Although greenhouse gases are high globally, U.S. emissions have dropped to their mid-1990s level. Some of the cuts in carbon emissions can be traced to the slowing of domestic manufacturing, but much of the reduction has come from the switch from coal to natural gas, according to a recent study from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Natural gas was responsible for 30 percent of U.S. electricity generation in 2012, and the shale boom has created many opportunities in manufacturing and green buildings.
Natural gas releases half as much carbon dioxide as coal, so it can significantly reduce emissions. Businesses can indirectly improve sustainability efforts by replacing electric appliances, such as space and water heaters, with natural gas models. Natural gas could also lead to opportunities in green logistics, because it would decrease dependence on gasoline and diesel in heavy-duty truck fleets. Manufacturing could also become more sustainable with natural gas-powered combined heat and power systems.
Despite the potential benefits of natural gas usage, the report found it would not create deeper emissions cuts needed in the future. Consumers and businesses would have to focus on zero-carbon energy sources like solar, wind and nuclear. There were some barriers to achieving greater natural gas use, such as funding expensive infrastructure for gas transportation. Distribution of natural gas can present the risk of methane leaks, which is a dangerous greenhouse gas, according to the Energy Collective.
Manufacturers are starting to take notice of the opportunities created by access to cheap natural gas sources, Investor Place said. As manufacturing labor costs continue to rise overseas, firms are reshoring production to take advantage of the shale boom. Major companies like Apple, General Electric, Ford and Whirlpool are bringing production and jobs back to the U.S. because low fuel costs will help them stay competitive.