The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Take the ‘U.S. Model’ on Emissions to Paris

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted November 16, 2015

Let’s start with a couple of charts that should frame the U.S. delegation's approach the Paris climate summit in a couple of weeks.

First, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), increased use of natural gas – part of the abundance produced by the American energy revolution – is a big reason monthly power sector CO2 emissions in this country were near a 27-year low earlier this year:

Second, the United States leads the world’s top economies in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from energy:

What the United States has accomplished here is significant and worthy of the world’s attention as more than 190 nations meet in a couple of weeks for the Paris summit – reducing carbon emissions by more than 728 million metric tons (MMT). No other country has recorded even 100 MMT in carbon reductions.

We say all of the above to make the point that on the eve of Paris, no grand gestures or government pledges are needed to make the United States a leader in emissions reductions. We have results. As the Obama administration prepares its envoys for Paris, it has a ready-made, real-world case study in place that it should be talking about at the summit. API President and CEO Jack Gerard talked about this case study during a conference call with reporters:

“Achieving an agreement between more than 190 nations will mean overcoming competing and conflicting national priorities and vested economic interests. There should be no place for dogmatic adherence to ideology. But rather science, economic reality and real-world proven results should guide the delegates’ deliberations. To that end, the U.S. has an opportunity to lead and to showcase how America’s free market has already taken the lead on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, even as we increase economic activity and domestic energy production to keep energy reliable and affordable for all consumers. Our success is driven, not by government mandate or legislative fiat, but through innovation, investment and entrepreneurial spirit.”

Gerard referred to actual emissions reductions occurring in the United States as the “U.S. model” that the Obama administration should put on display in Paris. It’s one that features rising natural gas production and use, thanks to safe hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. It includes plummeting methane emissions – down 13 percent from the petroleum and natural gas sector since 2011, part of which is an 83 percent reduction in emissions from completions and workovers of fractured natural gas wells. This is a tribute to innovation and investment, with consumers benefiting from more supply. Gerard said cheap and abundant natural gas is saving U.S. consumers an average of $1,200 a year per household.

Unfortunately, the administration remains tied to last-century thinking – that increased domestic energy production and climate objectives are mutually exclusive, Gerard said – and is pursuing government mandates that could hinder the U.S. economy and harm consumers. An example is the administration’s Clean Power Plan, which Gerard said ignores the United States’ natural gas “success story” and pushes power plants to adopt sources like wind and solar. Gerard:

“By giving preference to intermittent and more costly sources, the policy disadvantages natural gas, the very energy source that is providing the greater benefit now.”

API has a new analysis that shows the benefits and potential benefits of letting market-driven approaches cut carbon emissions. A couple of charts from the report help illustrate:


Here we see that natural gas is the prime power source in 11 of the 22 states with below-average emissions rates, according to government data. An additional eight states in the chart rely on natural gas to deliver more than 20 percent of electricity consumed. Now this chart:

In these 25 states with above-average emissions rates, targeted switching to natural gas could reduce emissions below goals in the Clean Power Plan. From API’s analysis:

Yet EPA seeks to downplay natural gas use. This is what happens when ideology and politics trump science. It is not only natural gas that suffers from the government’s decision to use the CPP to advantage only certain energy sources.

Gerard pointed to President Obama’s recent rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline as another example of a policy choice that is inconsistent with the administration’s climate goals. According to the State Department analysis, carbon emissions will actually be 42 percent greater without the pipeline. Gerard:

“President Obama admitted in his announcement that the pipeline is a ‘symbol,’ but pursuing symbolic climate leadership by rejecting Keystone XL causes actual economic harm while raising emissions. In Paris, the commitment to reducing emissions should not be measured by which nation damages its economy the most. It should be measured by real emissions reductions. The fact is energy development has played and will continue to play a leading role in making the United States the world leader in emissions reductions. Where other nations have pledges, we have progress and results – results that show the U.S. model is the way to go.”

Gerard said the climate debate has been overly simplified into arguments over the challenge instead of focusing on solutions:

“Look at how we got where we are today as the world leaders in carbon reduction. It wasn’t through government mandate, it wasn’t through a carbon tax, it wasn’t through any directive. It was primarily driven by market forces within a context of all-of-the-above (energy). … Market forces have shown us how these two approaches – environmental protection and economic growth – are not mutually exclusive. We think that’s a great case study, the U.S. model as we call it, for the president to take to Paris.”


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. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. 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 live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.