Sustained Outrage

MIT paper: Shale gas could crowd out clean energy

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There’s an important new paper out from scientists at MIT, published in the inaugural issue of a new journal, Economics of Energy & Environmental Policy. The paper is called, “The Influence of Shale Gas on U.S. Energy and Environmental Policy,” (sign-in required) and it concludes:

… The gas “revolution” has important implications for the direction and intensity of national efforts to develop and deploy low-emission technologies, like CCS for coal and gas.

With nothing more than regulatory policies of the type and stringency simulated here there is no market for these technologies, and the shale gas reduces interest even further. Under more stringent GHG targets these technologies are needed, but the shale gas delays their market role by up to two decades. Thus in the shale boom there is the risk of stunting these programs altogether. While taking advantage of this gift in the short run, treating gas a “bridge” to a low-carbon future, it is crucial not to allow the greater ease of the near-term task to erode efforts to prepare a landing at the other end of the bridge.

As explained in a National Geographic online article:

A team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology used economic modeling to show that new abundant natural gas is likely to have a far more complex impact on the energy scene than is generally assumed. If climate policy continues to play out in the United States with a relatively weak set of measures to control emissions, the new gas source will lead to lower gas and electricity prices, and total energy use will be higher in 2050.

Absent the shale supply, the United States could have expected to see GHG emissions 2 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 under this relatively weak policy. But the lower gas prices under the current shale gas outlook will stimulate economic growth, leading GHG emissions to increase by 13 percent over 2005. And the shale gas will retard the growth of renewable energy’s share of electricity, and push off the development of carbon capture and storage technology, needed to meet more ambitious policy targets, by as long as two decades.

“Shale gas is a great advantage to the U.S. in the short term, for the next few decades,” said MIT economist Henry Jacoby, lead author of the new study. “But it is so attractive that it threatens other energy sources we ultimately will need.”