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U.S. First Quarter Carbon Emissions Lowest Since 1992

U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from energy use (natural gas, coal and oil) during the first quarter were the lowest in two decades for any January-March period, according to a new report issued by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

CO2 emissions typically are highest in the first quarter due to the strong demand for heat produced by fossil fuels, but three factors contributed to lower emissions during the January-March period: a mild winter reduced household heating demand and therefore energy use; demand for coal-fired electricity generation fell due to historically low natural gas prices; and demand for gasoline dropped.

U.S. CO2 emissions from energy demand totaled 1,340 million metric tons during the first quarter, down nearly 8% from the comparable period in 2011, and the lowest for a January-March period since 1992, the EIA said.

CO2 emissions from coal were down 18% to 387 million metric tons during the January-March period, which was the lowest first quarter CO2 emissions from coal since 1983 and the lowest for any quarter since April-June 1986, the agency said. It said about 90% of the energy-related CO2 emissions from coal came from the electric power sector. Coal has the highest carbon intensity of all major fossil fuels.

Despite the use of more gas to generate electricity, overall CO2 emissions from natural gas fell 2.8% to about 391 million metric tons in the first quarter. The quarterly carbon emissions for cleaner-burning gas were four million metric tons higher than those for coal because the fuel serves more energy sectors -- electric, industrial and residential -- while coal primarily caters to the electric generation market, said an EIA spokesman.

The electric power sector accounted for about 27% of the CO2 emissions from natural gas, while 20% came from the residential sector. The industrial sector was the biggest producer of CO2 emissions from natural gas at 28% for the January-March period, but the emissions were up by only two million metric tons from the comparable period in 2011, according to the EIA.

Petroleum CO2 emissions fell 2.7% during the first quarter to 559 million metric tons due to reduced gasoline and heating oil demand. Petroleum CO2 emissions were at the lowest level for any quarter since April-June 1996, the EIA said.

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