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Energy Innovation is Driving U.S. Emissions Reductions, Economic Growth

The United States is a living example that it’s possible to both protect the environment and grow the economy. That was a major theme at the  Global Energy Institute’s recent Energy Innovates Summit, where policymakers, energy industry leaders, and regulators came together to discuss the future of U.S. energy.

The gathering of high-profile attendees included, among others, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources; Susan Dio, Chairman and President of BP America; Conner Prochaska, Chief Commercialization Officer at the Energy Department; Chris Crane, President & CEO of Exelon; and Neil Bradley, Chief Policy Officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Speakers discussed the most pressing issues facing energy today, including attaining America’s and the world’s climate goals, while also meeting growing energy demand and tackling energy poverty in developing countries.

Growing the Economy While Reducing Emissions

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry gave the summit’s keynote address, declaring the United States will continue to lead the drive for a cleaner energy world through innovation:

“Thanks to innovation, we’re leading the world in reducing energy emissions…we’ll continue to do so without surrendering one iota of opportunity. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t grow the economy and protect the environment.”

The oil and natural gas industry has been an engine of economic growth over the last several years. In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that oil and natural gas extraction alone contributed $218.8 billion to the U.S. economy.

This economic growth has not been at the expense of the environment: U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have declined alongside increased GDP.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2018 “Our Nation’s Air” report found air pollution declined 73 percent from 1970 to 2017 at the same time America’s gross domestic product increased 262 percent.

The decline has been largely attributed to natural gas. The Energy Information Administration has credited increased use of natural gas for almost two-thirds of the energy-related carbon reductions America has achieved since 2005.

Meeting Energy Demand and Emissions Goals

A frequent theme presented by the speakers centered around how energy innovation can enable the world to meet its climate goals as well as global energy needs.

In a conversation with U.S. Chamber President Suzanne Clark, Dio summed up the predicament facing the energy industry:

“The big challenge at hand right now is what we call the dual challenge. So, energy demand is going to increase, by about a third. But we need to provide a third more energy at roughly half the emissions.”

In 2017, the EIA projected that world energy use will increase 28 percent by 2040. At the same time, governments and international agencies have called for dramatic GHG emissions reductions by the same year.

Dio continued on to share how natural gas offers a path that could allow the United States, and the world, to cut emissions while still meeting growing energy needs:

Natural gas fulfills the criteria to meet near- and long-term climate goals: it burns cleaner than most fossil fuels, it is affordable, and it is plentiful.  A recent study published in Nature summarized Dio’s conclusion concisely: the increased use of natural gas in electricity generation contributes to long-term “climate stabilization objectives.” 

Natural gas has already proven to be an effective tool to cut emissions. The fuel has allowed the United States to become a world leader in reducing CO2 emissions.

Natural Gas & Energy Poverty

Several attendees and speakers also spoke about how natural gas is a solution to not only lowering emissions, but to eliminating energy poverty across the globe.

Energy poverty is the limited or lack of access to a reliable – and safe – energy source.

Vijay Swarup, Vice President of Research and Development at ExxonMobil, observed:

“Common sense is that people need energy. There’s a billion people out there who don’t have access to energy. We need to provide that energy and grow the middle class while curbing emissions. And we need energy technology at scale.”

In areas with limited or no access to energy, 90 percent of a household’s energy consumption is often derived from burning firewood, charcoal, agricultural waste and animal dung to cook – fuels that contributed to roughly 600,000 deaths in children under the age of 5 in 2012. In a 2015 report, the World Bank noted that half of the developing world’s population cooks primarily with wood, charcoal, coal, crop waste, and dung.

Unlike the fuel methods commonly used in energy impoverished regions, natural gas burns much cleaner. It also, notably, is easily transportable and affordable. For these reasons, experts have called natural gas a realistic option to dramatically improve the health and economy of developing countries, closing the gap on energy poverty.

Conclusion

Record-breaking natural gas production has enabled the United States to reduce emissions and supply the energy demands of a growing population.

Thanks to innovation, America is producing record amounts of affordable natural gas, and the United States will soon be the world’s top exporter of LNG. The proliferation of natural gas can help end energy poverty in developing countries like India, enriching the lives of large populations.

The Energy Innovates Summit brought together thought leaders from across the United States and globally, and a common theme emerged: oil and gas development will be key to taking on the world’s energy problems.

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The entire video of the Energy Innovates Summit can be found here.

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