For US energy-related carbon emissions, fuel switching to gas is back to the future. After the first quarter, the USA's 2012 emissions are falling sharply again and may drop to 1990 levels, or just slightly above that important milestone, according to data in EIA's latest Monthy Energy Review.
America's energy related carbon emissions fell about 7.5%, during the first three months of 2012 compared to the same period of 2011. And first quarter 2012 emissions are approximately 8.5% lower than emissions in the first quarter of 2010.
Total energy carbon emissions were 5,473 million tons in 2011 and last year fell below the 1996 mark of 5,501 million tons.
The first quarter 2012 reduction of 7.5% makes it possible that this year emissions will fall back essentially to the 1990 level of 5,039 million tons. That is shockingly good news.
The 1990 level of carbon emissions is an important measuring stick, as it is often used as a critical data point for judging progress in reducing a nation's carbon emissions.
Why are US carbon emissions plummeting back to 1990 levels?
First and foremost are sharp reductions from electric power production, as a result of fuel switching from coal to gas, rising renewable energy production, and increasing efficiency. Yet, the shale gas revolution, and the low-priced gas that it has made a reality, is the key driver of falling carbon emissions, especially in the last 12 months.
As of April, gas tied coal at 32% of the electric power generation market, nearly ending coal's 100 year reign on top of electricity markets. Let's remember the speed and extent of gas's rise and coal's drop: coal had 52% of the market in 2000 and 48% in 2008.
Apart from power production, reductions of carbon emissions from the transportation sector since 2007 are pushing down US Carbon emissions. First quarter 2012 transportation emissions declined by about 0.6%, compared to the same period in 2011. Rising fuel efficiency and some switching to lower carbon fuels are the main causes of falling transportation emissions.
The bottom line is that America's carbon emissions may drop back close to 1990 levels this year. That result would have been thought impossible, even at the end of 2011.
But the shale gas revolution makes a reality many things recently thought impossible. It was thought impossible to slash carbon US carbon emissions back to 1990 levels by 2012. It was thought impossible to massively, quickly cut carbon emissions and, at the same time, have lower energy bills.
Shale gas production has slashed carbon emissions and saved consumers more than $100 billion per year. Truly astonishing!