Natural gas boom has reduced greenhouse gas emissions, led to cleaner air
September 23, 2017
In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, there are plenty of lessons to be learned. One of them, which we've seen time and again but never fails to inspire and reassure, is that the worst of circumstances bring out the best in the American people. From risking their own safety to rescue neighbors to donating generously to support the long recovery, Americans are meeting adversity with resilience and kindness.
Another lesson is that preparedness and coordination make a difference. Based on experience from previous storms, the U.S. natural gas and oil industry safely shut down and restarted offshore and onshore production, pipelines and refineries in order to minimize both environmental threats and supply disruptions. Despite sustaining a direct hit, energy supply has bounced back quickly.
The data-driven, research-based approach the industry used to safely weather the storms is the same one we apply every day to other challenges, including climate change. Often lost in the debate about this serious, complex issue is the fact that the U.S. actually has achieved remarkable success. We lead the world in both reduction of carbon emissions and in the production and refining of natural gas and oil.
There is a direct connection between carbon reductions and America's energy renaissance. Carbon emissions from power generation have plunged to nearly 30-year lows, and more than 60 percent of the decrease has come from the increased use of clean natural gas. Plentiful and affordable due to advances in production technology, the emergence of natural gas as part of the climate solution is market-driven, not government-mandated. We're producing natural gas at record levels - up more than 51 percent since 1990 - yet EPA data show that methane emissions from production fell 16 percent in real terms during that same period.
While natural gas is a leading factor in reducing emissions, it's not the only one. Dedicated, science-driven efforts by the energy sector to improve the environmental performance of our products, facilities and operations also play a major role. Between 2000 and 2014, our industry invested about $90 billion in new zero- or low-emission technologies - more than twice that of any of the alternative energy industries and nearly as much as the federal government.
Much of that investment has gone toward producing cleaner fuels. New cars, trucks, SUVs and even heavy-duty trucks and buses are roughly 99 percent cleaner than vehicle models of the 1970s, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, thanks to cleaner gasoline and diesel fuels coupled with advanced vehicle technologies.
The foundation of it all is a standards program accredited by the American National Standards Institute. Partnering with the best and brightest technical experts from government, academia and industry, we've developed almost 700 standards to enhance the safety of our workers and protect the community and environment.
We've developed extensive guidance to measure, reduce and report greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring accurate, consistent reporting from company to company and country to country.
Those efforts are revealing significant progress. According to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the five biggest oil companies cut their collective emissions by an average of 13 percent between 2010 and 2015.
At the same time, the industry is delivering major benefits to the economy, supporting 10.3 million jobs, including 2.7 jobs in other sectors for every direct job in the oil and natural gas industry. The average driver saved over $550 at the pump in 2015, while lower costs for utility bills, products and other energy-related expenses boosted household budgets by an estimated $1,337. Manufacturers - including producers of steel, chemicals, plastics, fertilizers and numerous other products - are saving on power and materials costs, providing a major advantage over foreign competitors.
Recent government projections indicate that fossil fuels will account for 76 percent of the world's energy needs in 2050. It's confirmation we'll need more natural gas and oil, not less, in the decades ahead. Besides fueling our economy and manufacturing products we use every day, natural gas and oil are essential to help reduce poverty in developing nations, where 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity.
Fortunately, the data show we can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions while producing the energy we need. The same innovative approach that has made the U.S. the world's leading energy producer is also driving environmental improvements - with the natural gas and oil industry leading the way.
Durbin is the executive vice president and chief strategy officer at the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group.<- Go Back