U.S. emission cuts down to renewables, not shale – Greenpeace argues

Wind power
Source: DollarPhotoClub

Reducing U.S. emissions by 16 per cent since 2007 has been widely attributed to the increased use of natural gas caused by the shale gas boom. However, a new study carried out by Greenpeace’s Energydesk argues that only around 30 per cent of that emissions reduction came from switching from coal to less carbon intensive gas.

During last month’s U.N. Climate Summit in New York, attended by representative from more than 120 countries, President Obama boasted that: “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution by more than any other nation on Earth,” adding that the U.S. is on track to meet his 2009 pledge to cut carbon emissions 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.

It has been widely accepted that this result is due to replacing the use of ‘dirty’ coal with a much cleaner-burning natural gas, which has been widely – and cheaply – available from shale. In its new study – carried out using figures from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) -Greenpeace questions this belief by claiming that only around 30 per cent of the emissions reduction came from switching from coal to gas.

Energydesk’s analysis shows that renewables have been responsible for 40 per cent of the drop in US emissions, with the remaining 30 per cent arising from improved efficiency. Generation from wind power plants alone accounted for 32 per cent of the drop – a slightly larger contribution than that made by gas.

Greenpeace’s analysis comes days after a report has found that the impact of a gas boom on CO2 emissions ranged from a small cut of two per cent to an increase of 11 per cent. What is more, the analysis does not take into considerations any possible methane leaks, which would further undermine any green credentials associated with shale gas.

Natural gas (methane) is considered a more environmentally-friendly energy source than coal since, when combusted, it produces about 45 per cent less carbon dioxide than coal in producing the same amount of electricity. Having said that, in its pure state, methane is far more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. It is widely believed that over the period of 25 years, the global warming potential of methane is 72 times that of carbon dioxide.

“The supposed climate benefits of fracking have been a big selling point for the shale lobby, but this myth has now been cut down to size by compelling new evidence,” said Greenpeace energy analyst Lauri Myllyvirta. “Our analysis shows that it was the clean tech boom, not the fracking rush, that slashed the bulk of carbon emissions from the US power sector.”

“Ahead of a crunch year for global negotiations on a new climate deal, all the evidence points to clean technologies and smarter energy use as the most effective solutions to tackle climate change,” Myllyvirta said. “Our political leaders will do well to remember this.”

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