EIA: Natural Gas Behind Consistent Energy-Related CO2 Emissions Declines Since 2007

Natural gas played a significant role in decreasing energy-related U.S. CO2 emissions by 2.8 percent from 2018 to 2019, according to a new Energy Information Administration analysis.

In fact, the EIA acknowledged that affordable natural gas – a result of the shale revolution – has helped the United States to decrease its CO2 emissions for more than a decade:

“Decreases in carbon intensity were driven by: Increases in natural gas production from shale and tight resources that lowered the cost of natural gas production and made it cost competitive with coal for electric power generation.”

What’s more is that CO2 emissions have declined eight out of 12 years since 2007, confirming a downward trajectory amid (and largely thanks to) the rise of natural gas in the United States.

Some other key insights of the report include:

CO2 emissions dropped because the United States is more energy efficient and use cleaner sources  

According to the EIA report, in 2019 energy-related CO2 emissions declined by 2.8 percent, or 150 million metric tons (MMmt), returning to 2017 levels. The decrease is attributed to lower energy intensity and lower carbon intensity. Simply put, the U.S. energy systems have implemented efficiency measures that employ cleaner/more efficient energy sources while emitting less emissions. This also means that the shift from coal to natural gas and renewables has naturally impacted CO2 emissions in a positive way.

In fact, when compared with the previous 10-year (2008-2018) trend, CO2 emissions during 2019 registered a decrease of 84 MMmt, confirming an enduring trend of decreasing emissions in the United States.

CO2 emissions declined in all end-use sectors thanks to cleaner electricity

EIA also reported that CO2 emissions registered declines in all end-use sectors, particularly in the residential and commercial sectors. In fact, these two sectors are responsible for 66 percent of the CO2 emissions decrease in 2019.

According to the EIA, a cleaner electric power sector, fundamental for both the residential and commercial sectors, is behind this significant drop in emissions throughout all sectors. Cleaner electricity is explained by the phasing out of coal and an increased use of natural gas and renewables for power generation. In fact, natural gas use for electricity generation increased from 35 percent to 38 percent, while coal declined from 27 percent to 23 percent in 2019.

Natural gas has been fundamental to achieve lower CO2 emissions

The EIA report explicitly mentions that the increased use of natural gas and declining use of coal is the main reason behind lower CO2 emissions not only in the last year, but also in the long-term.

The “less-emitting CO2 source” is responsible for the reduction of 3,351 MMmt of CO2 in the last 15 years, as the country has seen a transition coal to natural gas-fired electricity generation. In fact, natural gas has resulted in greater CO2 emissions cuts than non-carbon emission reductions, which includes all combined renewables.

Furthermore, over the last 15 years, U.S. electricity generation grew by 2 percent while CO2 emissions have fallen by 33 percent.

As the EIA report underscores, natural gas continues to be an important part of the solution to reduce U.S. emissions.

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