Natural Gas and the U.S. Energy Sector

The dramatic impact of unconventional gas, and specifically shale gas, on the U.S. energy sector is a ripe topic for robust analytical work — the role of JISEA. Our work, part of JISEA's examination of the U.S. energy sector, responsibly and usefully contributes to the national and international energy dialogue.

Natural Gas and Electricity

JISEA's first report in this series of studies on natural gas and the U.S. energy sector is entitled "Natural Gas and the Transformation of the U.S. Energy Sector: Electricity." This report provides a new methodological approach to estimate natural gas related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, tracks trends in regulatory and voluntary industry practices, and explores various electricity futures.

"There is currently a national debate over life cycle GHG emissions from shale natural gas," NREL Senior Scientist Garvin Heath said. "We address it by conducting one of the first independent 'bottom up assessments' in this field."

Published results of natural gas life cycle GHG emissions rely on very limited data, include a broad range of analytic assumptions, and have results that vary considerably. The JISEA study leverages inventories of air pollutant emissions from more than 16,000 sources in Texas' Barnett Shale, providing the first estimate of life cycle GHG emissions using an independent data set.

The JISEA study found that life cycle GHG emissions associated with electricity generated from 2009 Barnett Shale gas were very similar to conventional natural gas and less than half of those from coal-fired electricity generation.

JISEA also looked at how legal and regulatory frameworks governing shale gas development are changing in response to public concerns, particularly in areas of the country that have less experience with oil and gas development.

"The report is intended to inform both the national and international dialogue on this subject in a few key areas critical to decision makers," JISEA Executive Director Doug Arent said.

Why Natural Gas?

Very few energy sector commentators anticipated the scale of changes that we have witnessed in the U.S. natural gas sector — changes that breach the boundaries of traditional energy sector analysis and touch on areas as diverse as foreign policy and industrial competitiveness.

To help inform both the national and international dialogue on this subject, JISEA has thus far focused on a few key areas: greenhouse gas emissions, regulatory interventions, water impacts, the portfolio of generation in the power sector. These topics are critical to decision makers and investors.

Additionally, we evaluate various pathways for electric sector evolution given a range of options for natural gas, other technologies, and policy.

While there is a considerable amount of emerging literature on this topic, we believe that bringing the objective views and expertise of JISEA to bear on this issue can help move the discussion forward on a productive path.

Learn More

Bibliography - Selected resources that guided the April 2011 kickoff workshop for this study.