Energy-related CO2 emissions from natural gas surpass coal as fuel use patterns change

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Energy-associated carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from natural gas are expected to surpass those from coal for the first time since 1972.

Energy-associated carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from natural gas are expected to surpass those from coal for the first time since 1972. Even though natural gas is less carbon-intensive than coal, increases in natural gas consumption and decreases in coal consumption in the past decade have resulted in natural gas-related CO2 emissions surpassing those from coal. EIA's latest Short-Term Energy Outlook projects energy-related CO2 emissions from natural gas to be 10% greater than those from coal in 2016.

From 1990 to about 2005, consumption of coal and natural gas in the United States was relatively similar, but their emissions were different. Coal is more carbon-intensive than natural gas. The consumption of natural gas results in about 52 million metric tons of CO2 for every quadrillion British thermal units (MMmtCO2/quad Btu), while coal's carbon intensity is about 95 MMmtCO2/quad Btu, or about 82% higher than natural gas's carbon intensity. Because coal has a higher carbon intensity, even in a year when consumption of coal and natural gas were nearly equal, such as 2005, energy-related CO2 emissions from coal were about 84% higher than those from natural gas.

In 2015, natural gas consumption was 81% higher than coal consumption, and their emissions were nearly equal. Both fuels were associated with about 1.5 billion metric tons of energy-related CO2 emissions in the United States in 2015.

Annual carbon intensity rates in the United States have generally been decreasing since 2005. The U.S. total carbon intensity rate reflects the relative consumption of fuels and those fuels' relative carbon intensities. Petroleum, at about 65 MMmtCO2/quad Btu, is less carbon-intensive than coal but more carbon-intensive than natural gas. Petroleum accounts for a larger share of U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions because of its high levels of consumption.

Energy-associated carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from natural gas are expected to surpass those from coal for the first time since 1972.

Another contributing factor to lower carbon intensity is increased consumption of fuels that produce no carbon dioxide, such as nuclear-powered electricity and renewable energy. As these fuels make up a larger share of U.S. energy consumption, the U.S. average carbon intensity declines. Although use of natural gas and petroleum have increased in recent years, the decline in coal consumption and increase in nonfossil fuel consumption have lowered U.S. total carbon intensity from 60 MMmtCO2/quad Btu in 2005 to 54 MMmtCO2/quad Btu in 2015.

Principal contributor: Eliza Goren, Perry Lindstrom

Did You Like this Article? Get All the Energy Industry News Delivered to Your Inbox

Subscribe to an email newsletter today at no cost and receive the latest news and information.

 Subscribe Now

Whitepapers

Making DDoS Mitigation Part of Your Incident Response Plan: Critical Steps and Best Practices

Like a new virulent strain of flu, the impact of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack is...

The Multi-Tax Challenge of Managing Excise Tax and Sales Tax

To be able to accurately calculate multiple tax types, companies must be prepared to continually ...

Operational Analytics in the Power Industry

Cloud computing, smart grids, and other technologies are changing transmission and distribution. ...

Maximizing Operational Excellence

In a recent survey conducted by PennEnergy Research, 70% of surveyed energy industry professional...

Latest Energy Jobs

View more Job Listings >>

Archived Articles

PennEnergy Articles
2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013

OGJ Articles
2011 | 2012 | 2013

OGFJ Articles
2011 | 2012 | 2013

Power Engineering Articles
2011 | 2012 | 2013

Power Engineering Intl Articles
2011 | 2012 | 2013

Utility Products Articles
2011 | 2012 | 2013

HydroWorld Articles
2011 | 2012 | 2013

COSPP Articles
2011 | 2012 | 2013

ELP Articles
2011 | 2012 | 2013