NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Plunge In Carbon Dioxide Output Due to Natural Gas Fracking

August 2, 2012

Despite a consistent narrative about how humans are chipping away at a fragile natural environment, recent data suggests that the atmosphere of man-caused emissions may be improving. The U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) June energy report says that energy-related carbon dioxide emissions have fallen dramatically, and all signs suggest that this trend will likely continue, says Merrill Matthews, a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation.

  • According to the EIA report, energy-related carbon dioxide fell to 5,473 million metric tons (MMT) in 2011.
  • That's down from a high of 6,020 MMT in 2007, and only a little above 1995's level of 5,314 MMT.
  • Better yet, emissions in the first quarter of 2012 fell at an even faster rate -- down 7.5 percent from the first quarter of 2011 and 8.5 percent from the same time in 2010.
  • If the rest of 2012 follows its first quarter trend, we may see total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions drop to early-1990s levels.

Both political parties would like to claim credit for this fortunate phenomenon, yet analysis suggests that much of this improvement was due to actions by the private sector. Specifically, the shale gas revolution, made possible by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, seems to have greatly bettered emissions.

  • Increasingly, power plants are turning to natural gas because it has become abundant, and therefore cheap.
  • This intensified use helps to reduce emissions because, despite great improvements in cleaning up coal, natural gas still has much lower levels of emissions.

Given this beneficial side effect of heavier natural gas usage, it should be seen as highly fortuitous that natural gas recently caught up with coal as the single greatest source of domestic electricity (each produces roughly 32 percent of domestic consumption).

Source: Merrill Matthews, "Plunge In CO2 Output Due to Natural Gas Fracking," Investor's Business Daily, July 17, 2012.

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