Paris climate summit: Boost or a bust for Texas energy?

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015.
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. AP

All eyes are on Paris this week as the United Nations Climate Change Conference finalizes the worldwide targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The plan is expected by the conclusion of the two-week summit on Dec. 11, and it is already having a special resonance in Texas, the nation’s largest energy producer.

President Barack Obama laid out the U.S. position in a speech at the summit’s opening: “I’ve come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second-largest emitter, to say that the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it.”

Many of the industry critics of Obama’s ambitious plans to reduce carbon dioxide — already proposed ahead of the summit — say regulations such as in the Clean Power Plan will drive up costs. But Texas isn’t just an oil-producing state; the energy industry in other sectors, especially natural gas, as well as wind and solar, have a strong base in Texas, which leads the country in wind energy and is 10th in solar power.

“There’s a debate over what will come out of this (summit),” said Howard Feldman, senior director of regulatory and scientific affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, speaking from Paris. “We think there are regulations in place that meet what the U.S. has on the table of a 26 percent to 28 percent reduction in carbon dioxide by 2025.”

Texas has been a leader in providing natural gas, a cleaner-burning alternative to oil and coal, but energy industry leaders are concerned about the Paris summit goals.

“We are decades at least from any energy technology being ready, reliable or affordable enough to replace fossil fuels to meet our global energy needs. Any climate agreement that doesn’t reflect this reality would recklessly endanger billions of people,” Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, said in a statement to McClatchy.

There already has been a decline in greenhouse gases as many industrial plants switched to natural gas, a resource that has grown exponentially in Texas with the use of hydraulic fracturing.

“If participants in the Paris summit are interested in solutions that have actually worked, they have to focus on natural gas,” said Steve Everley, spokesman for North Texans for Natural Gas. “Carbon emissions from electricity production are at a 20-year low in the United States, thanks in large part to increased natural gas use.”

Since 2000, per capita carbon dioxide emissions have fallen 22.3 percent in Texas, according to the group, while oil production in the state grew by more than 150 percent, and natural gas production is up more than 50 percent.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a drilling process that involves injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rocks, releasing oil and natural gas. In addition to the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels, fracking has engendered environmental concerns about water contamination and seismic disturbances.

Ed Ireland, executive director of the Fort Worth-based Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, said, “In one of the most heavily drilled parts of the Barnett Shale here in North Texas, oil and gas producers have reduced methane emissions by 37 percent since 2011.”

Methane and carbon dioxide are greenhouse gases that are being targeted as major contributors to global warming and climate change.

Renewable energy is part of the Texas energy landscape as well. According to the Wind Energy Association, wind can supply over 37 percent of Texas’ electricity needs by 2030.

“With the arrival of the Clean Power Plan, the nation’s first-ever rule to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants, Texas can go big with wind to cut carbon emissions,” said the trade association in a recent report.

“Texas already leads the nation in wind energy production, with stable policy this success story will continue to grow,” said John Kostyack, the trade group’s executive director.

Solar is also a renewable source that could grow in Texas if new emissions rules on fossil fuels kick in.

“Because of the strong demand for solar energy in Texas, the state has grown into one of the top 10 solar states in the country, and its future looks even brighter,” said Katherine Gensler, director of federal affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association. “ It’s simple, solar energy is cost-effective, reliable and good for the economy, especially in states like Texas where there’s a high need for generation during peak hours.”