shale oil reserves if we also want to protect our climate, health and economy. We have cleaner solutions that are better for us economically both in terms of the jobs that they will create and in terms of the economic and health damage from climate change that they will prevent. The Department of Energy should stay focused on clean energy and not follow the recommendations of this report that would put us on a path contrary to the Administration’s clean energy and climate goals.

The fundamental problem with the study is that it advocates extraction of all remaining North American oil and gas resources. Not only does it only give a nod to good environmental practices – especially in the sections on oil resources - but it does not acknowledge that if we are to extract and use North American oil resources such as tar sands and oil shale, we can never hope to meet the greenhouse gas emissions reductions necessary to curb climate change.

The report reads like you would expect an oil industry report to read and should be taken as such by the Department of Energy. The study strongly supports the expansion of fossil fuel extraction in North America, including oil in the Outer Continental Shelf, oil in the Arctic, bitumen from Canadian tar sands, and oil shale in the United States. In doing so, it relies heavily on the mistaken assumption that voluntary measures combined with technological improvements will mitigate most if not all environmental problems that may arise. In fact, although it contains a section on the need for regulatory oversight, the language that regulation needs to “support the multiple objectives of prudent development” do not leave me feeling confident that the report writers have regulatory oversight that actually leads to environmental and safety protections in mind. Finally, the report looks to the taxpayer to help fund research into new ways of unconventional fossil fuel extraction.

We are at a point in our energy path where we need to make policy and investment choices about whether we follow the dirty or clean path. What this report is basically proposing is to turn remaining American wild spaces such as the West into an industrial zone. Some would argue that if we have a price on carbon and clean energy investments moving forward, we will naturally limit our use of oil and oil industry will stop. However, what we see in reality is that the oil industry is doing all it can to keep itself alive and that includes working to undermine policies, incentives and investment in clean energy. Not only can our climate not support emitting the carbon locked in oil shale under the Rockies and tar sands under the Boreal forest, but clean energy is on an uneven playing field when competing against the oil industry. This report recommends skewing the playing field even more in the favor of the oil industry with subsidies, policies and other assistance that the oil industry certainly does not need. Government support for the oil industry will take away our real choices for a clean energy future. Doing as this report recommends and going full steam ahead with extraction of every last drop of North American oil will condemn us to worsening climate change. We are already feeling the damage to our communities and pocketbooks from recent droughts, fires, floods and violent storms. We need to stay focused on energy choices that help us prevent worsening climate change.

The National Petroleum Council’s report on fossil fuels does nothing to seriously analyze North American energy needs, environmental and health concerns and what is best for taxpayers and for our economy. Given the strong bias of this report, the Department of Energy should take it as what it represents: an oil industry wish list for keeping their profits high in the future even at the expense our climate, health and economic well being.