In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.
Many of the world’s leading climate scientists didn’t see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.
In a little-noticed technical report [The blog, “Whatsupwiththat” noticed and wrote about all this July 2, but he’s just a blogger and thus doesn’t count- ED] , the U.S. Energy Information Agency, a part of the Energy Department, said this month that energy related U.S. CO2 emissions for the first four months of this year fell to about 1992 levels. Energy emissions make up about 98 percent of the total. The Associated Press contacted environmental experts, scientists and utility companies and learned that virtually everyone believes the shift could have major long-term implications for U.S. energy policy.
While conservation efforts, the lagging economy and greater use of renewable energy are factors in the CO2 decline, the drop-off is due mainly to low-priced natural gas, the agency said.
A frenzy of shale gas drilling in the Northeast’s Marcellus Shale and in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana has caused the wholesale price of natural gas to plummet from $7 or $8 per unit to about $3 over the past four years, making it cheaper to burn than coal for a given amount of energy produced. As a result, utilities are relying more than ever on gas-fired generating plants.
Market forces instead of government action – who could possibly have thought that might be a solution? I blame Cheney.
Read the entire article, if you must, for the knee-jerk, obligatory squawking from people who see their jobs going up in (clean) smoke. But here’s a sampling:
The question is whether the shift is just one bright spot in a big, gloomy picture, or a potentially larger trend.
Also, while natural gas burns cleaner than coal, it still emits some CO2. And drilling has its own environmental consequences, which are not yet fully understood.
“Natural gas is not a long-term solution to the CO2 problem,” Pielke warned.
“The Sierra Club has serious doubts about the net benefits of natural gas,” said Deborah Nardone, director of the group’s Beyond Natural Gas campaign.
“Without sufficient oversight and protections, we have no way of knowing how much dangerous pollution is being released into Americans’ air and water by the gas industry. For those reason, our ultimate goal is to replace coal with clean energy and energy efficiency and as little natural gas as possible.”
Gee, who could we possibly persuade to take on the onerous duty of providing “oversight and protection”?