How More Natural Gas Use Contributes to Lower Carbon Emissions

With decades behind us when the United States often bemoaned its dependence on imported energy, we’re now recognized for our position as the global leader in natural gas and oil production. This significant achievement has been followed by another one that’s been far less acknowledged: the U.S. is also making great strides in reducing CO2 emissions.

America’s leadership on reducing CO2 emissions has emerged in the midst of a decade of uninterrupted economic growth and a significant increase in domestic oil and gas production. This is due largely to the increased use of natural gas to generate electricity, and it is proof that environmental and economic interests are not mutually exclusive.

By the Numbers: CO2 Emissions Reductions

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the nation’s energy-related CO2 emissions declined by 2.8% in 2019. That offsets the 2.9% increase the U.S. saw in 2018, which was due in large part to an increased demand for heating and cooling caused by weather conditions. Overall, U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions have fallen 15% from their peak in 2007.

According to the EIA, changing the fuel mix has played a significant role in reducing the carbon intensity of U.S. electricity generation. Natural gas, which emits 50-60% less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels, has become the largest energy source for electricity. As a result of that increase, CO2 emissions from coal fell by 14.6% in 2019, the largest annual percentage drop in any fuel’s CO2 emissions since 1973. The U.S. now emits less CO2 from coal than from gasoline. Another data point from the EIA that emerges from these changes shows that the use of natural gas has eliminated over two billion metric tons of carbon dioxide since 2005.

Pennsylvania and the Tri-State Region

Here in our region, we have led the nation in reducing GHG emissions in recent years, while simultaneously growing natural gas production by an extraordinary 80% between 2013 to 2017. The tri-state region of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia accounted for 18% of total U.S. carbon emissions reductions and 21.5% of total U.S. carbon emissions for electricity generation from 2005 to 2015.

In 2017, the most recent data available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Pennsylvania CO2 emissions totaled 263 million tons. According to an analysis report from the Consumer Energy Alliance, the Commonwealth experienced an 18% decline in CO2 emissions between 1990 and 2017. That reduction occurred while Pennsylvania’s natural gas production soared eleven-fold, and natural gas plant processing expanded more than eight-fold.

While Governor Tom Wolf continues to push for Pennsylvania’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), projections from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection show the Commonwealth will see a 25% drop in emissions between 2022 and 2030 regardless of participation in the cap-and-trade agreement, as the state’s energy portfolio continues shifting from coal to natural gas.

The COVID-19 Impact

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life as we know it across the globe. Lockdowns and travel restrictions have caused a dramatic decline in global economic activity, while also leading to an unprecedented drop in CO2 emissions.

The EIA is forecasting a historic reduction in fossil fuel use and predicting the U.S. will see a 7.5% decline in energy-related CO2 emissions this year. While that may seem like a big drop, the fall in emissions is only temporary. Scientists don’t believe it will have much of a long-term impact on overall CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, unless the economic recovery packages that will be needed post COVID-19 include investing in lower-carbon technologies and power/fuel sources like natural gas.

If we want to truly make a lasting impact in reducing emissions and shrinking our carbon footprint, unlocking the potential of our world-class natural gas reserves is a proven winner. Natural gas is already leading the planet toward a low-carbon future – and can continue to do even more for decades to come.

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