Power Plants, Oil and Natural Gas Sector Top U.S. Greenhouse Gas Sources, EPA Says

Power plants were the top source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions reported by large emitters in 2011, accounting for about two-thirds of the total emitted by more than 8,000 sources nationwide, the Environmental Protection Agency reported Feb. 5.

A distant second to power plant emissions was the oil and natural gas production sector, followed by refineries, according to the EPA data.

U.S. industries are required to report their emissions under an agency reporting requirement Congress authorized in a fiscal year 2008 EPA-Interior funding bill (Pub. L. No. 110-161). EPA expanded the emissions reporting in 2011 to include 12 additional sectors that were not previously required to submit the data, including the oil and natural gas sector and coal mines.

While power plants remain the top U.S. emissions source with 2.2 billion metric tons of carbon equivalent emitted in 2011, their emissions declined 4.6 percent from 2010 levels, mostly due to fuel switching from more carbon-intensive coal to natural gas and increased development of renewable sources, EPA said.

The 2011 data were culled from emissions data reported from a total of 41 industry categories that emit significant quantities of greenhouse gases; to be required to report emissions, each facility must emit at least 25,000 tons annually. A total of 25,000 tons of emissions is equivalent to the carbon dioxide emitted from the burning of 131 rail cars worth of coal, according to EPA.

First Time for Reporting Oil, Gas Sector Emissions

The petroleum and natural gas systems, the second-largest emitting sector, reported a total of 225 million metric tons of emissions in 2011 from 1,880 reporters, the most of any sector.

Because it was the first year of reporting oil and natural gas emissions, EPA said, there are no data to compare that figure to the prior year. This sector includes onshore and offshore oil and gas production facilities, as well as natural gas processing, distribution, and storage, and liquefied natural gas storage and import and export equipment.

Refineries were the third largest source, with 145 operations emitting a total of 182 million metric tons, a 0.5 percent decline from refinery emissions in 2010.

The 8,000 large sources of greenhouse gas emitters reporting data to EPA represent between 85 percent and 90 percent of total U.S. emissions, the agency said.

It does not include several significant emissions sources such as agricultural operations and land-use changes, the agency said.

EPA Feb. 5 also unveiled an updated web tool that allows users to access facility-level data from reporting entities as well as state-by-state data.

Power Plants Account for 67 Percent of Total

Environmental groups applauded the release of the emissions data, which provides “Americans with important information about the climate-disrupting pollution that's being emitted by large industrial sources in our communities,” according to Peter Zalzal, staff attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund's domestic climate and air legal team.

While power plants accounted for 67 percent of total reported emissions in 2011, their share of the emissions total slightly declined from 2010, when plants accounted for 72.3 percent.

A total of 1,595 U.S. power plants reported the 2011 emissions data that EPA released.

The two largest emitters in the United States were both power plants, according to the 2011 data: the Juliette, Ga.-based Georgia Power Scherer power plant, which emitted a total of 22.072 million metric tons carbon-dioxide equivalent; followed closely by the Quinton, Ala.-based Alabama Power James H. Miller Jr. plant, which emitted about 22.06 million metric tons.

The Martin Lake power plant in Tatum, Texas, was the third largest emitter, at 18.4 million metric tons.

Chemical Sector Emissions Up

Because the second largest source, the oil and natural gas sector, was not required to report such data in 2010, its 2011 reported data--the 225 million metric tons emitted--essentially means it displaced what was the second leading emissions source the year before: the chemical industry (07 DEN A-1, 1/12/12).

The chemical industry reported a total of 180 million metric tons of emissions for 2011, up from 166 million metric tons in 2010.

The oil and gas sector--which EPA terms the “Petroleum and Natural Gas Systems Sector”--includes offshore and onshore petroleum and natural gas production; onshore natural gas processing; and onshore natural gas transmission compression.

By Dean Scott  

The 2011 greenhouse gas reporting data, along with a data publication tool, are available at http://www.epa.gov/ghgreporting/.

Additional EPA emissions data are available at http://epa.gov/enviro/.