The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its latest Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP) data this week, demonstrating that reported U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions declined 2.6 percent in 2017 and by 12 percent since 2011. The new EPA data also shows that methane emissions from reporting oil and natural gas facilities continued to trend downward last year even as production soared to near record levels.

As E&E News reported, the overall GHG emission declines are “largely due to the rise of natural gas and renewable energy.” This sentiment was also echoed in a Washington Times article on the GHGRP,

“The U.S. has boasted the world’s largest emissions reductions nine times this century, said American Enterprise Institute scholar Mark J. Perry.

“’For that impressive ‘greening’ of America, we can thank the underground oceans of America’s natural gas that are now accessible because of the revolutionary, advanced drilling and extraction technologies of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal/directional drilling…”

Similarly, American Petroleum Institute Senior Director of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Howard Feldman explained in a statement,

“The United States leads the world both in natural gas and oil production and in cutting GHG emissions – clean natural gas produced through advanced technologies like hydraulic fracturing is playing a significant role in driving carbon dioxide emissions to 25-year lows. Americans have the cleanest air in decades due in part to the increased use of natural gas to generate electricity, demonstrating that environmental protection and economic growth are not mutually exclusive.”

GHGRP data includes carbon dioxide and methane emissions reported to the EPA from large facilities and represents nearly half of total U.S. GHG emissions.

Power plant emissions account for the largest share of GHGRP-reported emissions at 1.8 billion metric tons CO2 equivalent (eq.), or 61 percent of the total 2.91 billion metric tons CO2 eq. reported. These emissions dropped 4.5 percent from 2016 to 2017 as more natural gas-fired facilities continued to come online across the country. Natural gas accounted for roughly 20 percent of U.S. electricity generation in 2011, about 27 percent in 2016 and increased to nearly 32 percent in 2017. Not coincidentally, EPA’s data show that GHG emissions from large power plants have declined 19.7 percent since 2011.

U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data shows that natural gas has prevented over two billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted since 2005, and the agency recently said,

“The underlying energy consumption trends that resulted in these changes — mainly because more electricity has been generated from natural gas than from other fossil fuels — have helped to lower the U.S. emissions level since 2005.”

What’s more is these reductions are occurring without the costly and duplicative regulations passed by the Obama administration. As EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement about the report,

“These achievements flow largely from technological breakthroughs in the private sector, not the heavy hand of government. The Trump Administration has proven that federal regulations are not necessary to drive CO2 reductions. While many around the world are talking about reducing greenhouse gases, the U.S. continues to deliver, and today’s report is further evidence of our action-oriented approach.”

Perhaps most important is the fact that a multitude of experts agree continued carbon dioxide  emissions reductions are happening because of natural gas. As United Nations Energy Programme Chief Erik Solheim recently said,

“In all likelihood, the United States will live up to its Paris commitment, not because of the White House, but because of the private sector.”

Meanwhile, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) credited “the rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies” as “an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States” in 2014.

And the International Energy Agency (IEA) has credited natural gas for helping the United States reside among the world’s leaders in reducing CO2 emissions multiple times:

  • “The biggest drop came from the United States, where carbon dioxide emissions fell 3%, or 160 million tonnes, while the economy grew by 1.6%. The decline was driven by a surge in shale gas supplies and more attractive renewable power that displaced coal. Emissions in the United States last year were at their lowest level since 1992, a period during which the economy grew by 80%.” (2017)
  • “The emissions from natural gas combustion are well-known and show clear advantages for gas relative to other fossil fuels.” (2017)
  • “The role that natural gas can play in the future of global energy is inextricably linked to its ability to help address environmental problems. With concerns about air quality and climate change looming large, natural gas offers many potential benefits if it displaces more polluting fuels.” (2017)
  • “The US power sector has led the world in cutting CO2 emissions since 2008, thanks largely to natural gas… Emissions in the United States last year were at their lowest levels since 1992, a period during which the economy grew by 80%.” (2017)

“Keep It In the Ground” (KIITG) operatives continue to insist that methane emissions from oil and natural gas systems make natural gas worse for climate change than other major fuels. But this new EPA data thoroughly debunks that narrative. Not only are reported methane emissions declining overall, oil and natural gas system methane emissions are declining significantly well. The GHGRP data show that methane emissions from onshore oil and gas production were 44 million metric tons CO eq. in 2017 – down 24 percent from 2011 levels. Emissions from gathering and boosting stations were 19 mmt CO2 eq. in 2017, down 21 percent from last year, the first year that such emissions were reported to the EPA.

And in addition to the continued declines in oil and gas system methane emissions further confirmed by this data, the IEA last year thorougly debunked the tired claim that methane leaks negate natural gas’ climate benefits, stating:

“[T]aking into account our estimates of methane emissions from both gas and coal, on average, gas generates far fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal when generating heat or electricity, regardless of the timeframe considered.”

And it’s because of this abundant resource being unlocked thanks to technological advances like fracking that U.S. natural gas is available in abundance today. As Tiana Lowe said in her recent Washington Examiner op-ed, “In short, fracking has done more to reduce greenhouse emissions than any environmentalist or environmental policy in modern history.”