Energy. Environment. Economy.

Carbon emissions from natural gas expected to surpass coal

A natural gas power plant under construction in Bradford County.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact PA

A natural gas power plant under construction in Bradford County.

Carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas are expected to exceed those from coal for the first time in more than 40 years, according to data released Wednesday from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The EIA projects energy-related carbon emissions from natural gas will be 10 percent higher than those from coal this year.

Although natural gas is much less carbon-intensive than coal, Americans are using a lot more of it. While coal has historically supplied much of the country’s electric power, the fracking boom has led to a sharp increase in natural gas-fired power plants. Coal’s share of the electric power generation has been shrinking, while gas has been growing.

At the same time, annual carbon intensity rates in the U.S. have largely been decreasing over the past decade, says the EIA. One of the reasons is the growing consumption carbon free sources, 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,” says the EIA.


  • Brian Oram

    apples to oranges?

    • Nita Shafer

      how dies that logic work ?

  • Nita Shafer

    Shut ALL those Natty Gas plants DOWN… Save the Polar Bears…

    • Julieann Wozniak

      My mom died from COPD. Not laughing. How about saving those of us who live downwind.

  • binkyou812

    Silly article. Natural gas has allowed the US to decrease emissions more than virtually any other country by offsetting coal which is 2x as CO2 intensive as nat gas. This is a good thing as we transition to more renewable resources. The article presents this as a bad thing. If not for nat gas our CO2 emissions would be 30% higher than now.

  • SOS

    In order for this crap to be a reality,
    You have to account for the millions of years of Dinosaur CO2.
    Now I can account for it.
    Like all gaseous by products, it eases on out the Ozone hole and dissipates into space just like God planned it.
    We need all of the CO2 that we can get.
    If our atmosphere somehow heated up another 15 degrees it would cause the oceans to evaporate quicker washing out the streams and lakes and replenishing our fresh water supply.
    this would also cause the Rain forest to expand from Montreal to Buenos Aires.
    You would have to cut your grass 3 times a week.

  • maycorruptionfall1

    NASA….METHANE FROM FRACKING IS 84-87 PERCENT MORE POTENT THAN CO2……Methane makes up just 0.00018 percent of the atmosphere, compared to 0.039 percent for carbon dioxide. (CO2 is roughly 200 times more abundant.) Yet scientists attribute about one-sixth of recent global warming to methane emissions; what methane lacks in volume it makes up for in potency. Over a 20-year period, one ton of methane has a global warming potential that is 84 to 87 times greater than carbon dioxide. Over a century, that warming potential is 28 to 36 times greater. The difference occurs because methane is mostly scrubbed out of the air by chemical reactions within about ten years, while carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for much longer than a century.
    “That means the climate effects of methane are front-loaded,” explained Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke University. “Part of the reason there is so much interest in methane right now is because reducing those emissions could slow warming over the next few decades. This does not let us off the hook for reducing carbon dioxide, but the benefits of carbon dioxide reductions will come much later.”

  • MAC615

    If it was not for natural gas and coal, right now we could only produce enough electricity for 18% of the required generation for load. Also wind is just producing 33% of its capability and we use wind and solar when it is available. That is from an operator, not a bureaucrat or academic.

  • Karen Orlando

    So from the data it would seem that the entire time the antifracking natural gas and all pipeline and infrackstructure movement was fighting natural gas, natural gas was replacing coal or outcompeting coal and reducing emissions in the united states in the process. Pretty interesting.

  • Susan Phillips

    Our comment section exists to allow reader/listener feedback that adds to the content of the article. It does not exist for personal insults, ad hominem remarks, or speculation about another commenter’s agenda. Please keep the comment section as it is intended to be. We are a small shop of two people and do not have time to monitor all discussions, but when we see comments that violate our policy we will remove them.

  • Wayne

    As this article reports, “…annual carbon intensity rates in the U.S. have largely been decreasing over the past decade,… One of the reasons is the growing consumption carbon free sources, such as nuclear-powered electricity and renewable energy.”. It is not because “…natural gas was replacing coal or outcompeting coal and reducing emissions in the united states in the process.”, as one comment states. If one looks at the number of coal source electrical generation that has been replaced by nat gas electrical generation, if one looks at the total consumption of nat gas during this period as compared to six years ago, the numbers are just too low to have made the impact the nat gas industry supporters would like us to believe. Rather, it is best to acknowledge the impact our massive recession had on the decrease of carbon in the atmosphere, especially during the years 2009, 10, 11, 12 up to and including now. Add to that auto fuel efficiency standards, appliance efficiency standards, and home insulation standards, and one gets a more true, full picture. Then, as another comment notes, carbon is certainly not the only concern, the unburned methane that escapes is a calamity, especially over the coming 30 year period, which is the most critical in relation to our climate. The extraction zones, the feeder lines, compressors and new pipelines all emit far too much methane. On top of that, the infrastructure in cities across our nation leak tremendously, and no one has the money, or will to fix the problem. Shale gas is no answer, period, and every dollar wasted in building new infrastructure to increase production, distribution and consumption, is…wasted. We must move on to the real solutions for our future, for our planet’s, and our, sake. This must be done ASAP, not at the other side of some “bridge” the supporters of shale gas extraction would have us believe we have time for. We are out of time.

    • Karen Orlando

      Re: “one of the reasons is the growing consumption of carbon free sources” like nuclear and renewables. It you notice the word one is used as in yes this is one reason for less co2 emissions or decarbonizing the economy as people say. The increased use of natural gas instead of coal in the last decade is also another reason. And that is actually in the data and the write up by the eia as is the information about natural gas also being less carbon intensive than oil too. In nyc for example natural gas has been replacing dirtier heating fuels, thereby releasing less air pollutants and less co2.

      Now some people who are most ardently against natural gas are also against nuclear. Some of those people supported Bernie Sanders as a candidate for president. Others like me disliked Sanders energy policy ideas as they found them to be counterproductive when it comes to making progress on climate change an important issue of the day.

  • Wayne

    According to one of the links in this article, Co2 emissions were highest in 2007 at 6 thousand million metric tons (MMmt), and they dropped precipitously to 5.4 MMmt by the end of 2009 (down 10%), which is the same level of Co2 measured in 2014. Natural Gas consumption in the U.S. dropped approximately .29 million cubic feet from 2007 through 2009, so clearly Natural Gas replacing coal had nothing to do with the drop in Co2 emissions in that two year period (’07-’09). To quote Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992: “It’s the economy…”. Consumption of Natural Gas in the U.S. increased from approximately 24.48 MCF in 2011 to about 27.47 MCF in 2014 (+9%). During that same period (’11-’14), electricity generated by coal fell from 43% to 38% of the total generation, and Nat Gas generated electricity rose from 24% to 30% as a source of electricity. As I wrote at the head of this comment, Co2 emissions are at the same level in 2014 as they were in 2009. The burning of Nat Gas in place of that 5% reduction in coal source contributed a little to a reduction in Co2 in the atmosphere, but very little (and when one calculates un-burned fugitive methane escaping into the atmosphere, it has a net negative impact on the atmosphere). It should be clear to everyone that major changes must be made to our energy source infrastructure, as well as world wide, but that increased extraction and fracking for shale gas and oil, new pipelines, more compressors, and new markets to increase consumption (burning), is no solution whatsoever to the very serious problems we face.

  • keith hinkel

    I told you idiots this a few years ago–no one listens–its follow the $$$ always–Nat. Gas is the lowest BTU per # of any fuel so the CO2 will accelerate fast.

  • Donald Roessler

    Makes sense. As you burn less coal there will be less CO2 emissions from coal. But natural gas produces less CO2 in comparison to burning coal.

  • Karen Orlando

    Scott as you should already know by now I have no “profracking playbook”, nor am I “spinning” anything nor shilling anything. That you continue to insinuate publically that I work for industry or am something I’m not is tiresome for me and to me displays your lack of investigative skills, character and perhaps an inability to admit an error.

    It is accurate to state that the antifracking natural gas pipeline resistance movement has been fighting natural gas during the time period that natural gas has been outcompeting and replacing coal as the number one fuel in electricty generation in the united states of America, thereby reducing co2 emissions and also other air pollutants that are harmful to people. This not spin. My call is this is simply reality. And this isn’t my call alone nor an industry call. The head of the EPA has said this, data from eia confirms this etc.

  • Donald Roessler

    Scott the methane from the wells is collected. Coal mining probably releases more methane than drilling for natural gas. None of it is collected as the coal is mined, it is vented to the atmosphere.

  • scottvideo
  • Jack Wolf

    Industry figures indicate that transport leaks and venting at the well site account for up to a 5 or 6% loss before the methane is burned at the plant.

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