Eight Points – Natural Gas, Reducing Emissions and Environment
Posted July 12, 2021
There’s a good deal of discussion in Washington about a national clean electricity standard, which would use government mandates to set targets for reducing carbon emissions from the power sector.
Such an approach is one way to go, but there’s another – one that already has achieved significant greenhouse gas emissions by using the power of the marketplace to effect change: U.S. natural gas.
The increased use of natural gas is the leading reason for reduced U.S. emissions in recent years, including carbon dioxide. At the same time, technologies and industry innovation have helped reduce methane emissions associated with natural gas and oil production, and new advances are on the horizon. This pathway leads to a lower-carbon future and the ability to meet growing world demand for energy. Eight quick points:
1. U.S. CO2 emissions are at generational lows
Thanks to growing use of U.S. natural gas, our country’s CO2 emissions are at their lowest levels in a generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Largely because of fuel switching to natural gas from coal, power-sector CO2 emissions declined over 30% from 2005 to 2019, even as the economy grew 28%, EIA says (see here and here). The U.S. has reduced energy-related CO2 emissions more than any other country since 2000, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
2. Natural gas is leading power-sector emissions reductions
Between 2005 and 2019, natural gas was responsible for 61% of cumulative power-sector CO2 emissions reductions through changes in the fuel mix – which EIA says was the major driver of those sector reductions. There’s great potential for further reductions – across a number of industries – by fast-racking the commercial scale-up of commercial-scale carbon capture, utilization and storage.
3. Americans are breathing the cleanest air in decades
Another benefit of natural gas in place of coal: cleaner air. Increased natural gas use is among many factors in a 78% decline of combined emissions from six common pollutants tracked by EPA between 1970 and 2020.
4. Natural gas provides domestic and global opportunities to reduce emissions
Switching power generation from coal to existing natural gas-fueled power plants could abate up to 1.2 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions worldwide – that’s 1,200,000,000 metric tons or the emissions from 144.5 million homes’ energy use for one year. This would reduce global power-sector emissions by 10% and total energy-related CO2 emissions by 4%, according to IEA. Even in the U.S. which has experienced dramatic reductions from fuel switching, IEA states that existing infrastructure offers significant potential for further coal-to-gas switching.
5. U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports could help other nations cut their emissions
Using U.S. LNG in China, Germany and India for electricity generation instead of coal could produce on average 50% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, according to life-cycle analysis by ICF for API.
6. Production-related methane emissions have declined
Total U.S. methane emissions decreased 4% since 2005 while marketed natural gas production increased 90%, EPA reports. This reflected new industry technologies, increased efficiency and, since 2017, initiatives of The Environmental Partnership, whose 90 members represent nearly 75% of new U.S. onshore natural gas and oil production. Methane emissions per unit of production, measuring emissions intensity, fell about 70% between 2011 and 2019 across five of the major producing regions in the U.S. – again pointing to industry initiatives to capture as much methane as possible. (See EPA and EIA data.)
7. U.S. reduced flaring 32% from 2019-2020, leading the world
The U.S. reduced flaring from natural gas and oil production 32% – partly due to reduced production but also through construction of infrastructure to use gas that otherwise would have been flared, according to the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Tracker Report.
8. Natural gas is an essential partner for expanding intermittent renewable energy
Natural gas attributes – including dispatchability, ramp rates, frequency response and others – are fundamental to power grid reliability, especially as variable energy sources such as wind and solar come on the grid, according to a study by The Brattle Group. (More here, here and here.)
API President and CEO Mike Sommers:
“America has made significant progress in reducing emissions to generational lows, but there’s more work to do, and there’s nobody better equipped to drive further progress than the people who solve some of the world’s toughest energy problems every day. As our industry accelerates efforts to advance groundbreaking technologies, reduce emissions and drive transparent and consistent climate reporting, we urge lawmakers to support market-based policies that foster innovation …”
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.