Natural gas has half the CO2 emissions of Coal and cut US Emissions by 12%

Natural gas emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal when used to make electricity, though the calculation fails to take into account the release of methane from natural-gas wells and pipelines, which also contributes to climate change.The EIA had a report on US emissions.

In 2012, 30% of power in the U.S. came from burning natural gas, up from 19% in 2005, driven by drilling technologies that have unlocked large and inexpensive new supplies of the fuel. Overall US carbon emissions are down by 12% between 2005 and 2012.

The US, Europe, Japan and Canada have been able to reduce carbon emissions by a combined 1 billion tons of CO2 from 2005 to 2011. China, India and Russia have increased carbon emissions by 4 billion tons of CO2 from 2005 to 2011.

The IPCC report has a summary of studies on life cycle carbon emissions by energy source. The summarized table of studies is below. The link includes all of the references that were used.

These rapid U.S. declines may be short-lived, as natural-gas prices rise and utilities increase coal consumption. “Our coal-fired generation has certainly picked up” in recent months, says Nick Akins, chief executive of Ohio-based American Electric Power Co. Natural-gas prices have risen for eight straight weeks, recently closing at $4.40 per million British thermal units, more than twice its price a year ago.

Mr. Akins also says that stronger economic growth in the U.S. would reverse some of the recent changes. “If the economy were to pick back up considerably before you are able to put new natural-gas capacity in place,” he said, “you would expect carbon emissions to increase because coal is going to pick up as well.”

As the U.S. has reduced its coal consumption, it has increased its coal exports to Europe, which rose 23% in 2012 from a year earlier, according to federal statistics.

There are near term possibilities for shale gas to boom in China and EUrope. Longer term nuclear energy, wind, and solar will be an larger part of the energy mix.

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