U.S. CO2 Intensity Trending Lower, Thanks to Natural Gas
Posted November 21, 2019
Some important data points from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on the country’s emissions of carbon dioxide, a critically important greenhouse gas and a key to U.S. progress on climate goals:
First, as we noted in this recent post, EIA projects U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions this year will go down from the previous year. Broader context: Our nation’s CO2 emissions haven’t been this low since 1987.
Second, EIA says the overall carbon intensity of the U.S. economy – the amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted per unit of energy consumed – declined in 2018.
This is especially important in electricity generation, a major source of emissions. EIA says that switching fuels for generation, from coal to natural gas, has played an important role in reducing U.S. carbon intensity:
A major factor in recent reductions in the carbon intensity of electric generation in the United States is the reduced generation of electricity using coal at the same time that generation has increased using natural gas, which emits less CO2 for the same amount of electricity generated …
Following on to that, the good news is that natural gas continues to be the leading fuel for power generation, and its share of utility-scale electricity generation is projected to grow. EIA says the share of generation fueled by natural gas will rise from 34% in 2018 to 37% this year and 38% next year. So when you hear about record U.S. natural gas production you can connect that with emissions reductions in the power sector.
Here’s another way to think about natural gas and its critical role in cutting U.S. CO2 emissions. According to EIA, from 2005 to 2018 the cumulative emissions reductions that could be attributed to shifting from coal to natural gas totaled 2,823 million metric tons – and the CO2 savings in electricity generation due to natural gas from 2005 through 2018 were greater than those attributable to noncarbon energy sources:
It’s worth noting that the trend of reductions attributable to switching to natural gas has continued to increase – contrary to the view that natural gas was reaching a limit of its potential positive impact (and that shifting to renewables needed to accelerate). It sure looks like that view is incorrect.
Thanks to the U.S. energy revolution, were producing more natural gas and oil that ever before – energy that powers the economy, fuels transportation and helps lead the way in lowering CO2 emissions. These kinds of benefits could be greatly diminished if hydraulic fracturing is banned – as some presidential contenders have advocated (see previous posts, here and here).
It’s the wrong path for the U.S. and especially U.S. efforts to address climate change by lowering CO2 emissions.
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 six grandchildren.
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