Study: Natural Gas Use Slashes Air Emissions

A new report by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finds that, thanks to the increased use of natural gas over the last decade, there have been “significant reductions in the emissions of CO2, NOx and SO2.” [NOx = nitrogen oxides; SO2 = sulfur dioxide]

Just how much of a difference has natural gas made?  According to the report:

  • “As a result of the increased use of natural gas, Co2 emissions from U.S. fossil-fuel power plants were 23% lower in 2012 than they would have been” without that increase in natural gas use.
  • “The increased use of natural gas has…led to emissions reductions of NOx (40%) and SO2 (44%).”
  • “Further reductions in these emissions can follow by converting a larger fraction of U.S. electric power production to natural gas, and by ensuring that all natural gas power plants are equipped with the latest combined cycle technology.”

As one of the study’s lead authors, Joost de Gouw of the University of Colorado Boulder, explained:

“Since more and more of our electricity is coming from these cleaner power plants, emissions from the power sector are lower by 20, 30, even 40 percent for some gases, since 1997.”

In other words, natural gas has allowed the United States to meet its demand for affordable energy while also dramatically decreasing emissions. If we continue on this trajectory, we can expect emissions to decrease even more.

Of course, this report should come as no surprise given the fact that the United States is leading the world in greenhouse gas reductions, largely due to our increased production and utilization of natural gas.  According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), CO2 emissions in the United States dropped by 3.8 percent in 2012, and, as the organization put it, “One of the key reasons has been the increased availability of natural gas, linked to the shale gas revolution.”

Numerous other studies have come to similar conclusions.

A report from prominent climate scientist Richard Muller finds that, due to the significant air pollution and greenhouse gas reduction benefits of natural gas, “Environmentalists who oppose the development of shale gas and fracking are making a tragic mistake.”  The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found that over 500 million tons of emissions have actually been removed from the Commonwealth’s air thanks in large part to the increased use of natural gas. An Oakland-based environmental think tank, The Breakthrough Institute, found that the increased development and utilization of natural gas “have dramatically reduced emissions across Pennsylvania.”

These emissions reduction benefits of natural gas have been touted by the Obama administration as well.  At a recent speech at the Center for American Progress, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy explained:

“The pollution that I’m looking at is traditional pollutants as well as carbon. And natural gas has been a game changer with our ability to really move forward with pollution reductions that have been very hard to get our arms around for many decades.”

Natural gas is slashing emissions of all kinds.  It’s also providing enormous economic benefits, creating jobs, lowing energy bills, and putting the United States on the path to energy independence – benefits that would not accrue were it not for the newfound abundance of natural gas made possible by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.


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