EIA: natural gas CO2 emissions in U.S. pass coal as consumption volumes shift

The U.S. Energy Information Administrations expects the energy-associated CO2 emissions from natural gas to surpass those from coal for the first time since 1972.

Despite natural gas being less carbon-intensive than coal, increases in natural gas consumption and decreases in coal consumption in the past decade have resulted in natural gas-related CO2 emissions surpassing those from coal, EIA said.

CO2 emissions from natural gas are expected to be 10 percent higher than CO2 emissions from coal, according to projections in EIA’s short-term energy outlook.

Coal’s carbon intensity is about 82 percent higher than natural gas’, reaching 95 million metric tons of CO2 for every quadrillion British thermal units compared to 52 MMmtCO2/quad Btu from natural gas.

In the period from 1990 to about 2005 the consumption of both coal and natural gas remained relatively similar in the United States, according to EIA. However, in 2015, when both fuels were associated with about 1.5 billion metric tons of energy-related CO2 emissions in the United States, natural gas consumption was 81 percent higher compared to coal.

In the period since 2005, annual carbon intensity rates in the United States have been decreasing. One of the contributing factors is “increased consumption of fuels that produce no carbon dioxide, such as nuclear-powered electricity and renewable energy,” EIA says.

Despite the increase in use of natural gas and petroleum, which is less carbon-intensive than coal but more carbon-intensive than natural gas, the decline in coal consumption in the U.S. and the rise in nonfossil fuel consumption have lowered U.S. total carbon intensity from 60 MMmtCO2/quad Btu in 2005 to 54 MMmtCO2/quad Btu in 2015.