Full Title: Leveraging Natural Gas to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Author(s): Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
Publisher(s): Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
Publication Date: 6/2013



Recent technological advances have unleashed a boom in U.S. natural gas production, with expanded supplies and substantially lower prices projected well into the future. Because combusting natural gas yields fewer greenhouse gas emissions than  coal or petroleum, the expanded use of natural gas offers significant opportunities to help address global climate change.  The substitution of gas for coal in the power sector, for example, has contributed to a recent decline in U.S. greenhouse  gas emissions. Natural gas, however, is not carbon-free. Apart from the emissions released by its combustion, natural gas  is composed primarily of methane (CH  4), a potent greenhouse gas, and the direct release of methane during production,  transmission, and distribution may offset some of the potential climate benefits of its expanded use across the economy.

This report explores the opportunities and challenges in leveraging the natural gas boom to achieve further reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Examining the implications of expanded use in key sectors of the economy, it  recommends policies and actions needed to maximize climate benefits of natural gas use in power generation, buildings, manufacturing, and transportation (Table ES-1). More broadly, the report draws the following conclusions:

  • The expanded use of natural gas—as a replacement for coal and petroleum—can help our efforts to reduce  greenhouse gas emissions in the near- to mid-term, even as the economy grows. In 2013, energy sector emissions  are at the lowest levels since 1994, in part because of the substitution of natural gas for other fossil fuels, particularly coal. Total U.S. emissions are not expected to reach 2005 levels again until sometime after 2040.
  • Substitution of natural gas for other fossil fuels cannot be the sole basis for long-term U.S. efforts to address  climate change because natural gas is a fossil fuel and its combustion emits greenhouse gases. To avoid  dangerous climate change, greater reductions will be necessary than natural gas alone can provide. Ensuring  that low-carbon investment dramatically expands must be a priority. Zero-emission sources of energy, such as  wind, nuclear and solar, are critical, as are the use of carbon capture-and-storage technologies at fossil fuel  plants and continued improvements in energy efficiency.
  • Along with substituting natural gas for other fossil fuels, direct releases of methane into the atmosphere must be  minimized. It is important to better understand and more accurately measure the greenhouse gas emissions from  natural gas production and use in order to achieve emissions reductions along the entire natural gas value chain.