U.S. Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Burning Natural Gas


It's for the climate.

Fracking has unleashed vast new supplies of natural gas in the United States and looks like it will do so around the world. Cheap natural gas (and admittedly new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on carbon dioxide emissions at power plants) is causing electric generation companies to shift from coal. Coal emits about twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas does. The result is that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have been falling. Last week, the Financial Times reported

The shale gas boom has led to a big drop in US carbon emissions, as generators switch from coal to cheap gas.

According to the International Energy Agency, US energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, have fallen 450m tonnes over the past five years – the largest drop among all countries surveyed…

Gas is fast becoming the new fuel of choice for the US power sector: in the past 12 months, coal generation has slumped by 19 per cent while gas generation has increased by 38 per cent, according to US Department of Energy figures. A gas-fired plant produces half the CO2 emissions of a coal-fired one.

In other news, it appears that environmentalist claims that fracking has polluted water wells in Pennsylvania and Wyoming [PDF] are baseless. 

NEXT: Anarchist Anti-Tech Wackos Shoot and Bomb Scientists

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. This should give the green wackos some serious heartburn. CO2 emmissions are dropping rapidly, but they can't stand obtaining the natural gas by fracking.

    This may make them show their true colors; they really want no one to have abundant energy. They want to return to the Middle Ages (with them as the nobility).

    1. Watermelons, all.

    2. Not quite true: the green lunatics mostly don't give a fig if the Chinese burn enough coal to blacken out the entire sky. It's basically only the evil United States that needs to be brought back to the eighteenth century.

      1. Proof that their only interest is moral smugitude, and not actually improving the state of the planet for humanity.

      2. Sure, Mike. Live your fantasy, man.

    3. It won't be a problem. All fossil fuels are essentially BAD, so replacing one with another is a wash.

      1. This is the exact argument a friend of mine uses. "It doesn't matter that NatGas goes a long way toward fixing a problem that I've been screaming about for years as the largest problem faced by humanity, it's still just a fossil fuel that is finite and requires raping the earth blah blah blah."

    4. This should give the green wackos some serious heartburn.

      do you really believe that? They will either attack the source as somehow lacking credibility or try a ruse/distraction about how we need to move to "sustainable" fuels. These people have no sense of shame when it comes to pushing their agenda.

    5. They want to return to the Middle Ages (with them as the nobility).

      The height of the churches selling of indulgences was during the Renaissance really...ie carbon credits.

      Plus I really think they want to be the Church rather then the Nobility.

    6. This is only because they are measuring just the carbon dioxide emission from burning nautral gas (methane gas) they have yet to measure the damage being caused by the substantial release of methane gas to atmosphere from very leaky fracking wells, so leaky you can ignite the leaks in many locations.
      As for the bullshit frothing about Greens wanting to take over the planet, yep the peace activist hippys are going to take on right wing gun nuts.

  2. The link leads to something I have to sign up for - so no read for me.

    I am cynical. I bet regulations have more to do with the drop in coal generation than fuel costs. Coal emits more carbon dioxide than gas because it contains more energy.

    It has been a long time since I was in the utility industry, but coal was untouchable for fuel cost per MwHr of generation.

    Peaker type generators are less efficient but easier to run. They can burn gas or oil - I'm sure they are all using gas these days.

    1. Drake: Interesting - the FT did not require me to sign up. Hmmm. In any case, with regard to levelized costs of generation, the Electric Power Research Institute issued a report that basically shows not all that much difference between coal and natural gas. Go here to the see one of my blogposts with the EPRI chart detailing those costs.

      1. Ron,

        If that is true, then why are futures on increased capacity up so much?


        They went up 8X for the 2015-16 year. What is causing that if gas is the same price as coal?

    2. I bet regulations have more to do with the drop in coal generation than fuel costs. Coal emits more carbon dioxide than gas because it contains more energy.

      What does this even mean? Coal contains more carbon, period, being that it is principally carbon, with hydrogen in single digit percentages. The main component of natural gas is methane, CH4, which has four times as much hydrogen as carbon.

      If by this you mean that coal is more energy dense than methane, that's not surprising, but it's not clear that's what you mean.

    3. I bet regulations have more to do with the drop in coal generation than fuel costs. Coal emits more carbon dioxide than gas because it contains more energy.

      Natural gas is cheaper then Coal because of adaptation to the relatively new technology of fracking.

      In another of today's Ron articles he quotes that natural gas costs $66 a magawatt...which is less then hydroelectric!!!!!!!!!!!!

      No regulation can make energy that fucking cheap.

    4. Actually, we've gotten to a place in technology where natural gas is cheaper than coal, even without green regulation. And, for a refreshing change, the author knows a bit about economics too.

      But America has enormous natural gas resources, roughly a 100 year supply. That supply could be the low cost/low pollution energy source that provides a bridge to a better economic and environmental future. Or it may just sit in the ground for some time.

      After 25 years in the oil and gas business I spent ten years working in public policy and politics. In many ways that made geophysics seem pretty straightforward. But I did learn at least one valuable lesson: In spite of all the flowery words, there is no more powerful force for change than the market.

      But the market doesn't care about political correctness. The market only cares about supply and demand.

      Judith Curry's site a a breath of fresh air for those of us who genuinely care about the environment yet refuse to take part in the greenie cult.

  3. In other news, it appears that environmentalist claims that fracking has polluted water wells in Pennsylvania and Wyoming [PDF] are baseless.

    Hold on, let me find my **shocked** face.

    1. Gees how best to put this, 'TWO WELLS', you right wing buffoon. Two wells at two locations does not mean the thousands of other are safe but, if stupid thinking rocks your boat go with it, there are plenty of polluted places going cheap, buy up and drink up.

      1. And a lack of polluted wells with no credible scientific evidence to suggest otherwise means that they must be contaminating water because NatGas is an icky fossil fuel sucked out of out earth by EVUL KORPORASHUNS, right?

  4. I love it when it's envirofascist vs. envirofascist.

    1. If there will ever be a need for the Thunderdome, this would be it.


  5. The shale gas boom has led to a big drop in US carbon emissions, as generators switch from coal to cheap gas.

    As long as it lowers my heating and electric bills, I could give a shit.

  6. Using shale gas over coal does not help climate, says big gas investor

    Big Green is already on the attack, citing (of all things) a report from Scottish Widows, a UK investment and insurance firm.

    The problem is that "fracking" ? blasting rocks apart to obtain gas, which is present in tiny pockets contained within certain dense rocks ? produces leaks that pour methane into the atmosphere.

    1. Natural gas is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas mixture consisting primarily of methane, with up to 20 %[1] of other hydrocarbons as well as impurities in varying amounts such as carbon dioxide.

      Gosh, maybe we should capture it and burn it, then.

      My bullshit detector tells me that they bet wrong and the new gas supplies are adversely affecting their portfolio.

      1. Your link is broken.

    2. Leaks that pour? Upward, no less.

      And yeah, I totally believe that methane is leaking/pouring through hundreds of feet of solid rock. Anything that comes out comes out through the same location the gas does.

      1. I'm only an armchair geologist, but I get the impression that much of the earth's crust is not as solid/impermeable as you think it is.

        Which is not to say that gas leaks are inevitable, just not impossible.

        1. Well, except that the whole reason we're fracking is that the crust in this location is pretty much impermeable to natural gas or the gas wouldn't be there.

          1. oh yeah. *facepalm*

          2. +1

  7. It may be reducing our homemade CO2 emissions, but the coal we don't use will just get exported at a cheaper price, burned overseas, and end up putting the same amount of carbon into the atmosphere.

    There is no real upper limit on consumption of fossil fuel energy in the global system right now. If you can dig it up or drill it, somebody somewhere will burn it and put the CO2 up in the air.

  8. Wasn't there a Battlestar Galactica episode about this?

    1. frak you, that's why.

  9. just as Kyle said I'm impressed that any body can get paid $4404 in a few weeks on the internet. have you seen this page makecash16Com

    1. Thank god for registration!

    2. Yeah, but Kyle also said that if you think about it Hitler had a few good ideas. So can we really trust Kyle?

  10. Sorry to throw a monkey wrench in all this good news, but...the Sierra Club is on the warpath.

    And they are really good at shutting this sort of thing down.

    But the bigger recent news is that one of the most powerful environmental lobbies, the Sierra Club, is mounting a major campaign to kill the industry.

    The battle plan is called "Beyond Natural Gas," and Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune announced the goal in an interview with the National Journal this month: "We're going to be preventing new gas plants from being built wherever we can." The big green lobbying machine has rolled out a new website that says "The natural gas industry is dirty, dangerous and running amok" and that "The closer we look at natural gas, the dirtier it appears; and the less of it we burn, the better off we will be." So the goal is to shut the industry down, not merely to impose higher safety standards.

    This is no idle threat. The Sierra Club has deep pockets funded by liberal foundations and knows how to work the media and politicians. The lobby helped to block new nuclear plants for more than 30 years, it has kept much of the U.S. off-limits to oil drilling, and its "Beyond Coal" campaign has all but shut down new coal plants. One of its priorities now will be to make shale gas drilling anathema within the Democratic Party.

    ----Wall Street Journal


    1. I have a friend who works for the Sierra Club. She is more a friend of my wife's. And she is very nice. But I increasingly can't stand to be around her. Not because she ever says anything offensive or even brings up the subject of politics. It is because I can't help but be repulsed by her working and being a true believer in such a vile organization. Those assholes do not mean us well. They are out to make us as poor as possibly by any means necessary.

      1. Here's from the same link at WSJ:

        The federal Energy Information Administration reports that in 2009 "the 4% drop in the carbon intensity of the electric power sector, the largest in recent times, reflects a large increase in the use of lower-carbon natural gas because of an almost 50% decline in its price." The Department of Energy reports that natural gas electric plants produce 45% less carbon than coal plants

        The Sierra Club was trumpeting natural gas as a cleaner, better alternative to coal--only a few months ago!

        Personally, I'm probably what you would call a free-market environmentalist, in that I think free markets and free choice are the best way to solve environmental problems.

        I think a lot of environmental organizations start out with good intentions, but after they get to be so big? It's opposing the hot issue of the day that drives media attention, influence and donations. So they tend to go wherever the action is...

        ...and that sometimes puts them in positions where they're advocating stuff that maybe isn't in the best interest of the environment. If the Sierra Club could replace every old coal plant with a natural gas plant, they should want to do that--and if that's where they were just a few months ago?

        Why'd they change their tune?

        1. They changed their tune because they are all for any source of energy provided it is completely impractical.

          1. It's opposing the hot issue of the day that drives media attention, influence and donations.

        2. If the war is over, then military funding dries up.

          1. Exactly.

        3. To echo others, I'd say the main reason is because they're less concerned about practical (or especially - gasp! - *affordable*) efforts to produce cleaner energy than they are, a) aiming to simply raise yet another enviro-panic over nothing in order to maintain constant funding, and b) make ALL energy so expensive that we all end up using less, and eventually more open to socially engineered lives...

      2. Had a discussion with a Sierra Club lawyer friday night. I made the point that as a chemical engineer, I would be unable to have any sort of conversation about basically her whole work.

        Lawyer said she doubted that. So I picked up her iPhone and said, "what are you really willing to pay for this? 5 times as much? 10 times? Would you do without a smartphone completely?"
        Lawyer says, "I have no clue what you are talking about."
        Me: "I am talking about the cost of environmental advocacy and the resulting regulation on real life."
        Her: "Why would that matter to what is right?"
        Me: "See, completely unable to communicate"

        1. Do you know what democracy and liberty in China would do to the cost of that phone? Do you still support Chinese liberty?

          1. Yes. I am willing to pay up to three times more for that. More than that and it would be cheaper to make them here.

            1. well we can't have that. If products start being made here, the left loses its bitching point about jobs being exported. BTW, still laughing about your conservation with the lawyer, mostly because it seems absolutely true.

          2. Do you still support Chinese liberty?

            Not sure if tongue in cheek, but yes.

          3. The larger point being that there is some point at which the cost of environmentalism outweighs the benefits. If we have to delay non-emergency surgeries because power is too expensive for the hospital to run 24/7, that has some effect on society. I was picking on the smartphone because the lawyer was pecking on it non-stop. At what point does the ease of communication and access to information become more valuable than the amount of carbon dioxide or rare-earth metal slag or strip mining? If you can't have these discussions you have a religion, not a position.

            1. I understand your point. But I don't think you realize just how much our comfortable lifestyle relies on brutality and dictatorship, and that can be thrown back in your face.

              Consider if Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait go liberal democratic tomorrow. The price of oil would skyrocket, snapping the American economy in half. Tell someone that you support Saudi Arabian democracy, and they will say, "Oh yeah? Enjoy $8/gal. gas." And they'd be right.

              So your argument isn't going to work very well, because you and I support a lot of things that, if broadly applied, would destroy the economy. Should we still support them? And if we should, how are you going to throw that argument at your lawyer friend?

              1. Um, most of our gas comes from Mexico and Canada. Additionallly, why would the price of oil double? Are the new regimes going to repudiate their contracts with current oil extractors? Right now they get x% of every barrel -- no matter what the price. Why would they be more likely to manipulate that as lib-dem systems?

                Now, if you are saying that the transitional chaos likely is going to increase the price of oil, we already have examples of that.

                Poor people wanting to have the comforts of the middle class does make things more expensive. In also encourages people to invent machines that can do the same labor. See the steam engine, cotton gin, or factory robot.

              2. Consider if Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait go liberal democratic tomorrow. The price of oil would skyrocket, snapping the American economy in half. Tell someone that you support Saudi Arabian democracy, and they will say, "Oh yeah? Enjoy $8/gal. gas." And they'd be right.

                I'm afraid I'm going to need some evidence and/or reasoning for this assertion. Why would Middle Eastern liberty lead to either decreased oil production or increased oil demand?

                1. Yeah, exactly. This is 2012, the experiment of East and West Germany and the relationship between liberty and economic productivity has been over for a while now. And, if you like, you can stroll over to North Korea for more evidence.

          4. Do you know what democracy and liberty in China

            So poor liberated voters in china don't need jobs?

            And when was the last time liberty and democracy made things more expensive?

          5. Democracy and liberty in China sounds like something that would raise the fuck out of all boats and would very likely ultimately cheapen that phone.

      3. If she wants to help the environment she would go to Nature Conservancy.

        The scientists had read Kareiva's recent essay, which takes environmentalists to task. The data couldn't bear out their piety, he wrote. Nature is often resilient, not fragile. There is no wilderness unspoiled by man. Thoreau was a townie. Conservation, by many measures, is failing. If it is to survive, it has to change.

        How could this be coming from the Nature Conservancy?

        "We love the horror story," Kareiva said. He was dressed in New Balance running shoes, a purple sweater and rumpled tan trousers. "We just love it. The environmental movement has loved it. That, I think, is ? [a] strategy failure. And it's actually not supported by science."

        [. . .]

        1. cont.

          This is not some vague hypothesis, he added to murmurs. He's seen it in the data.

          "The message [has been that] humans degrade and destroy and really crucify the natural environment, and woe is me," he said. "The reality is humans degrade and destroy and crucify the natural environment ? and 80 percent of the time it recovers pretty well, and 20 percent of the time it doesn't."

          [. . .]

          Kareiva has never feared following the data, or dragging others with him. Already a respected ecologist, for the past decade he has shoved the Nature Conservancy toward a new environmentalism. The old ways aren't working. Inch by inch, for better or worse, conservation must, he says, enter the Anthropocene Epoch ? the Age of Man.

    2. They're going to have a really hard time saying they're putting Americans back to work if they try to shut down fracking.

      One solid way to lose Pennsylvania and Ohio, though.

      1. That is why they will do it after the election and hope the rubes believe the lies.

        1. This or, most likely, they will do it with regulation (EPA). The politicos will say they had nothing to do with it as the regulators did it.

      2. One solid way to lose Pennsylvania and Ohio, though.

        Isn't Pennsylvania a big union state?

        Don't they just do whatever they're told?

        1. Pennsylvania is rated a tossup. It has a relatively large, conservative rural population.

          A lot of its northern and western counties which haven't had anything going on in decades are now seeing some serious money due to fracking, and they won't want to lose it.

          1. A county by county map of PA.

            Probably wouldn't change to much of the blue around Philly, but northeastern and western PA? Possibly.

            1. I see the link leads to a national map. Click on PA to see the county breakdown.

        2. I don't think the private sector unions are drinking the koolaid anymore. They can't afford to.

        3. Parts of it are union, but not as much as in the old days. And many of those union workers are employed in industries benefiting from the fracking. Shutting down fracking would, quite literally, be taking food off the table for wide swaths of the state.

          1. A lot of the union membership in PA is "old union" (industrial and building trades) too.

            While the leadership is solidly Team Blue, the rank-and-file are much less dependably so. The hardhats went for Nixon over McGovern because of the Vietnam war. And the Reagan Democrats were mostly blue collar union types who went off the reservation.

            1. I think you'll see a lot of "old union" members turning their backs on Obama because of Keystone too.

    3. So the goal is to shut the industry down, not merely to impose higher safety standards.

      finally, a bit of honesty from those who would see the US revert to oil lamps and horse/buggy travel.

      1. Yeah because the world was so much cleaner before public utilities when we all burned coal and wood stoves to keep warm. Of course these assholes would ban those even after they shut the lights off. They want us to die.

        1. kind of odd when you think about it - if they want "us" to die, would they not also die? The truth about these folks is that they are the opposite of what they claim, regressives rather than progressives.

    4. Fuck the goddamn Sierra Club. Asshatted luddites.

    5. KS: I apologize in advance - I just posted an item about this at HitRun;. In my defense, I had not read your insightful comments and links until just now. In any case, thanks for bringing this to the attention of Reason readers.

      1. I figured you'd already seen it anyway!

        It's a big story, and it'll have legs. I suspect you'll be writing about this for a long time.

  11. In other news, it appears that environmentalist claims that fracking has polluted water wells in Pennsylvania and Wyoming [PDF] are baseless.

    that is written as if someone believes malicious truths can deter the environmental zealots.

  12. Why isn't anyone pushing for natural gas powered cars anymore?

    1. Because it costs a buttload of money to redesign a vehicle to run on that, and there aren't a lot of fueling stations to make it convenient.

      A lot of 18-wheelers are switching to natural gas, though.

      It's easier to build a new power plant based on an alternative fuel, since electricity is electricity, regardless of the source of fuel.

      1. Also, isn't the fueltank a bit of a weight problem, same thing for all (pressurized) gaseous fuels?

    2. It's only economical if you are running the trucks constantly. The increase in capital costs vs the reduction in operational costs isn't worth it if you only drive back and forth to work each day.

      Besides, you still have the fueling issues.

      1. with haulers, the fueling issues are mitigated a bit since they already have "specialized"/segregated fueling stations, and the greater miles-per-refill factor means there are fewer of them to retrofit. all of which is still based on the trucks running constantly though.

    3. I did a quick search, and found that Honda has a Civic that runs on natural gas, and costs about $25k. You can also buy a refueling station for your garage, that taps into your house's gas supply.

      1. You can also buy a refueling station for your garage, that taps into your house's gas supply.

        Yeah, that's not a permit/inspection nightmare.

    4. You can buy compressed natural gas conversion kits that allow your car to run on gasoline if you're between fueling stations. They're pricey, but if you need to put a lot of miles on a fuel-guzzling vehicle, for farm work for example, it's probably not a bad investment

  13. Wooooooo!

  14. This is good news. Another contributor to the drop: US oil consumption has dropped about 4 million barrels a day from its high in the mid-00s. Unfortunately, that drop is probably due to the depression as much as anything else.

    And now the bad news: coal consumption worldwide rose rapidly over the past decade: about 60% from 2000 to 2010 (3 billion more short tons a year).

    1. Probably because China has very little oil and a lot of coal.

      1. Yup, China and India account for almost all the rise.

        1. ummm...

          If you remove china and India you get a fall...

          You also get a fall if you keep china and India in as well but whatever.


Please to post comments

Comments are closed.