WE'RE inured to long-winded, sometimes egg-headed, pronouncements from academia. These are usually of the liberal persuasion. So it was a pleasant surprise to see the closely spaced conclusions of two academics that go against the grain.
On April 16, Harvard professor Jeffrey Frankel concluded that the primary reason for a dramatic decline in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions is hydraulic fracturing. Last week, Stanford professor Daniel P. Kessler wrote in an op-ed that Obamacare's rollout “is going to be rough” and the health care law will “administer several price (and other) shocks to tens of millions of Americans.”
What are the George Soros-loving citizens to do with this information? We expect them to dismiss it or link the messengers to the Koch brothers or some such demonization. Let's instead examine the findings.
The crossing of the trend lines
Frankel, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, was a member of Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers. Noting that carbon dioxide emissions in 2012 were back at the levels they were when Clinton was president, Frankel concluded that the primary reason for this is horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to recover deposits of shale gas. “No other factor comes close to providing a plausible explanation” for the emissions decline, Frankel says.
Fracking has opened vast reserves to exploration and production, causing a drop in natural gas prices and an incentive to use it to make power. Since 2007, the role of gas in generating electricity has increased by 37 percent while coal's share has dropped by 25 percent. By the way, 2007 was the year that carbon dioxide emissions peaked.
Sometime in 2010, the trend lines showing sources of primary energy production crossed. The coal line continued its decline while the gas line trended up. Meantime, the trend lines for various renewable fuels remained pretty much flat; renewables still account for less than 5 percent of the total, compared with more than 30 percent for gas.
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