Coal Usage and U.S. Carbon Emissions Decline

May 24th, 2012
in Background

shale-drill-rigSMALLEconintersect:  The railroad carload data for coal has been declining over the past couple of years and especially so in the past several months.  Steven Hansen has been reporting this data monthly at GEI Analysis and GEI News also has weekly reports.  The reason for this decline is due at least in part to the reduced amounts of coal used for electrical power production.  The EIA (U.S. Energy Information Agency) reports in its latest data that use of coal for power generation fell by 17.7% for the U.S. from February 2011 to the same month this year.  The reason for the decline?  Increased use of cheap shale gas is displacing coal as the fuel in power plantsClick on photo for large picture of eastern U.S. Marcellus shale drilling rig.

Follow up:

The following graph (Mark J. Perry, Carpe Diem) shows how dramatically the use of coal for electricity generation has fallen in the past thirteen years.


The shift in fuel is having another result; The U.S. is producing less CO2.  According to an article by Guy Chazan in the Financial Times:

According to the International Energy Agency, US energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, fell by 450m tonnes over the past five years – the largest drop among all countries surveyed.

Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, attributed the fall to improvements in fuel efficiency in the transport sector and a “major shift” from coal to gas in the power sector. “This is a success story based on a combination of policy and technology – policy driving greater efficiency and technology making shale gas production viable,” Mr Birol told the Financial Times.

The increased production of shale gas has produced low gas prices in the U.S., at levels not seen for a decade.  However the extraction process, called flacking, has been criticized for risking pollution of ground water resources.

The reduced CO2 emissions in the U.S. have occurred when the output for the entire planet has been increasing rapidly, according to the Financial Times.

John Lounsbury


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  1. ray ban wayfarers says :

    Thanks!It's a good news to us.We even though have many mineral resources, it's limited to our human-beings.It also can reduce environmental pollution, let us breath flesh air.

  2. ghengis khan says :

    there is simply no factual basis for the theory "natural gas is being used to power the grid." what we DO know is that demand for electricity has been falling for 30 years...spectacularly so in the last three..and that a build out of a "natural gas infrastructure" proceeds apace and directly into consumers' homes and businesses. should demand continue to drop obviously the already existing and massive nuclear power and hydro-power infrastructure will assume a greater role as well.

  3. admin (Member) Email says :

    OK, here is backup electric demand has been increasing for the last 30 years:

    start on page 255

    look at the graph on page 258 and notice the rate of rise of natural gas for fuel.

    got other pages you can contemplate...

    Seriously, if you have data to the contrary - we would like to see it. we have no problem correcting anything written as the facts are important.

    steven hansen

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