Total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 reached their lowest levels since 1992, according to the final Environmental Protection Agency Greenhouse Gas Inventory released this month. As International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol recently stated,
“In the last 10 years, the emissions reductions in the United States has been the largest in the history of energy – almost 800 million tons – and this is a huge decline of emissions.”
Total U.S. GHG emissions fell by 35.6 million metric tons CO2 equivalent (MMT CO2Eq.), or 0.5 percent, from 2016 to 2017 – a steeper decline than was previously estimated in the agency’s draft report in February.
Since 2005 – the starting point for the Paris Climate Accords – total U.S. GHG emissions fell by 12 percent and total GHG emissions from fossil fuel combustion decreased nearly 15 percent. Meanwhile, U.S. oil and natural gas production increased more than 80 percent and 51 percent, respectively, and natural gas consumption increased 23 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Petroleum and natural gas system methane emissions continue to decline.
Amid record-breaking oil and natural gas production, methane emissions from petroleum and natural gas systems decreased 31.9 MMT CO2Eq. from 1990 to 2017.
According to the EPA inventory, emissions from natural gas systems decreased by 27.5 MMT CO2Eq. (14.2 percent), “largely due to a decrease in emissions from distribution, transmission and storage, processing, and exploration.” And the report credits a 4.4 MMT CO2Eq. (or 10.5 percent) reduction in emissions from petroleum systems due “primarily to decreases in tank emissions and associated gas venting.”
U.S. power sector continues to see significant emissions declines.
According to the inventory, CO2 emissions from electric power generation fell 668 MMT CO2Eq. from 2005 to 2017. The report explains that this has occurred while total electric power generation has remained relatively flat for the past five years – something EPA credits to the “increased generation from natural gas and renewable energy sources.”
A 2018 EIA report found that growth in natural gas consumption can be credited for 61 percent of the total 3.86 billion metric tons of electric generation CO2 reductions since 2005. And, as EID’s recent fact sheet explains, data from the same report showed that during this time period, natural gas has cut 50 percent more emissions than wind and solar combined for electricity generation.
As United Nations Energy Programme chief Erik Solheim said in 2017:
“In all likelihood, the United States of America will live up to its Paris commitment, not because of the White House, but because of the private sector.”
The United States is leading the world in carbon emissions reductions which continue to be of increasing importance for America’s oil and natural gas industry. The increased supply of natural gas – thanks to shale – is fueling new natural gas-fired power plants and helping the electric power sector experience record-low emissions. And the best part: each new data set demonstrates that these environmental benefits do not have to come at the expense of economic opportunity.