The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

The Real Story on Reduced Emissions – Natural Gas

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted January 10, 2017

President Obama has a piece in Science magazine that notes the “decoupling” of U.S. economic growth and energy-associated carbon emissions in recent years and largely attributes this new trend of growth and falling emissions to increased use of cleaner-burning domestic natural gas:

The importance of this trend cannot be understated. This “decoupling” of energy sector emissions and economic growth should put to rest the argument that combatting climate change requires accepting lower growth or a lower standard of living.

The president goes on:

The American electric-power sector—the largest source of GHG emissions in our economy—is being transformed, in large part, because of market dynamics. In 2008, natural gas made up ~21% of U.S. electricity generation. Today, it makes up ~33%, an increase due almost entirely to the shift from higher-emitting coal to lower-emitting natural gas, brought about primarily by the increased availability of low-cost gas due to new production techniques.

On this President Obama is singing our song (see here and here) – and he’s certainly welcome to do so. As the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported late last year, carbon emissions from energy use in the first six months of 2016 reached their lowest level in 25 years. EIA’s chart:

co2_by_source

And ours, showing the “why” behind this welcome environmental trend – that CO2 emissions from electrical generation fell to levels not seen since the early 1990s, and this occurred as power generation from natural gas reached an all-time high:

API C02 emissions fall

Certainly, this is a remarkable achievement. As the president suggests, it shows the U.S. can have environmental progress without sacrificing energy and economic growth, jobs and our national security.

If only President Obama’s energy policies the past eight years had reflected this belief. The fact is that while a number of good energy developments have occurred on his watch – such as the U.S. energy renaissance in oil and natural gas production – and he has laid claim to them, they’ve happened in spite of his policies, not because of them.

Take natural gas. The United States has become the world’s leading producer of natural gas and oil during Obama’s two terms. Yet, in that time his administration’s chief energy activity has been pursuit of a regulatory agenda aimed at hydraulic fracturing – the technology engine of the U.S. energy renaissance – an onslaught that has gone on despite significant industry- and market-based emissions progress, which the president cites in his Science article.

Much of President Obama’s magazine piece is an argument for more investments in renewable energies and, indeed, these play an important role in the U.S. energy mix. Yet, to achieve more renewables, there must be more natural gas. On emissions progress to date, natural gas is the real story.

The U.S. leads the world in reducing energy-related carbon emissions because of the increased use of abundant, affordable natural gas. Thus, we should be pursuing policies that support more safe and responsible natural gas development, not policies that risk hindering development with additional layers of regulation and miles of red tape.

It’s progress that EIA says will continue in most scenarios considered by its new Annual Energy Outlook 2017:

carbon_emissions

Even with projections for population and economic growth:

population_growth

 Again, we’re talking about natural gas – projected by EIA to supply more than a third of the energy Americans use in 2050 – leading the way. API President and CEO Jack Gerard:

“What we know from recent performance is that we no longer have to choose between more energy and a cleaner environment. … To continue to lead the world in not just oil and natural gas production and refining, but also emissions reduction and to maintain the United States’ best-in-the-world refineries, we must break from the recent past. We must reexamine the regulatory onslaught of the last few years that has proposed or imposed some 145 regulations and other executive actions on our industry and instead work to implement smart energy regulations that are focused on the consumer, help to grow our economy, protect workers and continue to improve the environment. It is our view that regulations that do not align with those basic and commonsense goals should be reexamined, revised or removed to make way for smarter and forward-looking energy policies.”


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.