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Total CO2 From NatGas to Surpass Coal in 2016, EIA Says

As natural gas continues to surge higher in its share of the power stack in 2016, the fuel is also expected to generate more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than rival coal for the first time since 1972, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

“Even though natural gas is less carbon-intensive than coal, increases in natural gas consumption and decreases in coal consumption in the past decade have resulted in natural gas-related CO2 emissions surpassing those from coal,” EIA said in a note published Wednesday.

The agency’s latest Short-term Energy Outlook projected energy-related CO2 emissions from natural gas to be 10% higher than from coal in 2016 (see Daily GPI, Aug. 9).

While overall coal and natural gas consumption were similar from 1990 to 2005, emissions from gas were lower, EIA said. “The consumption of natural gas results in about 52 million metric tons of CO2 for every” million MMBtus (MMmtCO2/quad Btu), while coal emits about 95 MMmtCO2/quad Btu, EIA said.

In 2005, when coal and natural gas consumption were nearly equal, coal generated 84% more CO2 than gas, EIA said. “In 2015, natural gas consumption was 81% higher than coal consumption, and their emissions were nearly equal. Both fuels were associated with about 1.5 billion metric tons of energy-related CO2 emissions in the United States in 2015.”

Meanwhile, overall carbon intensity rates in the United States have been trending downward since 2005, coinciding with the decrease in coal consumption.

“Another contributing factor to lower carbon intensity is increased consumption of fuels that produce no” CO2, such as nuclear and renewable energy. “Although the use of natural gas and petroleum have increased in recent years, the decline in coal consumption and increase in nonfossil fuel consumption have lowered U.S. total carbon intensity from 60 MMmtCO2/quad Btu in 2005 to 54 MMmtCO2/quad Btu in 2015,” EIA said.

The latest CO2 emissions data comes as anti-fossil fuel groups continue to push back against the development of domestic natural gas resources, with the environmental community still challenging last year’s Environmental Protection Agency study that found no evidence of “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources” from hydraulic fracturing (see Shale Daily, Aug. 12).

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