Econintersect: 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 plants. Click on photo for large picture of eastern U.S. Marcellus shale drilling rig.
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.
- Weekly rail traffic reports (GEI News)
- Monthly transport data analysis (GEI Analysis)
- Electrical Power Monthly (U.S. Energy Information Agency, 30 April 2012)
- Shale Gas Boom Helps to Slash CO2 Emissions, As Well as Create Jobs and Save Consumers Billions (Mark J. Perry, Carpe Diem, 23 May 2012)
- Shale gas boom helps slash US emissions (Guy Chazan, Financial Times, 23 May 2012)
- EPA: Fracking may cause groundwater pollution (Mead Gruver, Associated Press, USA Today, 8 December 2011)