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Research & Commentary: EPA Finds Greenhouse Gas Emissions Continue to Decline as Oil, Natural Gas Production Soars

April 28, 2021

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Now 11.6 Percent Below 2005 Levels, Primarily Due To Fracking

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2021 Greenhouse Gas Inventory (GHGI) was released in early April, revealing total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States decreased by 113.1 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, or 1.7 percent from 2018 to 2019. Indeed, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have now dropped by 11.6 percent of their 2005 levels, and are just 2.8 percent higher than their 1990 levels.  

“Between 2018 and 2019, the decrease in total greenhouse gas emissions was driven largely by a decrease in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion,” EPA notes.

CO2 emissions in the power sector have also decreased by 33 percent since 2005, at the same time as natural gas-fired electricity generation has increased by 108 percent. Nearly half (48 percent) of the power sector’s emissions reductions have been the result of increased use in natural gas, according to a 2021 report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  

According to EPA, methane emissions have also decreased 16.6 percent since 1990, while natural gas production has increased 96 percent over that time period and oil production has also increased by 66 percent.

All of this is a direct result of the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) revolution that has made accessible large natural gas and oil reserves and transformed the country’s energy outlook over the past 15 years.

Quite simply, despite opposition from environmental groups, who have attempted to ban fracking at every opportunity, the industry has transformed the nation’s long-term energy outlook. Moreover, its gradual replacement of coal in the country’s energy portfolio is the main driver of these dramatic reductions in GHG emissions.

Not only is fracking helping reduce GHG emissions, it is also providing large economic benefits to local communities located near drilling activities. A study published in the American Economic Review in April 2017 found “each million dollars of new [oil and gas] production produces $80,000 in wage income and $132,000 in royalty and business income within a county. Within 100 miles, one million dollars of new production generates $257,000 in wages and $286,000 in royalty and business income.”

Fracking delivers $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, including “a 7 percent increase in average income, driven by rises in wages and royalty payments, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a 6 percent increase in housing prices,” according to a December 2016 study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Fossil fuels have benefited human health by making possible the dramatic increase in human prosperity that has occurred since the first Industrial Revolution, which made possible investments in goods and services that are essential to protecting human health and prolonging human life,” conclude the authors of a 2018 Heartland Institute Policy Brief. “Fossil fuels further improve human health by making environmental protection both valued and financially possible, and by powering technologies that protect human health and extend lives, including electricity, cars and trucks, and plastics.”

Fracking enables the cost-effective extraction of once-inaccessible oil and natural gas deposits. These energy sources are abundant, inexpensive, environmentally safe, and can ensure the United States remains a leading energy producer well beyond the twenty-first century. Therefore, policymakers should refrain from placing unnecessary burdens on the natural gas and oil industries, which are safe and have a positive impact on the environment and economy.

The following documents provide more information about hydraulic fracturing and fossil fuels.

What If…Hydraulic Fracturing Were Banned? (2020 Edition)
https://www.globalenergyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/2019-12/hf_ban_report_final.pdf
This study from the Global Energy Institute at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says a ban on fracking in the United States would be catastrophic for our economy. Their analysis shows that if such a ban were imposed in 2021, by 2025 it would eliminate 19 million jobs and reduce U.S. Gross Domestic Product by $7.1 trillion. Tax revenue at the local, state, and federal levels would decline by nearly a combined $1.9 trillion. Natural gas prices would leap by 324 percent, causing household energy bills to more than quadruple. By 2025, motorists would pay twice as much at the pump for gasoline as oil prices spike to $130 per barrel, while less domestic energy production would also mean less energy security.

America’s Progress at Risk: An Economic Analysis of a Ban on Fracking and Federal Leasing for Natural Gas and Oil Development
https://www.api.org/~/media/Files/Oil-and-Natural-Gas/Hydraulic-Fracturing/2020/fracking-ban-study-americas-progress-at-risk.pdf
The study from the American Petroleum Institute (conducted by economic modeling firm OnLocation) warns that banning federal leasing and fracking on public and private lands, which some presidential candidates have proposed, would cost up to 7.5 million American jobs in 2022 alone, lead to a cumulative GDP loss of $7.1 trillion by 2030, slash household incomes by $5,400 annually, increase household energy costs by more than $600 per year and reduce farm incomes by 43 percent due to higher energy costs. If a ban is enacted, the U.S. would flip from being a net exporter of oil and petroleum products to importing more than 40 percent of supplies by 2030.

Debunking Four Persistent Myths about Hydraulic Fracturing
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/debunking-four-persistent-myths-about-hydraulic-fracturing
This Heartland Institute Policy Brief by Policy Analyst Timothy Benson and former Heartland communications intern Linnea Lueken outlines the basic elements of the fracking process and then refutes the four most widespread fracking myths, providing lawmakers and the public with the research and data they need to make informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing.

The Local Economic and Welfare Consequences of Hydraulic Fracturing
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-local-economic-and-welfare-consequences-of-hydraulic-fracturing
This comprehensive study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research says fracking brings, on average, $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, including a 7 percent increase in average income, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a 6 percent increase in housing prices.

Impacts of the Natural Gas and Oil Industry on the U.S. Economy in 2015
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/impacts-of-the-natural-gas-and-oil-industry-on-the-us-economy-in-2015
This study, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, shows that the natural gas and oil industry supported 10.3 million U.S. jobs in 2015. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage paid by the natural gas and oil industry, excluding retail station jobs, was $101,181 in 2016, which is nearly 90 percent more than the national average. The study also shows the natural gas and oil industry has had widespread impacts in each of the 50 states.

The U.S. Leads the World in Clean Air: The Case for Environmental Optimism
https://files.texaspolicy.com/uploads/2018/11/27165514/2018-11-RR-US-Leads-the-World-in-Clean-Air-ACEE-White.pdf
This paper from the Texas Public Policy Foundation examines how the United States achieved robust economic growth while dramatically reducing emissions of air pollutants. The paper states that these achievements should be celebrated as a public policy success story, but instead the prevailing narrative among political and environmental leaders is one of environmental decline that can only be reversed with a more stringent regulatory approach. Instead, the paper urges for the data to be considered and applied to the narrative.

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels – Summary for Policymakers
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/climate-change-reconsidered-ii-fossil-fuels---summary-for-policymakers
In this fifth volume of the Climate Change Reconsidered series, 117 scientists, economists, and other experts assess the costs and benefits of the use of fossil fuels by reviewing scientific and economic literature on organic chemistry, climate science, public health, economic history, human security, and theoretical studies based on integrated assessment models (IAMs) and cost-benefit analysis (CBA).

The Social Benefits of Fossil Fuels
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-social-benefits-of-fossil-fuels
This Heartland Policy Brief by Joseph Bast and Peter Ferrara documents the many benefits from the historic and still ongoing use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are lifting billions of people out of poverty, reducing all the negative effects of poverty on human health, and vastly improving human well-being and safety by powering labor-saving and life-protecting technologies, such as air conditioning, modern medicine, and cars and trucks. They are dramatically increasing the quantity of food humans produce and improving the reliability of the food supply, directly benefiting human health. Further, fossil fuel emissions are possibly contributing to a “Greening of the Earth,” benefiting all the plants and wildlife on the planet.

 

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Heartland’s Government Relations department, at governmentrelations@heartland.org or 312/377-4000.

Author
Tim Benson joined The Heartland Institute in September 2015 as a policy analyst in the Government Relations Department.
TBenson@heartland.org @HeartlandGR