Misuse of EIA data on CO2 emissions continues...

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Misuse of EIA data on CO2 emissions continues...

Postby Kevin » Wed Oct 03, 2012 5:08 pm

Following up on our earlier note...

Hard to tell climate score when AP & WaPo blow the count:
viewtopic.php?f=22&t=37382

... it appears that misinterpretation and misapplication of EIA data is continuing.

As far as I can can tell, this process of mythological interpretation is the basis for the cornerstone claim in a new report from the site Climate Central, that there is a "nearly 9 percent reduction in annual carbon emissions in the U.S. since 2005." (first sentence of executive summary)

The misinterpretation of EIA data is what establishes the false premise of the report:

Can U.S. Carbon Emissions Keep Falling?
http://www.climatecentral.org/wgts/can- ... alling.pdf

The reference cited in this Climate Central report for its Figure 1, labeled, "Annual fossil fuel CO2 emissions in U.S. rose steadily from 1985 to 2007..."

Is listed as this monthly report from the EIA, June 2012:

http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/mon ... 351206.pdf

which on p160, for instance, has Figure 12.1 with graphs of "Carbon Dioxide Emissions From Energy Consumption by Source."

However

"Total U.S. fossil fuel CO2 emissions" and "US CO2 emissions from energy consumption" cannot be assumed to be the same.

In fact, it is the leakage of methane during well development and production for natural gas that makes natural gas comparably bad to coal in terms of CO2-quivalent GHG emissions.

The leaking natural gas, recently shown to be likely twice or more as much as revealed by industry reporting, is part of the production process, so it is left out of numbers on "energy consumption".

And the Climate Central presentation of mythological "declining US emissions" is based largely on the numbers on the shift from coal consumption to natural gas consumption.

Yes, the EIA does document a reduction in just what they say: from US CO2 emissions from energy consumption.

But taking the fossil fuel sector overall, and using CO2-equivalent GHG emissions - as is both the norm, and what we really care about - instead of just CO2 emissions per se, the reductions go away.

And in terms of overall US GHG emissions, the EIA data has little to say, addressing only a modest piece of the overall picture:

(EIA reported: CO2 emissions from fossil fuel consumption) + (Everything else: GHG emissions from fossil fuel production + GHG emissions from all the other economic sectors + GHG emissions from land use changes)

= total US GHG emissions.


And that's before we get into the offshoring of GHG emissions related to US consumption overall.

In short, the EIA data is what it is.

It provides no basis in itself for meaningful statements about the top line concern, overall U.S. CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions.
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Re: Misuse of EIA data on CO2 emissions continues...

Postby Kevin » Tue Nov 27, 2012 2:35 pm

As reported by Joe Romm at Climate Progress, propagation of the EIA's own misrepresentation of its own underlying findings and data now appears to have reached the COP18 international climate negotiations in Doha, which have started this week.

At Doha Climate Talks, U.S. Touts ‘Enormous’ Progress Cutting Carbon Pollution. Seriously.
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/1 ... ent-587231

Also at Climate Progress we find a deep background analysis of natural gas versus coal versus renewables, which is as enlightening as it is comprehensive:

Shale Gas And The Overhyping Of Its CO2 Reductions
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/0 ... eductions/

The bogus conclusion spun up from the now-famous, should-be-infamous EIA graph carries on at full speed, to date, in unsupported statements like this at the Guardian (UK):

"Greenhouse gas emissions from the US have fallen sharply in recent years, owing to the replacement of coal-fired power generation by gas in the US, following its widespread adoption of shale gas."
- Doha 2012: US claims 'enormous' efforts to cut carbon emissions
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2 ... -emissions

The EIA graph which has been the source of such confusion in fact shows only declining emissions from “energy consumption”, which leaves out energy production and supply chain emissions. (In addition to all non-energy emissions, like the effect of industrial clearcutting in our temperate rain forest.)
This is critical because the lower emissions from energy consumption reported by the EIA are largely due to the price-driven shift from coal to natural gas.

But natural gas a serious problem with methane leakage on the production and distribution side of the equation.

So in terms of actual energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, the terms used to tout the EIA graph are fundamentally wrong.

THE EIA GRAPH DOES NOT DEMONSTRATE AN OVERALL DECLINE IN US GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS – NOT EVEN JUST FROM THE ENERGY SECTOR.
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Re: Misuse of EIA data on CO2 emissions continues...

Postby Kevin » Tue Nov 27, 2012 3:17 pm

The EIA has pointed out in new correspondence that they do report on emissions from natural gas flaring:

C02 Emissions from the Flaring of Natural Gas (Million Metric Tons)
http://www.eia.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/i ... unit=MMTCD

The table of data on gas flaring provided by the EIA goes through 2010, while the "emissions from energy consumption" are being reported through 2011, with estimates through 2012:

"EIA expects carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, which fell by 2.3 percent in 2011, to further decline by 2.4 percent in 2012. However, projected emissions increase by 2.8 percent in 2013, as coal regains some of its electric‐power‐generation market share."
Short-Term Energy Outlook, September 2012
U.S. Energy Information Administration
http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/steo/archives/Sep12.pdf

Interesting and useful. What does it mean about the bigger picture?

1) The EIA has also confirmed for us that they are not including flaring emissions in the "emissions from energy consumption."

2) Methane emissions during natural gas production and distribution are also not included in the "emissions from energy consumption." And this methane leakage is measured to be about twice as big as reported by the fossil fuel companies, as reported in recent independent published research.

3) Because methane emissions are 25 times more potent in terms of their greenhouse gas insulating effect, over the time period of a human generation, than natural gas emissions, leaving them out would make meaningless a picture trying to show overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

As a result, our original findings continue to stand:

U.S. CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use < U.S. CO2 emissions from energy use (consumption) < U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions < U.S. energy-related GHG emissions < U.S. total GHG emissions

Yes, the EIA has documented that "U.S. CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use" have fallen modestly in recent years.

But that provides no basis to say that:

"Greenhouse gas emissions from the US have fallen sharply in recent years..."
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2 ... -emissions
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Re: Misuse of EIA data on CO2 emissions continues...

Postby Kevin » Tue Nov 27, 2012 4:41 pm

The EIA itself has not reported on U.S. total GHG emissions since numbers for 2009, at which point it discontinued the series (confirmed in correspondence):

http://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/
Release Date: March 31, 2011 | Next Release Date: Report Discontinued

Since then, the overall reporting of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions appears to have been consolidated at the EPA:

U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report
http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemi ... eport.html

As of April, 2012, that reporting was completed for emissions through 2010, including this summary statement:

"U.S. emissions rose by 3.2% from 2009 to 2010."
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