Banks’ Immoral Investment in Fracking Leading to Climate Catastrophe

Interview with Tony Ingraffea, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Under President Obama’s “All of the Above” energy strategy and the four years that followed with President Trump’s aggressive promotion of fossil fuels, production and distribution of shale gas through the process of fracking has sent methane emissions soaring. So-called natural gas is almost all methane. Through fracked gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas, or LNG, export terminals, the U.S. has pushed the distribution of methane around the country and around the world.
Tony Ingraffea, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University, began his academic career working in collaboration with the oil and gas industry, but as horizontal drilling into shale formations to release gas – known as fracking – took hold, he realized the problems it was creating for the global climate. He and his colleagues at Cornell then conducted ground-breaking research showing that through leaks and deliberate releases, methane is far more damaging to the climate than coal. Later, he co-authored several papers demonstrating how most countries around the world could get to an almost 100 percent clean energy economy.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus interviewed Ingraffea as an expert witness for a People’s Climate Tribunal that took place in Wilmington, Delaware, on Sept. 29. The tribunal preceded a trial of 15 “elders,” including Tuhus, charged with disorderly conduct for their protest that blocked the entrance to the credit card headquarters of JP Morgan Chase in Wilmington last June. Here Ingraffea explains the role of methane in the energy matrix and why big banks are complicit in the climate crisis.

TONY INGRAFFEA: Methane, as is well known in the scientific community, is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So with the advent of production of oil and gas from shale, it was proverbially burning our climate candle at both ends. It was producing vast new quantities of fossil fuels that when burned produce CO2 – that’s inevitable. But it was also producing methane, and CO2 and methane, taken together, are by far the most important greenhouse gases.

MELINDA TUHUS: Tony Ingraffea, my understanding is that methane is very damaging especially over a short timeframe, but because it dissipates quicker than CO2, tackling methane pollution now would have the biggest impact on the climate crisis. Is that true?

TONY INGRAFFEA: That is absolutely and scientifically true, correct and factual. And in fact, in our 2011 paper, my colleagues Bob Howarth and Renee Santoro said exactly that. We said that whereas the rest of the world seemed to be focused on a 100-year period of judgment, whether it be CO2 or methane or any other greenhouse gas, we felt that was inappropriate, given the imperative of the rapid increase in climate change we were seeing even 10 years ago, and we advocated for a shorter period of time to judge the effectiveness of various greenhouse gases, especially methane.

And at that time, the U.S. government and most international entities were judging methane on the basis of we have 100 years to worry about this problem. And here we are today; it’s 2021, and for those of you who have been following the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, its most recent report said exactly what we were saying then: The last remaining dial, knob, rheostat, control on climate change available to us is control of methane, for the reason you just stated. CO2, once it gets into the atmosphere, is there for thousands of years. If we were to stop emission of all CO2 on the face of the earth today, it would have no effect on changing climate for the foreseeable future, certainly in our lifetimes and the lifetimes of our children. But, if we were to drastically reduce methane emissions – both accidental and purposeful – we would have an immediate impact. And, according to the IPCC and the thousands of scientists and engineers who wrote that report, the only remaining hope we have of keeping climate warming below or close to the 1.5-degree Centigrade mark, is to drastically reduce methane in the atmosphere.

MELINDA TUHUS: Then let me ask you, if you could give your expert opinion, on the importance of banking institutions – and especially JP Morgan Chase, because it is the largest funder of fossil fuel projects, gas and oil, not much coal, but a lot of oil and gas projects. Do you think they bear some responsibility for where we find ourselves at this point?

TONY INGRAFFEA: Absolutely yes. The oil and gas industry, especially the shale oil and gas industry, does not pay for itself. Every time a new shale gas well is drilled, it costs the company, the operators, somewhere between $10 million and $20 million. They borrow that money from big banks. Big banks take our investments – our savings, our retirement plans – and they turn that money into shale gas and oil wells. And for reasons I just said, we can’t keep doing that. We have only about a decade left to have substantial reductions in both methane and CO2 quantities in the atmosphere, and the only way to do those reductions is to drastically reduce the drilling for, and the production of, and the burning of, and the emission of greenhouse gases from oil and gas. So, banks like the one you mentioned and all the others that are the big loan agencies are exacerbating, aiding and abetting, climate catastrophe. It’s an immoral investment of our money by them, in the continuing development of the oil and gas industry.

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