The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Natural Gas = a 'Yes' on Emissions Reductions

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted May 9, 2016

With new government data showing that U.S. carbon emissions in 2015 were 12 percent below 2005 levels, it might be time for some to take “yes” for an answer – that yes, on reducing carbon emissions, the United States is showing the way for the rest of the world with abundant, clean-burning natural gas.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) says despite the fact the U.S. economy was 15 percent larger in 2015 than it was in 2005 (inflation-adjusted numbers), energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were lower last year than they were 11 years ago. EIA’s chart:

emissions

EIA attributes the emissions decrease to changes in the electric power sector. EIA refers to the increased use of domestic natural gas to fuel power generation – natural gas that’s more available, by the way, because of safe hydraulic fracturing and modern horizontal drilling. Fracking, yes! EIA:

The reductions in CO2 emissions are spread out among the different end-use sectors in proportion to the share of total electricity sales to each sector. Overall, the fuel-use changes in the power sector have accounted for 68% of the total energy-related CO2 reductions from 2005 to 2015.

EIA’s chart showing energy-related emissions reductions by sector from 2005 to 2015, with the residential and industrial sectors in the lead:

sector

Certainly, the story behind this story is a U.S. energy revolution that has produced natural gas in volumes large enough so that EIA says this year, for the first time ever, natural gas will be the leading fuel for U.S. electricity generation. Indeed, the United States is leading the world in reducing carbon emissions primarily because of the growth in its natural gas use. Anyone who cares about actual achievement on climate should acknowledge that natural gas is at the heart of America’s progress.

No less amazing is the fact that the U.S. is reducing emissions while its economy grows – going against the historic pattern of economic expansion being coupled with increased carbon emissions. The U.S. “decoupling” has been accompanied by broad benefits to consumers and various economic sectors. Last week EIA reported that Americans’ cost of living has been lowered in large part because of natural gas. The U.S. manufacturing sector has benefited from abundant, affordable natural gas, according to a new IHS Economics study.

A point to underscore: Fracking is facilitating America’s climate success. Without safe and responsible hydraulic fracturing, there’s no surge in domestic natural gas production, and we’re still looking for a practical, forward path on climate.

EIA reports that today in the U.S., fracking is responsible for two-thirds of total marketed natural gas production. In 2000, about 26,000 hydraulically fractured wells produced 3.6 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of marketed gas or less than 7 percent of the national total, the agency reports. By 2015 the U.S. had an estimated 300,000 fracked wells that produced 53 Bcf/d of natural gas or about 67 percent of the national total. EIA’s chart:

fracking

This production is coming primarily from shale and other tight-rock formations – inaccessible before fracking – in the Marcellus, Utica, Bakken, Eagle Ford and Permian Basin formations.

All of the above is great news for America and American-made energy. We can have increasing domestic energy production, economic growth, benefits to consumers and businesses and climate progress together, at the same time. It’s a replicable model, one that other nations should study as they consider their climate action plans.

Here in this U.S., in this election year, reports like these above should guide policymakers toward strategies that sustain and grow America’s energy revolution – including greater access for safe development and sensible regulation and oversight processes. As ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson said in Washington last week, making energy more broadly available is the foundation for a better future for all:

“[A]t the center of each of these debates are the inescapable facts: the need for energy and the importance of innovation. It is critical that government leaders understand this connection and adopt sound policies that will foster continued growth and advancement in the 21st century and beyond.”

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. 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.