Natural Gas Delivers Climate Benefits

As an abundant, affordable, and clean burning fuel source, natural gas is expected to comprise approximately 35.5 percent of the global energy mix by 2040. 

The United States leads the world in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, in large part thanks to the increased use of natural gas in the power sector. Natural gas has 55% lower carbon dioxide emissions than coal, which means when switching from coal to natural gas for power generation, the GHG savings are immense. Last year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) calculated that the increased use of natural gas for electricity generation led to a reduction of more than 2.8 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions between 2005 and 2018. That’s equivalent to taking about 595 million cars off the road for a year.

 

 

In addition to keeping our lights on, natural gas heats the homes of millions of Americans, providing a reliable and more environmentally friendly home heating option. According to a 2019 economic study by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), natural gas is not only more energy efficient than using electricity for home heating, it’s also more affordable, saving families an additional $937 versus electric heating.

Growing Scientific Consensus

There is a growing scientific consensus that increased natural gas use – driven by the shale revolution - is helping us address climate change. In fact, greater reliance on clean-burning natural gas in recent years has yielded significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. 

Here is a sampling of peer-reviewed studies and expert analyses on the climate benefits of natural gas:

 

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Center for Global Environmental Research (2019)

“We found that the coal-to-gas shift is consistent with climate stabilization objectives for the next 50-100 years. Our finding is robust under a range of leakage rates and uncertainties in emissions data and metrics. It becomes conditional to the leakage rate in some locations only if we employ a set of metrics that essentially focus on short-term effects. Our case for the coal-to-gas shift is stronger than previously found…”

 

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U.S. Energy Information Administration (2019)

“We found that the coal-to-gas shift is consistent with climate stabilization objectives for the next 50-100 years. Our finding is robust under a range of leakage rates and uncertainties in emissions data and metrics. It becomes conditional to the leakage rate in some locations only if we employ a set of metrics that essentially focus on short-term effects. Our case for the coal-to-gas shift is stronger than previously found…”

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Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) (2018)

“Our research shows that the growth of renewable energy sources accounted for 31 percent of that 640-million metric ton carbon drop. The impact from renewables is just below the 34-percent contribution the switch from petroleum and coal to natural gas made to the emissions decline – a fact that, until now, has previously gone largely unrecognized.” (emphasis added)

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Ceres and NRDC (2018)

“From 2005 through 2016, power plant CO2 emissions declined by 24 percent. Some of the factors driving this trend include energy efficiency improvements and the displacement of coal by natural gas and renewable energy resources.” (emphasis added)

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Carnegie Mellon University (2018)

“We find that between 2001 and 2017 the average annual CO2 emissions intensity of electricity production in the United States decreased by 30%, from 630 g CO2 kWh−1 to 439 g CO2 kWh−1. This change in CO2 intensity is attributable to an increase in generation from natural gas and wind accompanied by a reduction in coal-fired power generation.” (emphasis added)

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U.N. IPCC

“A key development since AR4 is the rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply and allowed for a more extensive switching of power and heat production from coal to gas (IEA, 2012b); this is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.” (emphasis added)

These studies make clear that use of abundant natural gas has been the primary factor in reducing U.S. CO2 emissions in recent years to lows not seen since the 1950s, and the transition towards natural gas will help mitigate the impacts of climate change.

United States A Global Leader in Natural Gas Production & Exports

America’s exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) offer a chance to bring the climate benefits of natural gas to the world. The U.S. Energy Department found that the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions associated with U.S. LNG exports were far lower than comparable options from other countries.  According to the National Energy Technology Laboratory, in all 100-year global warming potential (GWP) scenarios, the generation of power from natural gas has lower life cycle GHG emissions than power generation from regional coal. The study also showed that U.S. LNG offered lower life cycle GHG emissions when compared to Russian natural gas consumed in Europe or Asia. 

U.S. exports of natural gas have surged in recent years. The United States was a net exporter of natural gas for over 12 consecutive months between May 2018 and May 2019. As of October 2019, U.S. LNG export capacity is approaching 8.9 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), which puts the U.S. as the third largest LNG export behind only Australia and Qatar. By 2025, the U.S. is projected to be the largest LNG exporter in the world. The significance of America’s rise in LNG exports becomes clearer when considering the expanding demand for natural gas markets in Asia and Europe. U.S. LNG exports enable countries to turn to U.S. natural gas instead of energy from Russia and other countries, some of which have methane emissions rates far higher than U.S. operations. Put simply, bringing cleaner-burning U.S. LNG to these countries will help the world meet its climate goals.

To strengthen America’s new role as a net natural gas exporter, more LNG infrastructure, such as pipelines and expanded LNG export facilities, are needed. As of January 8, 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) had approved 36 applications from 24 facilities in the lower-48 states for permits to export LNG to non-free trade agreement nations. In the first half of 2019 alone, two facilities came online: Cameron LNG Train 1 in Louisiana and Corpus Christi LNG Train 2 in Texas, which will have a total combined capacity of 2.3 Bcf/d. This expanded capacity will ultimately help the United States export its climate progress to our trading partners all over the world.