While speaking at an oil and gas conference last Thursday in Bismarck, N.D., presidential candidate Donald Trump provided some details of his America First Energy Plan. That Trump plan would overturn President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which requires electric power plants to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels.
The Obama plan calls for the substitution of natural gas for coal in power plants, and for large-scale implementation of wind and solar energy to reduce fossil-fuel consumption. By contrast, the Trump plan calls for more fossil-fuel production, including “restoration of the coal industry to its former glory.” Trump expects that his plan will achieve U.S. energy independence, a dream of most presidents since Richard Nixon.
Trump is not concerned about CO2 emissions and global warming; he had stated earlier that the “concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.”
On Thursday, he said that “we will rescind all these job-destroying President Obama executive actions.” He plans to reverse the Obama-instigated decline in oil and gas drilling rigs, thus providing more U.S. oil and gas production. But that rig count decline has actually resulted from worldwide surpluses and the resulting major drop in oil and natural gas prices. The Trump call for more production would aggravate the surplus, idling more rigs.
Trump sees a long-term boom in our oil production because, as he put it, “America has one-and-a-half times as much oil as the combined proven reserves of all OPEC countries.” A check with the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) puts proven recoverable U.S. oil reserves at approximately 40 billion barrels. Using the same standard, the EIA estimates the combined reserves of the six leading Middle East countries at 800 billion barrels, 20 times the U.S. total. There is more potential U.S. oil in very deep water and in environmentally sensitive deposits, requiring much higher oil prices for retrieval.
Trump’s plan to save the coal industry wouldn’t work if we produce more natural gas. That gas is replacing coal in our power plants, spurred by low natural gas prices and the push to reduce CO2 emissions.
The Trump plan would also cut off all U.S. funding for United Nations climate programs and cancel U.S. agreements under the Paris climate accord. Trump claims his plan would eliminate America’s reliance on foreign sources of energy and avoid the loss of “millions of jobs and trillions of dollars” of wealth that would be destroyed under the climate change policies of Hillary Clinton. The Paris accord is not binding, but a withdrawal of the world’s No. 2 carbon emitter would be a serious public-relations blow to the U.S.
It is the market that determines fossil-fuel production levels, rig counts, and which fuels prosper. Trump is displaying ignorance of both petroleum geology and market forces. Whether additional CO2 in the atmosphere is the greatest threat to human existence or simply more food for plants in photosynthesis is open to dispute. Trump, our would-be climate scientist, has settled the issue in favor of plant food.
Rolf Westgard, a geologist, is a guest faculty member on energy subjects for the University of Minnesota’s Lifelong Learning program.