The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Energy and Declining Emissions

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted March 31, 2017

New government data shows that carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation are at their lowest levels in nearly 30 years, and natural gas is the key reason why.

The data comes from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s latest Monthly Energy Review, and it shows emissions associated with power generation last year were the lowest since 1989:

co2_emissions_power_sector  

EIA mostly attributes these emissions reductions to increased use of natural gas in generating electricity. Natural gas is responsible for 60 percent of carbon dioxide emissions reductions in the electric power sector when compared to 2005 levels:

NG_fuel_switching_emissions_savings

The chart above reflects a couple of things. The first is that the abundance (and affordability) of cleaner-burning natural gas is winning in the marketplace. The second is that increasing use of natural gas – it became the United States’ leading fuel for electricity generation for the first time in 2016 – is playing the lead role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Natural gas affordability is expected to continue for decades. An IHS study estimates about 1,400 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas can be recovered at $4 per million BTU (MMBtu) or less, and that 800 Tcf can be recovered at $3 per MMBtu or less. The image below captures those estimates and compares them with U.S. natural gas use in 2015 (white box):

recoverable_NG

Bottom line: Given the abundance and affordability of natural gas, even without additional carbon dioxide reduction policies (at the federal or state level) CO2 emissions from power generation will be 30 percent less by 2030 when compared to 2005 levels.

Meanwhile, we know that methane emissions from natural gas operations declined 18.6 percent from 1990 to 2015, at a time gas production rose more than 50 percent. According to EPA, methane emissions from hydraulically fractured wells fell nearly 90 percent between 2012 and 2015 – largely reflecting industry’s ever-improving ability to capture the primary component in natural gas for marketing to consumers.

Similarly, methane emissions from oil operations declined 28.8 percent from 1990 to 2015, according to EPA. Over the same period, methane emissions from venting and flaring of associated natural gas production decreased more than 78 percent.

Back to carbon emissions reductions. In this post, API Chief Economist Erica Bowman said abundant domestic natural gas is driving “affordable emissions reduction.” API Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Marty Durbin:

“We’re showing a pathway, a low-cost option, that can drive emissions while continuing to power the economy, with lower costs to the consumer.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joins API after spending 16 years as national editorial writer in the Washington Bureau of The Oklahoman newspaper. In all, he has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, including six years as sports editor at The Washington Times. He lives in Occoquan, Virginia, with his wife Pamela. Mark graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in journalism and earned a masters in journalism and public affairs at American University. He's currently working on a masters in history at George Mason University, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor in the Communication Department.