International Energy Agency: U.S. carbon emissions down more than any other country. Why?

June 21, 2012

Several recent studies demonstrate why the increased production and use of natural gas as a prime energy source is important to our country's energy security and the health of the environment.

On June 4, America’s Natural Gas Alliance issued a report contesting the EPA’s recent study on greenhouse gas emissions and natural gas development.  Specifically, the study found that methane emissions from shale operations are 86 percent lower than EPA estimated.

Specifically, the study found that methane emissions from natural gas operations such as liquids unloading (a technique used to remove water and other liquids from the wellbore to improve the flow of natural gas) are 86 percent lower than EPA estimated. In addition, the study shows that methane emissions from refractured wells (a technique used to prolong production of an existing gas-producing well) are 72 percent lower than EPA estimates. Overall, the study finds that greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas production are as much as 50 percent lower than figures used by EPA. (America's Natural Gas Alliance, 2012) 

Furthermore, methane doesn’t remain in the atmosphere for long relative to other gasses.  Unfortunately some energy alternatives receiving government subsidies have worse emissions than had been thought.  The new book Green Illusions by Ozzie Zehner shows that building solar cells releases substantial quantities of emissions like sulfur hexafluoride, which lasts 267 times as long in the atmosphere and have nearly doubled since 1998.

Not only are solar cells an overpriced tool for reducing CO2 emissions, but their manufacturing process is also one of the largest emitters of hexafluoroethane (C2F6), nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Used for cleaning plasma production equipment, these three gruesome greenhouse gases make CO2 seem harmless. As a greenhouse gas, C2F6 is twelve thousand times more potent than CO2, is 100 percent manufactured by humans, and survives ten thousand years once released into the atmosphere.30 NF3 is seventeen thousand times more virulent than CO2, and SF6, the most treacherous greenhouse gas, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is twenty-five thousand times more threatening. (Green Illusions, Ozzie Zehner, University of Nebraska Press, 2012)

According to a May report from the International Energy Agency, U.S. carbon emissions are down more than any other country. In fact, since 2006, U.S. emissions have fallen 7.7%, with the increased use of shale gas as a key factor in the drop, according to the agency’s chief economist.  

In May, we reported that the world's greenhouse gas emissions rose to record levels in 2011, rising 3.2%, because China's jumped a treacherous 9.3%. But there's a positive side to the story. Emissions in the US and EU dropped, 1.7% and 1.9% respectively. The warm winter helped, and the sluggish economy was certainly a factor, but the biggest change was the drop in coal use in favor of natural gas. "The replacement of coal by shale gas is a key factor and what happened in the U.S. could very well happen in China and other countries and could definitely help in reducing CO2 emissions," says International Energy Agency (IEA) chief economist Fatih Birol... Since 2006, the US has reduced carbon emissions more than any country or region, falling 7.7%, says the IEA. This is equal to taking 84 million passenger vehicles off the road...(International Business Times, “US Carbon Emissions Down More Than Any Other Country,” 2012)

This leads to a conclusion many might find paradoxical. If global warming is a problem we need to address, then we should welcome the increased production and use of natural gas as a prime energy source. Click below to view recent remarks on this issue: