Researchers at the UK’s University of Manchester have released a study that reaches an unsurprising conclusion that I first wrote about months ago. Although the shale gas revolution has led to the US burning less coal and reducing its carbon dioxide emissions – and that may be only temporary as the natural gas market balances and prices rise - the researchers found that the benefits of switching from coal to natural gas here is being offset by increasing exports of American coal.
The report says there has been a “substantial increase” in the amount of coal the US is exporting to the UK, Europe and Asia. Indeed, U.S. coal exports are on a record-breaking pace, and according to the study's calculations, more than half of the emissions avoided in the US may have been exported as coal.
The report states the obvious:
“(W)ithout a cap on global carbon emissions, the exploitation of shale gas reserves is likely to increase total emissions. For this not to be the case, consumption of displaced fuels must be reduced globally and remain suppressed indefinitely; in effect displaced coal must stay in the ground. The availability of shale gas does not guarantee this.”
The climate benefits of shale gas will not be realized by the market alone; and without the right regulations and the right energy policies that would either keep coal in the ground or minimize its emissions, and transform natural gas into a near zero carbon fuel while propelling renewable energy development.