US Fossil Fuel Production Hits Record

Saul Elbein
FILE – A customer pumps gas at an Exxon gas station, Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Miami. Gas prices have again dropped sharply in New Jersey and around the country, Saturday, Dec. 10, as demand remains slow and supplies continue to increase. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)

Nov. 27, 2023

U.S. oil and gas companies extracted record amounts of planet-warming oil and gas in 2023 — a year that was the globe’s hottest in recorded history. 

New reporting from The Guardian on Monday found that the U.S. government is planning for oil and gas production levels to stay at “near-record levels” until mid-century. 

The U.S., like most wealthy nations, has picked 2050 as the date by which it will zero out the greenhouse gases released by burning gas, oil, and coal. 

Those reductions are planned because burning such carbon-dense fossil fuels in power plants, cars and factories is far and away the biggest driver in the rise in global temperatures and extreme weather. 

But the reporting from the Guardian, which draws together both projections from the federal Energy Information Agency and recent U.N. reports, suggests that the U.S. has set itself an impossible chronology: a long plateau of high fossil fuel production that continues to mid-century — before somehow falling to nothing. 

The reporting comes as the U.S. negotiating team prepares for the annual United Nations Climate Change Summit (COP28) to open in the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s major fossil fuel exporters. 

Debate at that conference will likely hone in on the future role of fossil fuels. Delegates will argue over whether they must be abolished or whether they can be maintained safely at reduced levels — though the definition of “reduced” is contentious. 

The reporting from the Guardian comes as the international fossil fuel industry is gearing up to argue — as Exxon CEO Darren Woods did earlier this month — that the fuels themselves are not the issue. 

“The problem is not oil and gas. It’s emissions,” Woods told the Asia Pacific Forum on November 15. 

“The solutions to climate change have been too focused on reducing supply,” he added.  

“That’s a recipe for human hardship and a poorer world. Leaving oil in the ground does nothing to stop the demand for it. It simply raises the price and makes it harder to alleviate poverty around the world.” 

This line matched one offered by fossil fuel representatives at a key U.N. treaty negotiation earlier this month that aimed to stem the rising tide of plastic waste.

At negotiations in Nairobi, fossil fuel and petrochemical representatives argued that plastic waste could be addressed without slowing plastic production — an argument, activists noted, that the industry has made since at least the 1970s. 

Fossil fuel lobbyists have attended climate talks more than 7,200 times since 2003. Representatives of Big Oil — TotalEnergies, Exxon, Chevron, BP, and Shell — have been given 267 passes, a new report has found. 

For example, Agence France Presses found that U.S. consultancy McKinsey was helping the UAE craft a proposal by which oil production would fall by just 50 percent by 2050.  

These bids from the fossil fuel industry — which depend on a massive buildout in largely unproven and possibly ineffective technologies like carbon capture, methane monitoring and chemical recycling — cut directly against what scientists say is necessary: the drastic reduction and ultimate elimination of the use of fossil fuels. 

“It’s particularly alarming to see the projections of record U.S. oil and gas production year after year until 2050,” Michael Lazarus, a senior scientist at Stockholm Environment Institute, told The Guardian. 

“The U.S. is locking in production for years that makes it hard to meet climate goals,” he added. “It’s out of sync and it needs reckoning.” 

Lazarus was part of the U.N. team that found in October that world governments are planning to produce and burn double the amount of fossil fuels necessary to kick the global climate past the internationally agreed-upon threshold of 1.5 Celsius — beyond which scientists believe severe climate disruptions will begin. 

So far, that is not happening. The world’s 15 biggest oil producers are heavily subsidizing the heightened production that will push the world out of the safe climate range. 

Those governments — which include those of the U.S., China, Canada, Mexico, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates — gave the fossil fuel industry $300 billion more in subsidies since 2020 than they did the renewables industry. 

Even if the world’s governments keep their climate pledges, the world is barreling towards a nearly 3-degree Celsius rise in average temperatures this century. 

That’s a level of warming that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has compared to “opening the gates to hell.”  

In a November report, the U.N. found that the world would need to cut emissions by more than 40 percent this decade to have even a coin-toss chance of avoiding dangerous warming.

Instead, even as domestic demand for oil and gas falls, the Biden administration’s signature energy legislation is funding an increase in fossil fuel production by the end of the decade — a surplus it plans to ship abroad through a new network of controversial gas export facilities. 

[Top photo: FILE – A customer pumps gas at an Exxon gas station, Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Miami. Gas prices have again dropped sharply in New Jersey and around the country, Saturday, Dec. 10, as demand remains slow and supplies continue to increase. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)]