U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have hit record lows. Not due to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations or the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, but due to innovations in the oil industry itself, namely hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, according to Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API).
“We are second to none in reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” Gerard stated in a press conference reported by the Daily Caller. “The reduction of CO2 is due to America’s 21st century energy renaissance driven by fracking.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that U.S. energy-related emissions fell 12% from 2005, 2% in the last year, largely “because of the decreased use of coal and the increased use of natural gas for electricity generation.” Swapping coal with natural gas was responsible for 68% of CO2 emission reductions.
The record reductions are even more impressive considering that the economy has increased 15% during the past two decades. Twenty-five million energy consumers have joined the U.S. population over the past twenty years, yet U.S. carbon emissions are now at their lowest in two decades.
In April of last year, for the first time in US history, natural gas surpassed coal as an electricity source. Innovative technologies in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have made the switch from coal to natural gas possible, allowing the recovery of previously inaccessible shale gas. Prior to the widespread use of fracking technology, the U.S. generated roughly 50% of its electricity from coal and 20% from natural gas. Today, coal use has fallen to 33%, while electricity generation using natural gas has risen to 33%.
Natural gas burns clean, emitting 45% less carbon per energy unit than coal. According to the EIA, the switch from coal to natural gas has reduced more than one billion metric tons of CO2 emissions from U.S. power plants over the last 20 years, while renewable energy has reduced emissions by only 600 million metric tons.
The nation’s 49,000 wind turbines accounted for 4.7% of electricity generated in 2015, reducing CO2 emissions by an estimated 90 megatons, one-tenth the amount of natural gas. The Manhattan Institute reports that fracking reduces 13 tons of emissions for every one ton of emissions reduced via solar power.
According to the EIA, natural gas will provide the majority of electricity generation annually beginning in late 2016. Currently, the U.S. generates its electricity using the following energy source distributions:
- Natural Gas: 33%
- Coal: 33%
- Nuclear: 20%
- Hydropower: 6%
- Wind: 4.7%
- Petroleum: 1%
- Solar: 0.6%
- Other Sources: 1.7%
According to the Washington Times, the Obama administration is choosing to ignore the shale revolution in applauding the historic emission reductions, despite the obvious impact fracking has made. Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance, told the Washington Times, “the reductions occurred not because of the Obama administration but in spite of ‘concerted attempts by the federal government to overregulate fracking and make it more difficult to develop natural gas in America.’”
“We are leading the world in CO2 reductions today primarily due to clean burning natural gas which has revolutionized the industry,” Gerard said in the API press conference. “You don’t get to efficient and affordable natural gas by trying to impose over 100 new regulations on the industry. We can have further oil and natural gas development while increasing environmental protection.”
With the U.S. leading the way toward a global Shale Revolution, the effect fracking has had on reducing CO2 emissions is impressive. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies have allowed our nation to move past the use of coal as a predominant source of electricity-generating fuel. America is producing more clean-burning, abundant and affordable natural gas than ever before. While green programs and policy makers struggle to fight against the one technology that has done more to reduce U.S. carbon emissions than all other technologies combined, the oil and gas industry should be commended for the economic and environmental benefits of fracking.