Credit natural gas for falling emissions, rising economy - Energy Factor
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Credit natural gas for falling emissions, rising economy

Suzanne McCarron - 10/10/2016

New data from the federal government’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program offers interesting insights into the shale revolution and the resulting benefits Americans are seeing.

Several stats in particular stand out:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions from large industrial sources – meaning electric power plants, oil and natural gas systems, factories, and the like, which account for the lion’s share of U.S. emissions – fell 4.9 percent in 2015. Since 2011, these emissions are down 8.2 percent.
  • Emissions from power plants – the largest single source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions – declined by 6.2 percent last year, and have fallen 11.3 percent since 2011.

This decline in emissions is remarkable because, as the American Petroleum Institute’s Jack Gerard notes, it comes against the backdrop of increasing oil and natural gas production. One might assume that increased production would be accompanied by rising emissions.

But that’s not the case.

This good news on emissions speaks to the incredible innovation pioneered by our industry to improve processes and drive efficiencies.

More than that, these numbers speak to the transformative effect that increased natural gas production is having on our nation’s collective effort to address the risks of climate change.

Environmental benefits

Since natural gas emits up to 60 percent fewer emissions than coal when burned for power generation, utilities switching to more efficient, cleaner-burning gas power plants are spearheading the drive toward lower U.S. emissions.

This environmental success story would be impossible without the increase in natural gas production from hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus and other shale regions.

Economic uplift

It’s an economic success, as well. Increased crude oil production from America’s shale fields has put downward pressure on gasoline prices – an average annual savings of $550 per licensed driver, according to AAA.

Meanwhile, rising supplies of affordable natural gas have kick started a domestic manufacturing renaissance.

Nowhere is this more evident than along America’s Gulf Coast, where much of the $161 billion worth of announced petrochemical investment will take place.

This includes the expansion at ExxonMobil’s Baytown, TX, facility. It is already having a positive economic effect for the region, with 10,000 construction jobs needed to build a new world-class ethane cracker to produce ethylene and units for processing polyethylene. When complete, the project will account for approximately 4000 permanent jobs created throughout the community, $90 million annually in local tax revenue, and an increase in regional economic activity of $1 billion per year.

Meanwhile a possible ExxonMobil petrochemical joint venture with SABIC could further enhance the region’s economic fortunes.

Energy landscape

Projects such as these are a reflection of the growing importance of natural gas as part of a shifting global energy landscape. ExxonMobil estimates that the biggest expected growth in energy demand over the next several decades will be in natural gas.

As our Energy Outlook notes, natural gas “provides a practical energy solution for many applications while also providing a significant cost advantage versus other options to help reduce climate change risks.”

Similarly renewable energy – along with nuclear power – is expected to see significant growth in the coming years. Indeed, all sources of energy will be needed to meet future energy demand, expected to grow 25 percent by 2040.

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