Natural Gas: A Reassuring Resource During Uncertain Times
As we approach the peak of the COVID-19 crisis in the coming weeks for our beloved nation, we should be reassured in knowing that we have a consistent energy source to power our hospitals, emergency response centers, grocery stores, and the many homes where we now find refuge during this uncertain time.
Whether you are an energy professional or one of the 65 million U.S. households who consume natural gas each day, now more than ever it is important to understand its impact in our daily lives and influence on climate change and the U.S. economy.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic dominating world headlines, climate change discussions had become a mainstream interest among Americans ranking fourth (behind health care, immigration, and racial equality) as a key agenda item in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. In some states, like California, it was the number one issue with 71% of Californians “very concerned” about global warming. The world is increasingly and appropriately becoming more carbon-conscious and in this context, opinions of natural gas frequently emerge. Although it is the cleanest burning of all fossil-fuels, natural gas is not (in absolute terms) a zero-carbon energy source. That said many environmentalists and sustainability-minded consumers feel it should be phased out sooner than later.
Others see natural gas as an essential energy that has verifiably reduced greenhouse gas emissions over the past decade. This has largely been driven by the shift from once dominant coal-fired power generation to much cleaner natural gas fired power plants. Interstate pipeline and local utility companies are also executing investment strategies and making technological advancements to further lower emissions over the next decade. This is all bolstered by the intrinsic reliability, affordability, and abundance of natural gas.
So who is right? Are these polarizing viewpoints or can they co-exist? Should we actively dismantle existing infrastructure (if even possible) and oppose new pipeline construction? Or should we embrace new technologies for growth and expansion? To answer these questions and others, please consider the following key facts about natural gas and the industry that consistently delivers it to homes and businesses around the world.
| Carbon Emissions
Natural gas emits methane (CH4) during some production, transmission, and distribution processes and releases carbon dioxide (CO2) when burned – both are greenhouse gases.
Since becoming the predominant source of electric generation in 2016, studies confirm natural gas releases nearly 60% less CO2 when combusted than coal
The International Energy Agency has credited natural gas with helping the U.S. become a global leader in reducing CO2 emissions
In 2018 the U.S. Energy Information Administration cited energy-related carbon emissions reductions of 14% since 2005
Natural gas transmission pipeline and underground storage operators have worked hard to drive down methane emissions from large compressor stations by 23% from 2011 to 2017
This contributed to a total transmission and storage related methane reduction of 44% since 1990
| Consumption and Use
While carbon emissions have declined over the past 15 years, natural gas consumption has increased by 40%
In 2019, U.S. natural gas consumption reached an all-time high driven in part by the January 2019 “Polar Vortex” where local utilities reliably delivered record volumes during one of the most frigid winters ever
Along with wind, natural gas is forecasted to be the fastest growing source of domestic electricity generation and currently represents 36% of all power generation
Beyond power generation, heating, and cooking, natural gas provides the raw materials in making water bottles, laundry detergent, cosmetics, bricks, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizers farmers use to grow food
In terms of production, U.S. natural gas is up 62% from 2010 to 2019 with 24% in just the last 3 years
And growing demands for uninterrupted electricity supply from healthcare and other commercial facilities have driven peak market demands (10% to 15% CAGR through 2025) for natural gas generators
| Economy and Infrastructure
There is over 2.5 million miles of underground natural gas pipeline in the U.S. with nearly 90% of the network distributing gas directly to homes and businesses
The natural gas industry supports the employment of nearly 3 million Americans in all 50 states, many of whom are veterans, who directly maintain, modernize, and construct the country’s infrastructure
Nearly every local distribution company in the U.S. is under some form of accelerated replacement program for aging pipelines spending $22 billion annually to enhance safety and reduce methane emissions
In the past two years, overall energy investment in the United States has been catching up with China, mainly due to oil and gas supply with $173 billion spent on fossil-fuel supply in 2018 compared to $135 billion in 2016
And finally, while the cost of many household essentials has increased, energy costs in America have steadily declined over the last decade with natural gas fueled homes saving American families $874 per year compared to all electric homes
Climate change is indeed a public health, business, and infrastructure issue that must be addressed. As amazing as advancements have been with solar, wind, and other renewable energies they still remain intermittent. The extreme climate change patterns occurring in the world and across the United States require a stable, predictable, and abundant energy source – natural gas.
Significant strides have been made to reduce emissions as record amounts of natural gas have been produced and consumed over the past decade. Quite simply, at a time when production and consumption have increased 50%, methane emissions have actually decreased. But we can’t be satisfied with this and must continue aggressive infrastructure modernization efforts to keep fugitive methane from leaking into the atmosphere.
The pathway from fossil-based to zero-carbon will be both exciting and challenging. Our children and grandchildren are depending on us to make good, thoughful, and balanced decisions. The journey must begin by further recognizing and understanding the many uses of natural gas. It touches nearly every aspect of our lives every single day and is integral to keep pace with current efforts towards decarbonization. If there is any key takeaway here, it is this… Our Energy Future is one of Natural Gas and Renewables, not Natural Gas or Renewables.
Public Policy Institute of California; U.S. Energy Information Administration; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks; Geology.com; NaturalGasSolution.org; GrandViewResearch.com; American Gas Association; U.S. Energy and Employment Report 2019 (produced by National Association of State Energy Officials and Energy Futures Initiative); World Energy Investment 2019 (an International Energy Agency report)