Apr 18, 2022 - News

UT researchers claim economic benefits to cutting out carbon

Flares burning natural gas in Midland.
Flares burn off excess natural gas near Midland in January. Photo: Matthew Busch/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Texas could eliminate its carbon pollution in fewer than 30 years — and actually strengthen the state's economy, per new research from University of Texas energy scientists.

But given the state's economic dependence on its oil and natural gas industries, such a path seems ... unlikely.

The big picture: With global markets already casting a wary eye on goods and services that rely on fossil fuels, trouble could be in the air for Texas, whose economy relies on the strength of its oil and natural gas industries.

What they found: Texas risks losing its economic footing unless it embraces new approaches to energy production, the new report says.

  • Four methods that researchers examined to reach net-zero emissions yielded greater economic output than "business as usual."
  • Under one approach, Texas would continue to rely on oil and natural gas but build facilities that suck carbon dioxide right out of the air, like a vacuum.
  • Under another, Texas would replace appliances and machines that run on fossil fuels with ones powered by electricity. For instance, swapping a gas stove with an electric one.

What they're saying: "The market is already demanding that we move in a different way than we have been," said Isabella Gee, a postdoctoral fellow in the Cockrell School of Engineering and lead author of the report.

  • Contrary to longstanding belief, "renewables are actually cheaper now" than fossil fuels, UT energy resources professor and report co-author Michael Webber, said. "Decarbonizing is not some arduous, expensive moral chore."

Reality check: There is little political will in Texas' GOP leadership to spend money on anything that can be painted by potential Republican primary challengers as green-minded.

Of note: Money for the report came from the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, the Energy Foundation, The Meadows Foundation and Catena Foundation.

  • One of the report authors is with Colorado-based Vibrant Clean Energy.

The bottom line: Action to tamp down the state's carbon emissions is likely going to have to come out of Washington — not the Texas State Capitol.

  • But that doesn't appear likely to happen any time soon, either.
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