U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions – 2011

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) isn’t like other federal government agencies.

It’s useful and easy to understand.

It tells everything you always wanted to know about energy production in the United States, but were afraid to ask.

Wanna know more about green or fossil energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels, hydro, coal, natural gas, nuclear or petroleum? Then the EIA is the place for you. It has more data than you can shake a stick at and produces the prettiest, most colorful charts and graphs you ever did see.

You can get automatic email alerts from here.

An example of it’s usefulness is this yearly report on U.S. CO2 emissions released yesterday:
U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 2011“- EIA, 8/14/2012

It is a timely report touching on the greatest public science concern of our time:
Man-Caused Global Warming!

The report is fascinating both for what it says, as well as for what it doesn’t say.

U.S. CO2 emissions from 1990 to 2011

This first EIA graph in the report shows two important things:

  1. The amount of energy-related CO2 released into the earth’s atmosphere by year.
  2. The percentage change in CO2 emissions from one year to the next

Highlighted in yellow from 2004 to 2007 you can see that CO2 atmospheric emissions peaked at about 6 billion metric tons. It increased 17% from 1990 to 2007.

Since 2007, CO2 emissions have decreased by about 500 million metric tons. That is about an 8% drop.

It is a bit surprising to see that CO2 emissions into the atmosphere over time do not always go up. It fluctuates. Some years it actually deceases.

The EIA report goes to great lengths to explain that some decreases in CO2 emissions are due to slower economic growth and something called “kaya identity”. People simply use less energy during a recession, so less CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere.

The EIA doesn’t specifically point this out, but the recession years (1991, 2001, 2008 and 2009) is where CO2 emissions decreased. That makes sense.

So why did CO2 emissions drop in 2011? It is highlight in yellow to.

2011 was not a recession year. It had nearly as strong an economy as 2010. 2011 was reportedly a hot year. Yet CO2 emissions dropped more than either economic or favorable weather can account for.

What happened in 2011?

In 2011, CO2 emissions dropped back down to the levels of the deepest darkest depths of the Great Recession. How can that be? The EIA notes that CO2 emissions dropped in 2011, and provides a partial explanation, but doesn’t adequately explain it all.

In a nutshell, the EIA doesn’t tell you the real reason: Increased Natural Gas Production Using Fracking

Fracking has revolutionized the oil and gas industries. Natural gas production has risen so much and prices gone down so far that it is fast replacing coal-fired plants all across the nation. Coal, by no means is dead. It will be a primary energy source for many decades to come.

Shiny new natural gas-fired electric plants are replacing retired coal-fired ones. The cost of retrofitting coal plants to meet EPA regulations is not cost effective and natural gas is cheaper and cleaner burning.

In its report, the EIA does say that in 2005 coals’ share of electricity generation was 51% but only 43% by 2011. Cleaner burning natural gas, which emits some 33% less CO2 and even fewer other pollutants has taken up the slack. That trend will continue and may even accelerate.

Enough natural gas-fired electric plants have finally come online to be noticed. EIA says natural gas is primarily responsible for the 500 million metric ton reduction in CO2 emissions that we see today.

The U.S. Energy Horizon

In other EIA reports, it forecasts that natural gas production will continue rising at least through 2035 when over 50% of all production will come through hydraulic fracturing.

The EIA forecasts that fossil fuels will still supply 77% of all energy consumed in the United States in 2035. On the other hand, the EIA says that all renewable sources combined, including biofuels, will double yet still supply just 15%.

In 2035 natural gas will supply 25% of total U.S. energy needs.


The U.S. did not sign the United Nations Kyoto Treaty to reduce a country’s greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels.

Ironically, though, the United States might be the only country that can do it. For electricity generation it will be accomplished entirely by the private-sector without any government funding!

At the current reduction rate (500Mt/4-years) Kyoto’s 1990 standard will be met in just 4 years!!

There are several reasons why natural gas is not hailed as a greenhouse gas solution:

  • It is a fossil fuel
  • It is non-renewable
  • Environmental concerns over fracking
  • It goes against government green energy policy

More radical environmentalists hate anything fossil. They’d chose to let global greenhouse gases rise rather than embrace a clean fossil fuel solution.

The bottom line is this…
Non-renewable, natural gas is gonna be a major supplier of energy in the U.S. for many decades to come. Renewables are the long-term energy solution, of course, but it will be a half century or more before they are ready to replace fossil fuels. That does not help us in the here and now.

It is time for this country to face reality. Resolve any environmental issues related to fracking and then embrace natural gas as this nation’s primary solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Replacing coal-fired electric plants with clean-burning natural gas is a national imperative.


About azleader

Learning to see life more clearly... one image at a time!

Posted on Aug 15, 2012, in Climate, culture, economics, Global Warming, Life, news, Opinion, Politics, Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Wind generation in the Midwest has gone up a lot too due to all the states having wind mandates. Windmills might not be good on hot summer days, but at night, and in the winter the windiness is usually better, so the coal plants do not get run as much as well, helping lower the CO2 footprint.

    Also I think down south a couple of new nuclear units are getting near commencial operation which will reduce coal use a bit more too. Who would ever have thought that the US would see shrinking CO2 emissions even when the economy is not in recession. One warning though is price of natural gas. Will it stay low? Only time will tell because natural gas fired cars are getting competitive for corporate fleets. GM has new pickups that burn natural gas.

    • There is an article on the front page of my local paper today quoting both Michael Mann (the famous alarmist hockey-stick guy) and Roger Pielke (a global warming skeptic) crediting natural gas as the reason U.S. CO2 emissions are down so much.

      It is interesting that, overall, global CO2 emissions are up by about 500Mt to the highest levels yet… led by China. U.S. CO2 emissions are down by that same 500Mt amount.

      In other words, the U.S. is leading the world in atmospheric CO2 reductions without a penny of taxpayer money involved and while the Administration is actively seeking to restrict the practice that has made it all possible. It is all being done through private-sector investments. No IPCC anything. No mega-government expenditures.

      With all the “stimulus” money put into windmills, it is up to about 3% of expensive electricity generation. Natural gas production has increased by 2.5 times just since January 2010 and supplies 25% and rising rapidly.

      Gas-fired electricity plants can’t be build fast enough to keep up with production.

      Natural gas electric plant technology and fuel supplies can and should be a major U.S. export market.

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