Planned oil and natural gas projects in the United States made possible by the unconventional oil and natural gas drilling revolution could release up to 227 million tons (mmt) of additional greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution by the end of 2025, representing a 30% rise from the 764 mmt emitted by the industry in 2018, according to the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).

The increase in GHG emissions is coming from unconventional drilling that combines hydraulic fracturing (fracking) with horizontal drilling.

“Fueled by the fracking boom, oil and gas-related industries across the U.S. are planning to build 157 new or expanded plants and could expand drilling over the next five years,” EIP said Wednesday in a report.

The projects all “have final permits or applications,” the group said, citing that about half of them are in Texas or Louisiana. The projects pertain to “companies that extract or refine oil and gas, export liquefied natural gas (LNG), or manufacture petrochemicals, plastics, or fertilizers…”

The 227 mmt figure is equal to the emissions of about 50 coal-fired power plants, EIP said, noting that emissions growth from 2020-2025 would be led by LNG export projects. Eight LNG terminals in the U.S. released 7 mmt of GHG in 2018, a more than 10-fold increase from 2016. 

“An additional 18 new LNG export sea terminals and one inland facility are planned by 2025 that could emit up to 80 million more tons annually -- a potential 100-fold increase over a decade.”

Proposed expansions of petrochemical and plastics plants, meanwhile, “could raise emissions by another 64 mmt annually -- a potential 80% increase -- by the end of 2025,” EIP said.

“Ammonia fertilizer plants, which use natural gas as a primary ingredient, released 40 million tons of greenhouse gases in 2018, up from 31 million tons in 2016. That total could expand by another third, to 53 million tons, within five years.”

The report also documented an 8%, or 57 mmt, rise in GHG emissions from the industry from 2016-2018, with oil and gas drilling accounting for the largest share, at 26 mmt.

Second place went to “other petroleum and natural gas systems, including pipelines and compressor stations, which saw a 9 million ton, or 5%, increase” during the period.

“One major source of emissions in West Texas is venting or flaring of gas from oil and gas facilities,” EIP said. “Average daily flaring rates in the Permian Basin climbed past 700 MMcf/d in 2019, a nearly 21-fold increase from seven years earlier and more than enough gas needed to power every home in Texas.”

EIP recommended legislators approve more funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and for state-level environmental regulators to improve monitoring, oversight, and enforcement. “EPA needs to require much more accurate methods to monitor emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants from leaking tanks, oil and gas processing equipment, and flares with poor combustion efficiency.”

The messaging war around the climate impact of oil and gas has been intensifying, as pressure grows on politicians to take action on the climate crisis.

The American Petroleum Institute this week launched a nationwide ad campaign “highlighting the natural gas and oil industry’s leadership in reducing emissions to record low levels and supporting economic and environmental progress in local communities.”

“Each day our industry is focused on lowering emissions, increasing efficiency, and furthering environmental progress,” API President Mike Sommers said Tuesday at an annual State of American Energy event in Washington. “The size and scope of the climate challenge requires a tremendous response and innovation from everyone.”

He also cited the work of API’s Environmental Partnership, launched in 2017, “to convene, share, and design new methods for reducing methane emissions.”

In a report released last month highlighting the potential economic impact of banning hydraulic fracturing, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute said, “Since 2005, the increased use of natural gas has helped reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by more than 2.8 billion metric tons, roughly the equivalent of annual emissions from Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined.”