EIA: SO2 Emissions Significantly Decline, Thanks in Large Part to Natural Gas

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released a report today highlighting the fact that sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions produced from U.S. power plants have declined 73 percent from 2003 to 2015, thanks in large part to the increased use of natural gas for electricity generation.

This EIA graphic shows the dramatic decrease in power plant SO2 emissions in recent years.

This EIA graphic shows the dramatic decrease in power plant SO2 emissions in recent years.

SO2 reductions can be attributed to the fact that:

Natural gas use has ramped up. From 2014 to 2015 alone, there was a 14 percent reduction in the amount of electricity produced from coal. Offsetting this number is the increase in natural gas. From EIA:

“Electricity generation from coal fell 14% from 2014 to 2015. This drop was mostly offset by an increase in electricity generation from natural gas, but because natural gas has only trace amounts of sulfur, the net effect resulted in fewer SO2 emissions.”

Plants that produce more SO2 were used less. Different plants emit varying amounts of the pollutant. In 2015 (the most recent, full year’s data available) power plants that produce more than 2 metric tons of SO2 were used less often than those there were a bit more environmentally friendly.

Overall, EIA reports that SO2 emissions dropped by 26 percent between 2014 and 2015 making it the largest drop over a single year in the last 10 years. Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio were once states with the highest rates of SO2 emissions, but thanks to reductions in coal utilization and an increase in use of natural gas, each state still significantly reduced its emissions in 2015.


Natural gas utilization is a key point here, not to be overlooked. Not only does natural gas save Americans a lot of money, but as EID has reported before, natural gas has tons of other benefits, too. For instance: public health. According to the EPA, an uptick in the use of natural gas can result in a healthier population as it is known to produce far less fine particulate matter, known to cause respiratory problems and early death, and is also linked to 21 percent of Alzheimer’s cases. Healthier people also means less money spent on healthcare.

As EIA’s findings have demonstrated, more natural gas use is clearly leading to cleaner air and improved public health.

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