How America came to lead the way on cleaner energy

The natural gas and oil industry is reducing emissions while fueling a modern way of life globally

Those of us in the energy industry know that to power our modern way of life, we always must be agile and innovating to meet the world’s ever-increasing need for affordable and reliable energy. We know, too, that the energy powering our world must be cleaner.

December is a particularly good month to scan the energy horizon because it is a period of increased energy use as temperatures drop, holiday lights go up, and families travel to spend time together. For the natural gas and oil industry, winter is also a telling gauge of the progress we’re making to meet the nation’s energy needs in ways that best serve the American people, the economy and the environment.

You might think that a significant rise in energy use over the winter months, and over the years, would result in a similar increase in America’s carbon output. But that’s not the case. In fact, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have fallen over time, and the reason why might surprise you.

In the past decade, our industry has been changing, just as the nation has undergone seismic changes. From 2008 to 2018, the U.S. population grew by 20 million people, and the economy today is much more robust than in 2008. A snapshot of energy use in the last month of the year shows how the American energy sector has transformed during this time. In December 2018, Americans consumed 2.57% more energy than in December 2008. But even as energy use increased, emissions decreased. In fact, CO2 emissions fell more than 8% from December 2008 to December 2018. That’s equivalent to the amount of energy required to power more than 5 million homes for a year.

What accounts for this? A significant portion of today’s energy comes from American-produced natural gas instead of coal or natural gas or oil imported from foreign countries. This didn’t happen overnight, but has been decades in the making, as our industry has methodically invested in the technology, infrastructure and partnerships that are paying dividends today for our people and planet.

This year, just over one-third of electricity in the United States will be generated from natural gas, as power companies across the country transition away from coal. And because natural gas is far cleaner than coal, greenhouse gas emissions are lower. It’s worth celebrating that during this American energy renaissance, the U.S. has reduced carbon emissions more than any other country since 2000. Indeed, carbon emissions have fallen to the lowest levels in a generation. Now a global energy leader, the U.S. is committed to using our scale and reach to improve the global environment, our economy and our nation’s energy security. But we also know there is much more work to be done.

A tale of innovation

We didn’t arrive at this moment by chance. In 2005, drawing on years of research and technology trials, the U.S. began down a path toward a new future by increasing the domestic production of natural gas and oil from shale. For four decades, American presidents have been aspiring for the United States to “reduce dependence on foreign oil.” The shale revolution helped turn a well-worn talking point into our reality: a new era of American energy leadership.

In 2018, America produced a record amount of energy and became the worldwide leader in petroleum and natural gas production—an achievement that would have been unthinkable during the 1970s, when the U.S. was beholden to the volatility of foreign energy sources. Today, American energy exports are at an all-time high, while oil imports from OPEC countries fell to a 30-year low this year. These advances are helping America achieve energy security while bolstering our national security.

Meanwhile, the economic benefits of the shale revolution have been spreading coast to coast, as revitalized communities in states such as New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas can attest. Cities and small towns have seen their own renaissances, with a surge of jobs, progress and hope. More than $1 trillion in investments in natural gas infrastructure are planned in the coming years, which will support one million jobs annually and $38 billion in annual tax revenue. States are already seeing the benefits of this windfall: New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recently announced plans to use the additional tax funding to help more than 55,000 students in her state attend college at no cost.

Beyond our borders

Yet, in a global economy, and with a need for international progress on issues such as climate change, American energy leadership can drive progress beyond our borders. Now that the U.S. is exporting record amounts of natural gas, we’re seeing the benefits of the shale revolution abroad. As countries such as Canada, China and Japan have begun to substitute American natural gas for coal, global carbon dioxide emissions are falling. In China, natural gas demand increased 900% between 2009 and 2018, and the winter air quality improved 78% in Beijing because less coal is being burned.

We’re sharing our lessons learned and technological innovations, and have been for nearly a century. The U.S. natural gas and oil industry has been the world’s standards-setter since 1924. Around the world, engineers new to our industry are trained on our American Petroleum Institute standards that promote safety, environmental protection, reliability and sustainability through scientifically proven engineering practices. In fact, some of the same employees trained on API standards years ago are now CEOs of our member companies, instilling this culture of progress and high achievement across the industry.

Future Focus

And though we are proud of what we’ve achieved to date, we are humbled by how far we have to go to meet the challenges of our times, including issues such as energy poverty and climate change.

Today, nearly one billion people worldwide still don’t have access to electricity. Bringing energy to places without it is one of the most effective ways to alleviate poverty and invite opportunity to these communities and their people. In fact, the United Nations has made “ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services” by 2030 one of its Sustainable Development Goals.

American exports of natural gas will help to make this international goal possible. Already, the U.S. is exporting natural gas to Bangladesh, China, Ghana, India, and Vietnam. And, because natural gas is replacing wood as an energy source in these countries, the International Energy Agency projects that universal access to energy can be achieved without increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Our industry has also become an integral partner in communities that have embraced renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. Natural gas serves as a backup energy source when the winds stop blowing or the sun goes down, and renewable energy companies see that value of natural gas as one of many solutions. Unlike some other energy options, natural gas is always available, ensuring a consistent, reliable, clean source of energy no matter the weather or time of day.

As we look toward a new decade, America’s natural gas and oil industry is leading at a defining moment — one where energy demands have never been higher, and the focus on a cleaner planet has never been greater. We are eager to show the world what we’re made of, and we are intent on spending the next decade, and beyond, doing our part to meet the greatest challenges of our times.

Learn more about how the natural gas and oil industry is reducing emissions.

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This content is paid for and provided by the American Petroleum Institute and published by WP BrandStudio. The Washington Post newsroom and WP BrandStudio were not involved in the creation of this content. Learn more about WP BrandStudio.