Natural Gas – At Leading Edge of Climate, Air Quality Progress
Posted July 18, 2019
Natural gas continues to be a leader in progress on key climate and environmental goals.
Data contained in two new reports point to the role clean natural gas has played in reducing carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas, and in improving the quality of the air Americans breathe.
We know that increased use of natural gas is largely responsible for reducing U.S. CO2 emissions to their lowest levels in a generation (see here, here and here). This week the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that since 2010, coal-to-natural gas switching has saved about 500 million tons of CO2. IEA’s chart showing CO2 savings globally:
IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol:
“Natural gas is one of the mainstays of global energy: Worldwide consumption is rising rapidly and in 2018 gas accounted for almost half of the growth in total global energy demand. Gas plays many different roles in the energy sector and, where it replaces more polluting fuels, it also reduces air pollution and limits emissions of carbon dioxide.”
In the United States, in addition to reduced CO2 emissions, EPA’s annual air quality report shows a 74% improvement in emissions as measured by the agency’s index of the six criteria pollutants from 1970-2018 – remarkable considering 275% growth in GDP and population increases over that period. Two charts from EPA:
The above reflects declining concentrations of air pollutants. Reductions in the six criteria pollutants since 1990:
- Carbon monoxide – down 74%
- Lead – down 82% (from 2010)
- Nitrogen oxide – down 57%
- Ozone (8-hour) – down 21%
- Particulate matter – down 10 microns, 24-hour: 26%; 2.5 microns (annual): 39% (from 2000); 2.5 microns (24-hour): 34% (from 2000)
- Sulfur dioxide – down 89%
The chart below compares areas of growth, 1970-2018, and falling emissions:
Even as vehicle miles traveled increased 191% (since 1970), population grew 60% and energy consumption rose 49%, carbon dioxide emissions and aggregate emissions from the six criteria pollutants decreased. Clean natural gas is a key contributor to this progress – along with cleaner gasoline and diesel fuels and other improvements industry has made to improve the environmental performance of its products, facilities and operations. Dean Foreman, API chief economist:
“The fact that the U.S. leads the world in carbon dioxide emission reductions since 2000 is largely a result of increased use of natural gas, which was made possible by the U.S. energy revolution. Natural gas has led to a fundamental shift in the global energy landscape with this clean, affordable and abundant resource driving a triad of environmental progress, economic growth and human development.”
As Foreman says, much of this climate and environmental progress stems from the U.S. energy revolution – along with economic growth, reduced net imports (see this month’s API Monthly Statistical Report) and increased security in the world.
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and four grandchildren.