Air & Water Quality
Natural gas leads the way in carbon reductions
Recently, there has been good news and bad news regarding emissions of carbon dioxide in the United States and the world. The good news is that last year, America’s carbon dioxide emissions fell to their lowest levels since 1994, according to a new Energy Information Administration (EIA) report. Additionally, carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. have declined 13 percent in the past five years.
The bad news is that worldwide use of coal is currently skyrocketing, and so are carbon emissions. In a recent report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that coal will become the world’s main fuel, saying that over the next four years, the burning of coal will rise by 1.2 billion tons. This additional coal usage is equivalent to the amount of coal currently being burned by both the U.S. and Russia.
The main reason that carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S are declining is due to the increased use of natural gas, which emits less than half the carbon dioxide of coal. The IEA says America’s surplus of cheap, cleaner natural gas is allowing the U.S. to move away from coal use, something they believe other countries can learn from.
Reacting to the nation’s natural gas boom and tighter environmental regulations, the Sierra Clubsays that 54 coal plants closed or announced plans to close in 2012, with 11 more announced already in January of 2013. According to their data, coal-burning power plants are down from 521 in 2010, currently numbering 384. It is reported that four years ago, coal accounted for over half of America’s power generation; however, the current estimates show it is now around a third of the country’s power generation – equal to that of natural gas fuels.
Unfortunately, the outlook for the rest of the world is not as promising. China and India are both projected as global leaders in coal growth. In 2011, China accounted for nearly 90 percent of the worldwide increase in coal burning. According to the EIA's data, China also leads the way in coal production and consumption, accounting for about half of the world’s coal consumption. Europe is second to China in carbon emissions.
Back on the home front, development of shale gas is well underway in the U.S. The combined technologies of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing that make shale gas extraction possible were developed in the Barnett Shale and are now being used all over the U.S. and the world. Unless politics or ill-advised regulations slow progress, the U.S. is well on its way to achieving its environmental goal. Hopefully, the U.S. will be able to continue producing shale gas, as well as export some of its shale gas bounty to the rest of the world, so that worldwide environmental goals of reducing carbon dioxide emissions can also be met.