McGOWAN: Natural gas lowers emissions, helps economy

Lillie Langlois—
Penn State graduate students inspect a natural gas pipeline in 2013.

Most people don’t know it, but the United States leads the world in reduction of carbon emissions while also leading the world in production and refining of oil and natural gas. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions for 2016 dropped 1.7 percent below 2015 levels, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. EIA notes the downward trajectory is “consistent with a decade-long trend, with energy-related CO2 emissions 14 percent below the 2005 level in 2016.”
The historic link between rising CO2 emissions and economic growth has been broken, thanks primarily to greater availability of clean-burning natural gas. The rise in the use of natural gas is market-driven, not regulation-driven. It doesn’t take top-down mandates from Washington to recognize the benefits of natural gas as an affordable, reliable, and abundant power source. That’s not the only way America’s oil and natural gas sector is contributing to cleaner air.
Here in North Carolina, CO2 emissions from the electric sector have dropped by 24 percent over the last decade, while at the same time natural gas generation has increased from less than 5,000 gigawatt-hours per year to 40,000 GWh per year. Natural gas is helping clean our air while providing reliable and affordable energy to fuel our economy.
Another benefit of market-driven emissions reductions: it was achieved without increased costs for American families and businesses. In fact, Americans have saved on energy costs. Drivers saved over $550 at the pump in 2015, while household budgets saved $1,337 on utility bills and energy-related expenses. U.S. industrial electricity costs are 30-50 percent lower than those of our foreign competitors, spurring a manufacturing renaissance. The facts demonstrate we don’t have to choose between energy security and environmental progress. With forward-thinking, market-based energy policies, the U.S. energy renaissance can continue to provide benefits for American consumers, workers and the environment.
In fact, we have an example of that right here in North Carolina with the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline in eastern North Carolina along the Interstate 95 corridor. Looking at a map of North Carolina’s existing natural gas infrastructure, there are large portions of the state that do not have access to this low-cost resource, and the whole state desperately needs diversity of supply for energy security, reliability, and affordability. Right now, we are limited to one network of pipelines for all of our natural gas needs. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will provide a critical secondary source and do so in an area of the state which so badly needs the economic development that will be spurred by low cost, cleaner burning, reliable, domestically produced natural gas.
North Carolinians have an opportunity before them to support a project that will economically transform impoverished communities while leading to environmental benefits and enhanced energy resiliency. Many opponents to this and other necessary infrastructure projects would have you believe this must be an either/or decision, but that is a fallacy. We can enjoy the many benefits domestic natural gas provides and do so while being sensitive to private property rights as well as the cherished environment around us. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they are values we all care about deeply as North Carolinians.

A North Carolina native, David McGowan is executive director of the North Carolina Petroleum Council.