Friday, June 22, 2012

Climate Change Stunner: Shale Gas Makes USA World Leader In Cutting Carbon Emissions Since 2006

You will not find this fact in any of Josh Fox's videos about fracking and shale gas. Our Canadian friends call it a "climate change stunner."  The stunning fact for Canadians is that the USA leads the world in reducing carbon emissions since 2006.  This fact likely stuns most Americans too, as little has been said about it.

Across the Atlantic, the British are equally amazed by the turn of events that make the USA the world leader in reducing carbon pollution. A headline said somewhat incredulously: "US Carbon Emissions Down More Than Any Other Country." See

Both the Canadian and British reporting quickly identify that the shale gas boom is the key to the remarkable transformation of Uncle Sam into the world's leading carbon reducer. Importantly, both note that shale gas could do the same in other countries.

For example, the British publication quotes the chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol, to say:  "The replacement of coal by shale gas is a key factor and what happened in the US could very well happen in China and other countries and could definitely help in reducing CO2 emissions."

Environmentalists attacking shale gas especially must come to grips with the facts stated by Mr. Birol, as inconvenient as they may be to anti-fracking campaigns around the world. Their failure to do so is the reason that famed environmental scientist and guru, James Lovelock, is "cross with the greens."

Roaring carbon increases in China, where shale gas is plentiful but not yet produced in large quantity, makes the US success in using shale gas to reduce its carbon pollution a particularly important model. Since 2006, the US has reduced carbon emissions by 7.7%, the equivalent of removing 84 million cars from the road.  The total vehicle fleet in the USA is about 246 million and so a reduction equal to 84 million cars is enormous, comparable to more than 1 of 3 cars off the road.

According to calculations by the Canadian journalist, the carbon footprint of a typical American is back to 1964 levels and US emissions are falling faster than necessary to meet the Copenhagen Accord goal of 17% reduction by 2020.

So how is the news that carbon emissions are falling substantially largely as a result of shale gas being treated here?  Remarkably few Americans have been exposed to the fact that the USA is now the world leader in cutting carbon emissions and to the fact that pollution fighting leadership is substantially thanks to the shale gas revolution.

Most unfortunately, in some circles, the huge carbon reductions made possible by shale gas remains the truth that cannot be spoken.


  1. Concerned ScientistJune 22, 2012 at 7:19 AM

    This message needs to be shouted from the rooftops. In my book, the environmental benefits are the main reason to support shale gas. Not only is it leading to massive reductions in greenhouse gases, switching from coal to gas is leading to massively cuts in our mercury, SO2 and particulate emissions.

    In most of the media this issue is commonly framed as jobs versus the environment. Shale gas means jobs AND a cleaner environment. Those fighting against it are fighting both.

    As long as we are still burning coal, shale gas should be supported by those truly concerned about the environment. If we can get completely off coal, then shale gas should be cut in favor of renewables. But not until then.

  2. John -- Is Mr. Birol's statement based on significant research? It's imperative to reduce coal burning (and MY GOD 17% dip in coal burning in the US in 10 years is a *big deal*), however the methane emissions from fracking gas production and all gas transport is so bad. Does the IEA's research in any way address the stout proclamations of Howarth et al of Cornell? i know the findings of Howarth are contested, but they do need to be taken seriously. thanks. -- Anne Butterfield

    1. Birol's statement is based on IEA data. IEA tracks global and country emissions. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) data confirms the US declines as well. Methane leakage is a real issue, must be taken seriously, and is. The EPA final rule on air emissions from gas production adopted in April, 2012 will slash methane emissions. Howarth himself states so. Most importantly, 5 separate studies debunk the specifics in Howarth, including another, separate group of Cornell professors. Two of the studies debunking Howarth come from strong environmental credentials. The Sierra Club partially funded the Carnegie Mellon University study that debunks Howarth and the Worldwatch Institute also published a study that disagrees dramatically with Howarth's conclusions. I have covered all of these studies on this blog. Use the search function and you will find the postings.

  3. Anne-Howarth's study has been refuted by numerous studies. It is a false science canard. That you would still insist on giving it an iota of credence says more about political requirements than it does about your interest in protecting the environment.

    1. My own experience is that many good people have heard a great deal about the Howarth study and nearly all supportive and very little about all the studies that debunk it. The media coverage has been lopsided to say the least and then some groups will only push forward Howarth to audiences and will not reveal the studies that debunk it.

    2. Fair enough and likely I should expect better of people, but it has been my experience that those interested enough in the topic know about both the Howarth study are also aware of those contradicting it. Generally speaking the passive observer knows little about any study and are only aware of the "general consensus" as presented by the media.

      If the Howarth study is invoked it is by groups and individuals pushing an agenda that is based very little on science and much on politics and emotion.

      My humble opinion, of course.

    3. Unfortunately I too have seen the Howarth study used as you describe above. It really is preying on people's vulnerability to do so.

  4. really?? it is that a big problem with the environment?? how terrible is that..
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