Hydraulic fracturing has done more to cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in the last decade than all renewable energy sources and nuclear power combined, according to data from the Energy Department’s statistical arm.
The shift from coal to natural gas alone cut CO2 emissions more than 2 billion metric tons in the last decade, which is about 72 percent more than emissions reduced through increased “non-fossil generation.”
“Between 2005 and 2016, CO2 emissions declined by a cumulative 3,176 [million metric tons] as a result of these two factors,” the Energy Information Administration notes in a new report on U.S. emissions.
Utilities have been investing more in power plants, and converting many coal-fired plants, to burn natural gas in recent years, spurred by the massive increase in shale gas production.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and horizontal drilling has allowed drillers to unlock once out of reach shale gas reserves. The fracking boom collapses the price of natural gas since 2008, giving utilities a low-cost alternative fuel as environmental regulations forced coal plants to install expensive equipment or retire.
“It is now clearer than ever that if we are interested in addressing climate change, natural gas must play a significant role,” Steve Everley, spokesman for the industry-backed Texans for Natural Gas, said in a statement.
Environmentalists have given natural gas a mixed reception. Many groups see the shift from coal to lower-emitting natural gas as a positive step, but at the same time oppose fracking into shale.
Activists argue fracking can contaminate groundwater — of which there’s little evidence — and releases methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Environmentalists backed Obama administration regulations on fracking on federal lands and rules to limit methane emissions.
The Trump administration is working to repeal Obama-era rules restricting oil and gas drilling, but environmentalists are using the courts and working through state governments to put areas off-limits to fracking.
The Interior Department entered into a legal settlement in May with the Center For Biological Diversity (CBD). The Bureau of Labor Management had effectively banned fracking on 1 million acres of federal land in California. That area of California will continue to be off-limits to drilling.
Nearly 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide has been reduced through the “growth in non-carbon electricity generation, especially wind and solar,” but that figure also included hydropower and nuclear energy, estimated the Energy Information Admistration (EIA).
“Although total electricity generation use grew by about 1% from 2005 to 2016, related CO2 emissions fell by 24% over that period,” EIA found, attributing most of this decline to natural gas.
“The EIA’s report may be an inconvenient truth for the ‘Keep It In the Ground’ campaign, but it’s further confirmation that affordable energy is linked to a cleaner environment,” Everley said.