Study Shows Natural Gas' Vital Role in Reducing Global Emissions
Posted July 9, 2020
Exporting U.S. natural gas via liquefied natural gas (LNG) has a big advantage over coal in lowering greenhouse gas emissions in electricity generation, according to a new study by ICF, (summarized here).
The analysis certainly quantifies what we’ve discussed before (see here and here) – that using clean natural gas to generate electricity significantly lowers GHG emissions compared to the emissions levels of coal-fired generation – on average, by 50.5%, according to ICF’s research.
GHGs include carbon dioxide from the fuel itself as well as CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and other gases emitted during the construction and operation of related fuel supply chain and power plant infrastructure.
The findings support the view that exported LNG gives the United States, the world’s leading natural gas producer, a golden opportunity to strengthen its global environmental and climate leadership. Dustin Meyer, API director of market development:
“We’re incredibly optimistic about the role U.S. LNG can play in a low-carbon future.”
The U.S. has a great natural gas story to share with the world. Thanks to increased use of domestic natural gas – made possible by safe hydraulic fracturing technologies – the U.S. has reduced CO2 emissions more than any other nation since 2000, and our CO2 emissions are at their lowest levels in a generation. Other countries could see similar results, with help from imported U.S. LNG. Meyer:
“This study underscores what we have known for quite some time – that U.S. natural gas is a far cleaner option than coal for electricity generation, especially in key markets. … U.S. LNG exports can help accelerate environmental progress across the globe, enabling nations to transition to cleaner natural gas to reduce emissions and address the global risks of climate change."
ICF studied the environmental benefits of switching to natural gas from coal to generate electricity in high-coal use countries China and India, as well as in Germany, which is building two new LNG import terminals and still uses a great deal of coal for power. The study compared life-cycle GHG emissions from the natural gas-to-power supply chain to those from the coal-to-power supply chain in those countries:
In Germany there were 53% fewer emissions using natural gas compared to coal (either imported U.S. coal or domestic coal). China (49% fewer emissions) and India (48% fewer emissions) saw similar outcomes.
The potential role of increased natural gas use is significant because coal still accounts for 74% of India’s power generation and 66% of China’s. Germany, which has implemented a number of green measures, still uses coal for 30% of its power generation. Even though natural gas keeps growing its share in the global energy market, providing 22% of the world’s energy in 2018, coal demand still is increasing in many countries. China continues to expand and invest in existing and new coal mines, while India hit its highest coal production level in March. ICF:
This study illustrates that fewer emissions are produced from US LNG exports than other sources of power generation in foreign markets. Emissions from LNG exports are consistent across various sources of NG, and similar to pipeline exports although generally less on average. Power plant efficiency has the largest impact on emissions throughout the supply chain. Power generation from coal produces the highest emissions, which are primarily generated during power plant operation.
Again, these are great environmental and climate findings for the world. Clean, abundant U.S. natural gas can help other nations transition away from coal toward a cleaner future. This includes natural gas’ essential part in making it possible for intermittent energy sources to grow. In light of the study’s findings, Meyer noted four key policy considerations:
- Policies that limit U.S. natural gas production could have serious ramifications for fuel-switching by other nations (which Meyer called a “no-brainer” decision).
- Natural gas should be part of any policy discussion involving reducing power sector emissions.
- Trade negotiations should recognize the vital role U.S. LNG exports can play in efforts by importing countries to reduce their emissions.
- U.S. permitting processes – under close scrutiny for their part in setbacks suffered by a number of critically important infrastructure projects – needs to be clear and consistent.
U.S. decisions that impact natural gas production, delivery and export must account for the impacts they could have abroad. Faced with constricted natural gas supply for any or all of these reasons, countries could be inclined to use dirtier fuels for power generation, Meyer said.
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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