U.S. Becomes a Climate Champ?
As natural gas has replaced coal for U.S. energy supplies, carbon dioxide emissions have plummeted to 20 year lows, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Notes Associated Press: “The drop-off is due mainly to low-priced natural gas, the agency said. A frenzy of shale gas drilling in the Northeast's Marcellus Shale and in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana has caused the wholesale price of natural gas to plummet from $7 or $8 per unit to about $3 over the past four years, making it cheaper to burn than coal for a given amount of energy produced. As a result, utilities are relying more than ever on gas-fired generating plants.” In 2005, half of U.S. electricity came from coal plants; today that’s down to 34 percent.
Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, told AP it was "ironic" that the shift has brought the U.S. closer to meeting the greenhouse gas targets of the 1997 Kyoto treaty on global warming, which the United States never ratified.
Few environmentalists are popping corks over the news, however. That’s because of concerns that hydraulic fracturing of natural gas pollutes groundwater supplies and, without proper restrictions, releases methane, a gas whose global-warming potential is 25 times that of carbon dioxide. Read more about a fossil fuel that’s “dirty, dangerous, and run amok” at the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas site, and Sierra’s July/August feature story “Fractured Lives.”
Image by iStock/drnadig
Reed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”