Keep it in the Ground


Sakhalin oil rig

The math is clear: the world has already discovered more fossil fuels than we can safely burn. The historic Paris climate agreement signed last December set a goal that the world should strive to limit global warming to 1.5° Celsius, with a firm upper limit of 2° C. But a new study of the fossil fuel industry has found that even the oil and gas extraction projects that already exist are enough to generate greenhouse gas emissions that would put us over the 1.5° limit. Adding in emissions from existing coal mining projects would push us past the 2° guardrail, into dangerous, uncharted territory.

Despite all this, oil companies continue searching for yet more reserves – in fact their current business model depends on finding as much new oil each year as they sell. This means they are pushing deeper into untouched and risky frontier areas as existing oil fields decline. From drilling in the Arcticor the Amazon rainforest, to developing Canada’s carbon-intensive tar sands, to natural gas fracking, to deepwater offshore drilling in places like the Gulf of Mexico, these new projects are unsafe, unnecessary and inconsistent with a healthy climate.

Although oil extraction projects have high upfront costs, once those initial investments are made, the oil can be pumped cheaply for decades to come. This dynamic can undermine the adoption of cleaner alternatives and “lock-in” dangerous emissions of heat-trapping gases well past the date when we need to transition to clean energy.