6.14.12 - US-Emissions-Down-Natural-Gas-Usage-Up - FEATURED

Greater U.S. shale gas production helps deliver a drop in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions

Americans have seen numerous benefits flow from increased production of natural gas from shale and other unconventional sources – from more jobs to greater revenue and economic activity.

But the benefits of shale gas development are not only economic – they are environmental as well, as findings from the International Energy Agency confirm. According to the IEA, greater use of natural gas instead of coal in the United States has contributed to a significant drop in overall U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

This owes to the fact that natural gas produces up to 60 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than coal when used for electricity generation. Increased shale production has led to abundant natural gas supplies at affordable prices, which in turn have encouraged electricity generators to switch fuels. As a result, U.S. electricity generated from cleaner-burning natural gas was up about 3 percent in 2011, while electricity from coal was down 6 percent.

The IEA credits this ongoing shift as one of the factors contributing to a 1.7 percent decrease in U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions last year.

This positive step for the United States is no one-time event. The trend has been building for some time. The IEA reports that since 2006, U.S. emissions have fallen by 430 million tons (7.7 percent), which it terms “the largest reduction of all countries or regions.” Compared to 2006, electricity generated by natural gas in 2011 was up close to 25 percent, while that from coal is down more than 10 percent.

Such findings are just the latest to counter claims that lifecycle emissions from shale gas production and use could be higher than those from coal. According to a recent study, the natural gas emissions estimates behind that premise – used by Robert Howarth and his colleagues at Cornell University, among others – are significantly inflated. Researchers conducting the study for America’s Natural Gas Alliance and the American Petroleum Institute analyzed data used to estimate emissions from more than 90,000 wells. They concluded that greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas production are as much as 50 percent lower than the Environmental Protection Agency estimates used by Howarth and others.

The proof of natural gas’ contribution to reducing U.S. emissions is clearly in the data. In an interview with the Financial Times, the IEA’s Fatih Birol labeled developments in the United States “a success story.”

To be sure, the IEA cites several other factors for the decline in U.S. emissions, including efficiency improvements as well as the economic downturn over the past few years. Globally, the IEA’s findings are different; worldwide carbon dioxide emissions increased more than 3 percent from 2010 to 2011, driven largely by growth in emerging economies. Such data underscore the importance of addressing global emissions growth while supplying the energy needed to fuel economic development.

But Dr. Birol and the IEA leave no doubt that the “technology making shale gas production viable” is one of the most important reasons for the United States taking the global lead in curbing emissions. The safe, responsible and innovative application of hydraulic fracturing technologies in our nation’s shale formations led to record U.S. natural gas production in 2011.

The latest ExxonMobil Outlook for Energy projects that by 2040, carbon dioxide emissions from the advanced economies of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development will decline 20 percent from 2010 levels. As the IEA numbers make clear, the shale gas revolution is helping the United States do its part.


4 Comments

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  1. Claude Culross says:

    It is common practice to take a technical or scientific position because the preponderance of evidence suggests it’s true. That why I don’t understand XOM giving credence to the idea of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming, expressed here as a need to reduce CO2 emissions.

    CAGW would have a certain fingerprint, if it were true: (1a) decrease in long wave radiation escaping to space over time; (2a) increase in long wave back radiation at the surface on an annual basis; (3a) a tropospheric hot spot centered at the equator (significantly greater heating rate than at the surface); (4a) increased tropospheric humidity resulting from (3a).

    In fact, measurements establish that the opposites of these four are true: (1b) INCREASE in long wave radiation escaping to space over time; (2b) DECREASE in long wave back radiation at the surface on an annual basis; (3b) tropospheric heating rate SIMILAR to the surface; (4b) DECREASE in tropospheric humidity at many elevations.

    Point (4b) is especially significant, since that is the main point driving climate computer models to high future temperatures. (4b) doesn’t mean so much that those high future temperatures will not be reached; it means that they CANNOT be reached.

    Virtually all empirical measures of climate sensitivity (temperature response to a doubling of CO2 with feedbacks included) fall below one degree Celsius. The benefit of that warming to agriculture, plus the additional CO2 fertilization of the biosphere, both argue for increased CO2 emissions, not decreased.

  2. Errol Strelnikoff says:

    A 1.7% reduction in CO2 emissions is all very well but it does not get close to what needs to be done to avert catastrophic climate change. Moreover, the natural gas as derived from shale is a 200-million year-old resource (not too different from coal in this respect) and we merely burn up most of it for energy, using up this resource now instead of leaving it for future generations to utilize for making fertilizers, plastics, composites, medicines and many other staples of industrial civilisation. As a possible alternative, harnessing sunshine and wind energy for example does not use up a precious resource, in the process leading to the destabilization of our climate, with the mass-extinctions, displacement of human populations, probable wars, inundation of coastal cities and other problems resulting from rapid climate change..

    We need to start acting like we want human civilisation to continue beyond the next 100 years or so and recognize that it is extremely unlikely that Jesus is going to come back to save us.

  3. Charles van Bassen says:

    Nice to celebrate more jobs because of fracking. The evidence is everywhere you say. It’s a pity that the abundant evidence that our groundwater is being poisoned and our fellow citizens exposed to disease and death doesn’t give us similar cause to celebrate. The only solution? ignore the problem or deny it exists as it would be too costly to improve the process. One cannot help but recognize the same venal fingerprint left by the same culprits who campaign to invalidate the same science they purport to value in their insidious, odious commercials lamenting our nation’s poor math scores.

  4. TAP Management says:

    Gas and coal both now maintain 32 percent of the electric power generation market, nearly ending coal’s 100 year reign of electricity markets. This finding is further exemplified when you consider that coal had 52 percent of the market in 2000 and 48 percent in 2008.

    Carbon emissions lowered last year to levels that have not been reached since 1996. America’s energy related carbon emissions fell roughly 7.5 percent during the first three months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011. Furthermore, first quarter 2012 emissions are approximately 8.5 percent lower than the first quarter emissions of 2010.

    Information from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) suggests that emissions in 2012 are declining at a rate that may fall below 1990 emission levels. Former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection John Hanger observed in a recent blog that “the 1990 level of carbon emissions is an important measuring stick, as it is often used as a critical data point for judging progress in reducing a nation’s carbon emissions.”

    During 2011, analysts believed that reducing U.S. carbon emissions to the recorded levels of 1990 was nearly impossible. Nevertheless, TAP Management and other domestic natural gas extractors are capitalizing on the benefits that shale production is providing local communities in the form of lower energy bills and immense economic growth.

  5. Claude Culross says:

    It is common practice to take a technical or scientific position because the preponderance of evidence suggests it’s true. That why I don’t understand XOM giving credence to the idea of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming, expressed here as a need to reduce CO2 emissions.

    CAGW would have a certain fingerprint, if it were true: (1a) decrease in long wave radiation escaping to space over time; (2a) increase in long wave back radiation at the surface on an annual basis; (3a) a tropospheric hot spot centered at the equator (significantly greater heating rate than at the surface); (4a) increased tropospheric humidity resulting from (3a).

    In fact, measurements establish that the opposites of these four are true: (1b) INCREASE in long wave radiation escaping to space over time; (2b) DECREASE in long wave back radiation at the surface on an annual basis; (3b) tropospheric heating rate SIMILAR to the surface; (4b) DECREASE in tropospheric humidity at many elevations.

    Point (4b) is especially significant, since that is the main point driving climate computer models to high future temperatures. (4b) doesn’t mean so much that those high future temperatures will not be reached; it means that they CANNOT be reached.

    Virtually all empirical measures of climate sensitivity (temperature response to a doubling of CO2 with feedbacks included) fall below one degree Celsius. The benefit of that warming to agriculture, plus the additional CO2 fertilization of the biosphere, both argue for increased CO2 emissions, not decreased.

  6. Errol Strelnikoff says:

    A 1.7% reduction in CO2 emissions is all very well but it does not get close to what needs to be done to avert catastrophic climate change. Moreover, the natural gas as derived from shale is a 200-million year-old resource (not too different from coal in this respect) and we merely burn up most of it for energy, using up this resource now instead of leaving it for future generations to utilize for making fertilizers, plastics, composites, medicines and many other staples of industrial civilisation. As a possible alternative, harnessing sunshine and wind energy for example does not use up a precious resource, in the process leading to the destabilization of our climate, with the mass-extinctions, displacement of human populations, probable wars, inundation of coastal cities and other problems resulting from rapid climate change..

    We need to start acting like we want human civilisation to continue beyond the next 100 years or so and recognize that it is extremely unlikely that Jesus is going to come back to save us.

  7. Charles van Bassen says:

    Nice to celebrate more jobs because of fracking. The evidence is everywhere you say. It’s a pity that the abundant evidence that our groundwater is being poisoned and our fellow citizens exposed to disease and death doesn’t give us similar cause to celebrate. The only solution? ignore the problem or deny it exists as it would be too costly to improve the process. One cannot help but recognize the same venal fingerprint left by the same culprits who campaign to invalidate the same science they purport to value in their insidious, odious commercials lamenting our nation’s poor math scores.