Increasing the use of natural gas in our energy mix is the fastest and most economical path to significantly reducing U.S. emissions of CO2. Combustion of natural gas generates very little sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, and that helps curb the formation of acid rain and smog. It doesn't generate particulate matter (soot), volatile organic compound or mercury emissions, and that also contributes to healthier air.
ConocoPhillips is committed to protecting the environment and continuously works to reduce air emissions from our operations. Natural gas, widely considered the cleanest-burning fuel available for the large-scale generation of electricity, is part of this commitment. We believe increasing the use of natural gas in our energy mix is the fastest and most economical path to significantly reducing U.S. emissions of CO2.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)1, natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide, less than a third as much nitrogen oxides and 1 percent as much sulfur oxides at the power plant compared to the average air emissions from coal-fired generation.
Moreover, burning natural gas for energy does not produce particulate matter (soot), volatile organic compounds, mercury or ash, making it is less likely to have a negative impact on air quality. And fewer sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions result in reduced formation of acid rain and smog.
A Potential Shortcut to Lowering CO2 Emissions
Research indicates that switching from coal to natural gas is the fastest and most economical path to significant CO2 emission reductions.
- A June 2011 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative found the difference with regard to greenhouse gas emissions to be so dramatic that it recommended replacing coal with natural gas as "the most practical near-term option for significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power generation."2
- The Congressional Research Service determined that doubling the utilization of combined cycle natural gas electrical generating capacity to 85 percent could potentially eliminate nearly 10 percent of all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.
- In April 2011, a controversial analysis presented by Cornell University professor Robert Howarth found that "natural gas was worse for climate change than coal."
- However, the Energy Department's National Energy Technology Laboratory reviewed the study's assumptions and came up with very different findings: Shale gas production results in 54 percent less life cycle greenhouse gas emissions than coal from an average power plant.
There is spare capacity available to generate more power from natural gas, especially as older coal-fired plants become less efficient to operate.
In 2007, ConocoPhillips became the first U.S.-based integrated energy company to call for a mandatory national framework to address greenhouse gas emission. Since that time, we have continued to advocate for smart policy solutions. We continue to implement a comprehensive corporate climate change action plan that includes risk management, business integration, efforts to reduce our emissions, leveraging carbon trading and technology, and external engagement.
We are also a partner in the EPA's Natural Gas STAR program. Under this voluntary program, we report methane emission reductions from oil and gas operations with a goal of improving operational efficiency and adoption of cost-effective emission reduction technologies. That effort has resulted in methane emission reductions of more than 10.5 billion cubic feet in our operations in Alaska, Lower 48 and Canada. We have implemented 417 projects that avoided potential greenhouse gas emissions and captured the methane for commercial sale.
For more information on our approach, click here.
1"Natural Gas," Environmental Protection Agency website http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/affect/natural-gas.html.
2"The Future of Natural Gas: An Interdisciplinary MIT Study" report by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, June 9, 2011: http://web.mit.edu/mitei/research/studies/naturalgas.html.