Carbon emissions in the U.S. have hit a 20-year low due to a supposedly environmentally unfriendly drilling technique that has created an abundance of cheap natural gas. The free market, it seems, does it better than the EPA.
Environmentalists find themselves between shale rock and a hard place after a little noticed technical report documented how the natural gas boom caused by the use of hydraulic fracturing has actually helped the environment in a major way while also creating jobs and economic growth.
In the report, the U.S. Energy Information Agency, a part of the Energy Department, said that energy-related U.S. CO2 emissions for the first four months of this year fell to about 1992 levels. EIA estimates that full-year emissions will be the lowest since at least 1995.
The untold story is that this has been achieved by the free market and private-sector technology, not government mandates.
Environmentalists contend, without evidence, that these chemical additives will and have contaminated groundwater supplies. The mixture used to fracture shale is in fact a benign blend of 90% water, 9.5% sand and 0.5% chemicals such as the sodium chloride of table salt and the citric acid of the orange juice you had for breakfast. Shale formations in which frac'ing is employed are thousands of feet deep. Drinking water aquifers are generally only a hundred feet deep. There's a lot of solid rock between them.
Conservation efforts, the laggard economy and greater use of renewable energy are factors in the CO2 decline. But the drop-off is due mainly to low-priced natural gas, the agency said. This due to the huge new supplies opened up on state and private lands by frac'ing.
Shale gas drilling in places like Northeast's Marcellus Shale and Eagle Ford Shale in Texas has driven the wholesale price of natural gas from $7 or $8 per unit to $3 in four years, making it cheaper to burn than coal for a given amount of energy produced.
Coal this year will account for about 37% of the nation's electricity, natural gas 30% and nuclear about 19%. Meanwhile, the much-touted wind supplied less than 3% of the nation's electricity in 2011, according to EIA data, and solar power far less.
The IEA says the U.S. has cut carbon dioxide emissions more than any other country over the last six years. Total U.S. carbon emissions from energy consumption peaked at about 6 billion metric tons in 2007.
Projections for this year are around 5.3 billion, and the 1990 figure was about 5 billion. That figure is likely to decline as more areas are opened, and if the war on frac'ing by environmentalists and their supporters in the Obama administration ends.