Good morning. Excellent news abounds. The United States has significantly lowered its airborne emissions of CO2. This is truly positive news, given that the US EPA and many members of Congress view this pollutant with such concern that they would willingly consign the economy to a system of CO2 permits that would limit what can be produced, consumed and enjoyed by every American.
The news gets even better than what I portrayed in the chart above. The 2011 data for CO2 emissions is lower than the last year I portrayed in the chart. Q1 of 2012 (the data normalization is complicated. They run a couple of quarters behind in publishing stats.) is 7.5% lower than 2011’s emissions pace. Investor’s Business Daily describes the shift in emissions below.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) June energy report says that energy-related carbon dioxide fell to 5,473 million metric tons (MMT) in 2011. That's down from a high of 6,020 MMT in 2007, and only a little above 1995's level of 5,314 MMT. Better yet, emissions in the first quarter of 2012 fell at an even faster rate — down 7.5% from the first quarter of 2011 and 8.5% from the same time in 2010. If the rest of 2012 follows its first-quarter trend, we may see total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions drop to early-1990s levels.
A major reason this decline occurred is the rise of Natural Gas usage over petroleum in US power generation facilities. As oil prices become increasingly expensive due to supply crunches and volatile due to geopolitical difficulties, an economic demand has arisen for a source of power generation fuel that is affordable and that enjoys a relatively stable price outlook. Coal would be a natural winner, but the recent regulatory findings by the EPA, to include the disastrous MACT regulations, would make coal artificially cost-prohibitive due to the capital modifications that are required for a power plant to remain in regulatory compliance.
The MACT regulations are so prohibitive of coal-fired power generation that one source dubbed them a poorly disguised Cap-and-Trade scheme. Specific details of how MACT biases power generators against the use of coal follow below.
“The proposed rule…will require any new power plant to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt of electricity produced,” the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin writes. “The average U.S. natural gas plant, which emits 800 to 850 pounds of CO2 per megawatt, meets that standard; coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt.”
So how does any aspect of this raging fuster-cluck contribute to the positive success the United States has enjoyed with respect to controlling emissions of CO2? This is where hydraulic fracturing comes into its own as a clean, green, planet-saving technology. Assuming a worst-case natural gas plant from the data quoted above, switching a power generation facility from coal to natural gas saves 918 pounds of CO2 per megawatt. This transition is currently taking place across America.
Indeed, natural gas has just passed an important milestone. As noted by John Hanger, energy expert and former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection: "As of April, gas tied coal at 32% of the electric power generation market, nearly ending coal's 100-year reign on top of electricity markets."
- IBD, 17 July 2012
Thus, the EPA predictably hones in on the use of hydraulic fracturing.
Federal regulators are ramping up their oversight of the Marcellus with dual investigations in the northeastern and southwestern corners of Pennsylvania. EPA is also sampling water around Pennsylvania for its national study of the potential environmental and public health impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the technique that blasts a cocktail of sand, water and chemicals deep underground to stimulate oil and gas production in shale formations like the Marcellus. Fracking allows drillers to reach previously inaccessible gas reserves, but it produces huge volumes of polluted wastewater and environmentalists say it can taint groundwater. Energy companies deny it.
So the government worries deeply about concentrations of CO2 in the planetary atmosphere. They hand down what many believe is an excessive and job-killing MACT regulation to control CO2 emissions from large power generation facilities. Industry responds with innovative technology to switch these facilities over to less polluting fuel sources. It will work brilliantly – if the US EPA allows it to.
Contra the recent claim by our Centralizer-In-Chief Barack Obama; the government doesn’t give business people their success. If that government is prudent, it gets out of their way and allows it. We will see if the US EPA can intelligently get out of the way of the power generation industry and allow them to profitably comply with MACT and continue reducing US CO2 emissions.