Mounting Research Shows It's Time to Stop Drilling

Mounting Research Shows It's Time to Stop Drilling

A new report released last week by Oil Change International (OCI), a climate research organization, warns that oil drilling must stop and do so immediately. Researchers found that 40% of fossil fuels available for extraction from existing oil and coal fields must remain untouched to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Further, to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, all new drilling projects must cease, and governments may have to decommission a large portion of their existing projects.

Another report from OCI, released yesterday, revealed that the industry has no plans to slow production. The report assessed the climate commitments of 10 big oil and gas companies in relation to benchmarks for meeting the Paris Agreement’s 1.5-degree goal. Eight of the companies studied were deemed "grossly insufficient” across various criteria and are currently "involved in over 200 expansion projects on track for approval from 2022 through 2025 -- equivalent to the lifetime emissions of 77 new coal power plants.”

BBC: Past seven years hottest on record, EU satellite data shows, January 10, 2022.

Why This Matters

A growing body of research shows that continued fossil fuel drilling is incompatible with climate targets set to avoid the direst of consequences. A report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that to stay below 1.5 degrees of warming, there can be no new oil and gas fields or coal mine development. Another from Manchester University found that to equitably reduce carbon emissions to stay below 1.5 degrees, rich countries like the US will have to completely phase out oil and gas production by 2034. The world’s poorest countries would have until 2050, while countries like Mexico and China would be somewhere in the middle of this range.

IEA: A 10-Point Plan to Cut Oil Use, March 18, 2022.

The Economist: See what three degrees of global warming looks like, October 7, 2021.

Ranking Charts: Top 10 Polluting Countries by CO2 Emissions (1840-2021), December 26, 2021.

What’s Next: Carbon Bombing

The world’s biggest oil companies have 195 new projects on the docket, which, if implemented, could be disastrous. Coined "carbon bombs,” these projects could release 1 billion tons of carbon emissions throughout each of their lifetimes, and pumping has already started on 60% of them. If these projects continue, the already increasingly close global carbon targets will quickly be blown through.

The science is clear: Changing course now is pertinent. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently released data showing a 50% chance of breaking the 1.5 limit in the next five years, an increase from 0% in 2015. Yet, there is hope -- even if the threshold is crossed, it could be reversed. As Penn State scientist Michael Mann put it, "That circumstance could be avoided completely if carbon emissions drop fast enough, even if some short-term spikes cross the 1.5-degree threshold.”

BBC: UN scientists say it's 'now or never' to limit global warming, April 4, 2022.

Reuters: World could see 1.5C of warming in next five years, May 10, 2022.

60 Minutes: The "bit of good news" on climate change, October 4, 2020.

Thom Hartmann Program: With the war in Ukraine, has the fossil fuel era ended?, April 20, 2022.