During a speech at the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council in Austin on Aug. 14, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said the United States is on the right path when it comes to balancing energy needs with environmental concerns.
"The U.S. now leads the world in producing both oil and natural gas, and at the same time reducing energy-related emissions," said Perry, addressing attendees at the meeting. The council is a business-backed organization that writes model legislation for conservative lawmakers to enact in different states.
"That’s a story that all too often doesn’t get told," he said. "Those 190-something countries that signed on to that Paris Accord, I tell them, ‘When you catch up with us about reducing emissions, then you come talk to me about joining.’"
Perry’s claim about energy production and emissions caught our eye. Is it possible that the United States could lead other countries on energy production and lead on reducing emissions?
Michael Webber, director of the Webber Energy Group
at the University of Texas at Austin, said Perry’s claim about oil and gas production is accurate, but his comment on emissions could use some context.
"It’s exciting. Any way you slice that first statement, to my understanding, it is absolutely true," said Webber, an author and professor who specializes in energy and mechanical engineering. "The second statement can be true, but boy, there’s a lot of nuance and caveats around this."
Oil and gas production
We turned to the Energy Information Administration for international data on energy production. The EIA is an independent entity within the Department of Energy that produces data on energy use.
EIA spokesman Dennis Mesina declined to comment on Perry’s claim specifically, but provided available data on energy production and emission reductions from countries around the world.
One resource provided by Mesina
showed that the United States produced more petroleum and natural gas — both independently and combined — than any other country in 2018.
In fact, the U.S. has led on natural gas production since 2011, when it surpassed Russia. In 2018, it surpassed Saudi Arabia in petroleum production, according to the EIA information.
But at the same time, the United States remained the largest energy consumer in 2018 and saw a 3.5% increase in consumption over the previous year, the fastest growth the country has seen in energy consumption in 30 years, according to an analysis of BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy.
This increase in demand was seen across the world, with China, the United States and India accounting for the most growth, according to the analysis.
But EIA administrator Linda Capuano said the nation’s energy industry is entering a "transformational time" in testimony before the U.S. House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee in February.
"After decades of the United States importing more energy than it exports, EIA now forecasts that our country will become a net energy exporter in 2020," she said, according to her prepared comments.
Regardless of this prediction, the latest available data shows that the United States produces more oil and natural gas than other countries, as Perry said.
Reducing energy-related emissions
The second part of Perry’s claim lacks specifics. He did not offer a baseline for comparison or timeline for his claim — is he looking at year-to-year emissions reductions? Is he looking at reductions over a five-year period?
We can look at different time periods to get a sense of progress, looking at shifts in the past five, 10 or 15 years. But we can also look at emission reductions that occurred during the time period in which the United States led on production of oil and gas, as Perry said in his claim. The U.S. has led on natural gas production since 2011, but has led on production of both gas and oil just since last year.
Shaylyn Hynes, Perry's press secretary, pointed to a report from the International Energy Agency
that details the longterm trend of decreasing emissions and also projections for future emissions to decline.
"The US leads the world in actual energy related emissions reductions by orders of magnitude compared to any other country since 2005," Hynes said in a statement. "Yes-there have been ebbs and flows (as there were during multiple years under the Obama Administration) but the overwhelming trend is downward."
Hynes is right that, in broad strokes, the United States has reported a downward trend in carbon dioxide emissions that has resulted in more carbon dioxide emissions by volume than other nations. But, there's a bit more context we need to consider.
"In the end, I think it is true," Webber said of Perry’s claim. "But if I were teaching a class, I’d say that it isn’t that simple and we have more to discuss."
The EIA pointed us to global emissions data the agency tracks
, which looks at carbon dioxide emissions by country by year, from 1980 to 2016. Carbon dioxide makes up the largest percentage of greenhouse gas emissions.
Using these figures we looked at how the United States has reduced emissions over periods of five, ten and fifteen years (using the most current year of 2016) and how the U.S. compares to other countries.
- *From 2011 to 2016, the United States reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 273.7 million metric tons, or a 5% reduction.
- *From 2006 to 2016, the United States reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 738.6 million metric tons, or a 12.5% reduction.
- *From 2001 to 2016, the United States reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 586.9 million metric tons, or a 10% reduction.
During each of these time periods, the United States made the largest reduction in million metric tons of carbon dioxide, but dozens of countries made larger reductions in terms of percentage.
Absolute figures are important to consider, but percentages offer a different perspective when comparing the United States to other nations, since they account for factors like population, economic standing and levels of energy production.
The EIA has not published emissions data from after 2016, but BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy includes figures up to 2018, which allows for an analysis of emission reductions since the United States has become a leader on both oil and natural gas production.
An aside here: BP has a disclaimer that states its data is "not comparable to official national emissions data," but it is considered a reliable resource by industry experts.
From 2017 to 2018, when the United States became the leading producer of oil and natural gas, the country saw a 2.6% increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Globally, there was a 2% increase in emissions, the fastest growth the world has seen in seven years, according to the report.
Hynes pointed to a report from the EIA
that forecasted future carbon dioxide emissions — although Perry's statement was limited to the present. The report predicted that these emissions would decline by 2.3% in 2019 and 0.5% in 2020.
Perry said "The U.S. now leads the world in producing both oil and natural gas, and at the same time reducing energy-related emissions."
It’s true that the United States is the leading producer of both oil and natural gas as of 2018, but the second part of Perry’s claim needs more context.
When we step back and look at shifts over the past five, 10 and 15 years, the United States has reduced more total carbon dioxide emissions than other nations, but dozens of others made more reductions in percent-terms.
From 2017 to 2018, the United States actually increased its carbon dioxide emissions.
We rate this claim Half True.
HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
Update: This piece was updated to include a comment and additional information provided by Shaylyn Hynes, Perry's press secretary. These additions did not affect the ruling.