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Coal declines as fuel for power generation, natural gas usage surges

The latest information from the US Energy Information Administration shows that total electricity production during the past summer rose by just 6% over the past decade. However, during this same period, electricity generation by natural gas surged by 61%. Power generation from coal fell 17% during this time. Clearly, natural gas is gaining market share in power gen.

For the first time ever, the EIA says that generation from natural gas and coal are roughly equal. These two remain the two largest fuels for generating electricity. Nuclear, in third place, remains flat since no new nukes have been built in the US since the 1970s. Hydroelectric power increased by 6% during this time, and renewable power – mostly wind generation – grew by 7%.

Although the EIA report doesn’t say this, it would seem cheap and readily available natural gas from the nation’s shale plays is helping end coal’s dominance as the fuel of choice for power generation. Although a fossil fuel, natural gas burns much cleaner than coal and produces fewer emissions. Old coal-fired power plants still in operation have been shown to cause acid rain and other forms of pollution and environmental hazards and have been targeted by the Environmental Protection Administration for shutdown. Many have been replaced by new facilities that use natural gas and renewable energy as the fuels of choice.

Horizontal drilling techniques and hydraulic fracturing technology have been utilized by North American producers to make shale gas economic. As a result, current natural gas consumption in the US has soared to more than 24 trillion cubic feet in recent years.

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