Natural Gas Is The Key To Our Low-Carbon Future

January 2010 Vol. 237 No. 1

From Copenhagen to the U.S. Congress, policymakers are deeply engaged on climate change and looking for innovative solutions to advance a low-carbon future. While the headlines tend to shine light on the prospects for coal at one end of the spectrum and renewables at the other, not enough of the conversation has focused on the vast opportunity found right here in North America in clean, abundant natural gas.

With the rapid rise of the shale plays alongside other technological breakthroughs, the U.S. now has vast, homegrown supplies of natural gas that can meet our nation’s energy needs for generations to come. As a result, natural gas offers our nation a game-changing opportunity to play a global leadership role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions – all while advancing our energy security and creating American jobs.

To exercise this leadership, it is critical that we increase our use of clean fuel sources sooner rather than later. Natural gas can be immediately dispatched using existing infrastructure to produce meaningful carbon reductions today. By increasing our production and use of this energy source, we can significantly curb carbon emissions in the power and transportation sectors, which collectively are responsible for more than 60% of U.S. carbon emissions.

Several companies within the U.S. power sector are leading this transition, switching to natural gas as an alternative to higher emission fuel sources or as a partner with renewable energy sources. In December, Progress Energy, a North Carolina utility, announced plans to shut down 11 coal-fired units totaling nearly 1,500 megawatts by 2017. Progress recognized a need to shift to natural gas, which is 50% cleaner than coal, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Southern Company, the largest U.S. electricity producer, announced in September that it will boost its use of natural gas by 24%, given the commodity’s attractive price.

Power companies across America also are embracing a constructive and growing partnership between natural gas and renewables. General Electric is coupling fast-start gas turbines with renewable projects. In Topeka, KS, Westar is pairing four gas turbines with 300 megawatts’ worth of wind capacity. And Florida Power & Light, the nation’s largest renewable-energy developer, is in the process of building America’s second-largest solar plant. The company is putting its new facility next to a natural gas plant to ensure continuous power supply when the sun isn’t shining.

Similar to leading utilities, many public and private entities have been making the switch to natural gas vehicles as well. Because natural gas contains less carbon per unit of energy than any other fossil fuel, it produces 25% less CO-2 emissions per vehicle mile traveled than engines that run on gasoline or diesel.

Companies such as AT&T, Wal-Mart, SYSCO, Disney, UPS and Fed-Ex have begun converting their fleets to save money and decrease their carbon footprint.

Municipalities also are getting in on the action. One early leader is New York City. Its alternative-fuel vehicle and clean-fuel taxi programs have displaced 70 million gallons of petroleum, put nearly 1,000 light, medium and heavy-duty natural gas vehicles on city streets and installed 24 refueling stations. Similar efforts are under way in Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Phoenix, Dallas and other cities.

“The natural gas industry employs nearly three million Americans. These economic opportunities are spread throughout our country and, most importantly, they are growing today despite the challenging economic climate. In the Marcellus Shale alone, which stretches from Kentucky to New York, abundant resources of natural gas are expected to create 98,000 jobs in Pennsylvania by 2010 while generating $800 million in state and local tax revenues, according to a recent Penn State University study.

Similarly, newfound natural gas supplies in the Barnett Shale in Texas are expected to add one million years of employment in natural gas industry jobs in Texas and $100 billion to the state’s economy through 2015 alone, according to a March study released by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.”

From leading U.S. companies to top energy producers and forward-looking cities, our nation is embracing natural gas. But our national policy conversations in Washington are still catching up. A recent report from Deloitte decries “the marginalization of natural gas” in the nation’s capital, noting that “this relatively clean fuel is desperately sought after by nearly every country, yet somehow the U.S. considers it a lesser fuel.”

It’s time we change that. From the NAT GAS Act, which would encourage the use of natural gas in transportation, to ongoing debates about climate and energy policy, natural gas must play a primary role in our solutions for the future.

As energy demand continues to rise – expected to increase 40% by 2030 – we should not underestimate the role of low-emission, reliable sources of domestically produced energy. A full 98% of natural gas used in America is produced right here in North America. That means the byproducts of our transition to greater use of this domestic energy source are more American jobs and less dependence on foreign sources of energy.

In the midst of a difficult economic and energy landscape, America has an extraordinary opportunity to rise to the occasion and take the lead on the issues of climate change and energy. Can we change the world? You bet. And, the solutions start right here at home. Contact information–, 202-944-1930,

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