NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Increased Natural Gas Production Lowers Emissions

April 25, 2013

For years, environmentalists have lambasted all carbon-based fuels, primarily crude oil and natural gas, as the source of the carbon dioxide emissions that are causing global warming. Despite their warnings, U.S. natural gas production has increased and, as a result, carbon dioxide emissions have fallen dramatically, says the Wall Street Journal.

  • Carbon dioxide emissions from energy production has fallen 12 percent between 2005 and 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
  • Carbon dioxide emissions account for nearly 84 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, but the main product of natural gas based energy production, methane, only accounts for 8.8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Emissions are now at their lowest level since 1994, as natural gas emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal when used to make electricity.

The fall in carbon emissions is also due to a sluggish U.S. economy and increasing energy efficiency. But most of the decline is due to the transition of energy production from coal-fired electricity plants to natural gas powered plants.

  • Natural gas plants now account for 30 percent of power produced in the United States, up 11 percent from 7 years ago.
  • This trend may last only as long as natural gas stays more affordable than coal.
  • As soon as natural gas prices rise, which they already are, plants will begin switching back to burning coal due to its plentiful supply and stable price.

In the future, the U.S. Energy Department expects emissions to rise slowly beginning in 2015 but will not reach 2005 levels by 2040. While the United States has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions, global levels have not decreased because Europe and many developing countries still rely on coal-fired electricity.

  • The EU has said that European greenhouse emissions have fallen 17.5 percent since 1990, while U.S. emissions have risen 8 percent overall.
  • However, the faster decline in U.S. emissions between 2005 and 2012 puts the United States on track to reach the Obama administration's goal of a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Opponents of natural gas production say that the reduced emissions statistics fail to account for the natural gas leaks that occur during production. Some companies are using technology to capture the natural gas leaks and some states require companies to implement the technology.

Source: Russell Gold, "Rise in U.S. Gas Production Fuels Unexpected Plunge in Emissions," Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2013.


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