U.S. Continues to Lower GHG Emissions – EPA Report
Posted April 15, 2021
EPA’s latest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions report shows continued progress in lowering U.S. emissions. A good deal of this progress can be attributed to increased use of domestic natural gas. Some key numbers stand out:
- Total GHG emissions fell 1.7% from 2018 to 2019 and have decreased 11.6% since 2005.
- Emissions from the electric power sector 12.1% since 1990 and 33% since 2005.
- Methane emissions from natural gas systems have decreased 4% since 2005 – even as marketed natural gas production over the same period increased more than 90%.
- Emissions from abandoned oil and natural gas wells have fallen 2.9% since 1990, 8% since 2005 and 9.5% since 2018 – reflecting reductions in the official estimate of unplugged, abandoned wells.
EPA gives significant credit for the 1.7% emissions decrease noted above to growing use of cleaner natural gas:
This decrease was driven largely by a decrease in emissions from fossil fuel combustion resulting from a decrease in total energy use in 2019 compared to 2018 and a continued shift from coal to natural gas and renewables in the electric power sector.
The extent of natural gas’ key role in lowering power sector carbon dioxide emissions is seen in U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data showing that natural gas as a fuel accounted for more than 60% of CO2 emissions reductions in electricity generation (2006-2019):
This is noteworthy progress and supports the larger point that natural gas is critically important in addressing the risks of climate change.
According to EIA, natural gas demand in the power sector increased more than 110% between 2007 and 2019, and natural gas is, far and away the largest fuel source for U.S. power generation – nearly 40% of total generation in 2020. As stated in API’s new Climate Action Framework:
Our abundant supply of natural gas already has helped the U.S. achieve meaningful emissions reductions and will continue into the future. … The concurrent fuel-switching from coal to natural gas in the power sector has been the leading driver of emissions reductions in the United States, a trend further aided by a significant increase in deployment of wind and solar. The continued availability of low-cost U.S. natural gas combined with a strong export policy – especially as it pertains to liquefied natural gas (LNG) – presents an opportunity to achieve continued success in emissions reductions around the world.
On methane emissions associated with natural gas production, EPA’s report showed total emissions from natural gas systems are down 4% since 2005. While methane emissions from natural gas production are up 60% since 1990, production emissions are up just 16% since 2005 – even as the nation has driven toward record production thanks to the shale revolution. This indicates the production segment has dramatically improved efficiency and methane capture since the mid-2000s – improved performance we continue to build on.
Industry continues to be focused on further lowering methane emissions. API supports direct regulation of methane from new and existing sources, to build on technology and efficiency measures that lowered emissions relative to production in the largest producing basins nearly 70% between 2011 and 2019:
Our industry is committed to keep lowering emissions from production, including methane. Industry-led initiatives such as The Environmental Partnership, whose 90 upstream and midstream companies represent 74% of new U.S. onshore natural gas and oil production, has developed action programs to capture more and more methane from key emissions sources while also reducing flaring through a new flare management program.
Natural gas is pivotal in our nation’s efforts to tackle the risks of climate change – and can be all over the world as well, via exports of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG). This is key because the overarching issue is lowering global emissions, as Jude Clemente points out in this piece for RealClear Energy:
Environmentalists should be celebrating this U.S. natural gas boom. The International Energy Agency has cited low-cost and abundant U.S. gas as an essential way to lower global CO2 emissions. In the generation of electricity, gas emits 50% less CO2 than coal, and gas as backup fuel balances intermittent wind and solar to give these energy sources a commercial chance. Practically speaking, policies opposing natural gas and U.S. LNG are really just pro-coal positions – especially in fast-growing but overwhelmingly coal-based Asia.
Again, EPA’s GHG report shows important progress in lowering U.S. emissions, and natural gas is a big reason for it. We need policies that accelerate technologies such as carbon capture, utilization and storage and others, to build on that progress going forward.
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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