The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Cleaner Fuels, Cleaner Air

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted August 1, 2018

EPA’s latest air quality report shows the air Americans breathe is cleaner than it has been in more than four decades – with increased use of natural gas and cleaner motor fuels playing leading roles.

Between 1970 and 2017, the combined emissions of six key pollutants dropped 73 percent, EPA says. Below, the report’s feature chart, showing more recent trend lines (since 1990) for key pollutants:

EPA 2018 air quality report main chart

Specifically, EPA data shows these declines between 1990 and 2017:

  • Sulfur dioxide (1-hour): Down 88 percent
  • Lead (3-month average): Down 80 percent
  • Carbon monoxide (8-hour): Down 77 percent
  • Nitrogen dioxide (annual): Down 56 percent
  • Fine Particulate Matter (24-hour): Down 40 percent
  • Coarse Particulate Matter (24-hour): Down 34 percent

Ground level ozone, which is a critically important factor in air quality, is down 22 percent over the period:

EPA ozone 2018 air quality report

Bottom line: Not only is increased use of natural gas driving carbon dioxide emissions down to 25-year lows, it’s also contributing in a big way to the decrease in the criteria pollutants that EPA tracks closely, particularly sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone. These emissions also are falling, in large part, because of the improved, cleaner gasoline and diesel fuels supplied by the U.S. refining sector.

All of these reductions, resulting in cleaner air, are even more remarkable when you consider that since 1970 Americans are driving more miles, the economy has nearly tripled and there has been large population and energy-use growth:

EPA air report growth data chart

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler:

“Through federal and state implementation of the Clean Air Act and technological advances in the private sector, America has achieved one of the great public-private successes of our time – dramatically improving air quality and public health while simultaneously growing the nation’s population and economy. This report details a remarkable achievement that should be recognized, celebrated, and replicated around the world.”

Indeed, the U.S. leads the world in improving air quality, largely due to technological advances and wider use of clean natural gas – in abundance because of modern and safe hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. It’s one of the great benefits of the American energy renaissance – a game-changer for our economy, energy security and environmental progress.


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.