Q854. How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact greenhouse gas emissions reported to EPA in 2020?

A854: Emissions reported to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP) for 2020 were 256 million metric tons (MMT) CO2e (9 percent) less than 2019 due in part to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which reduced economic activity, closed schools and colleges, and curtailed domestic and international travel. Most sectors of the economy were impacted, although some sectors were affected more than others. The impact of the pandemic on reported greenhouse gas emissions for each sector are summarized below:

  • Power Plants: The power sector showed the largest decline with reported emissions decreasing by 174 MMT CO2e (10.4 percent) compared to 2019. The large decrease was the result of reduced demand for electrical generation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the continuation of longer-term trends moving to lower emitting fuels and away from coal. National net generation of electricity decreased by 2.9 percent in 2020. [1]
  • Petroleum & Natural Gas Systems: In early 2020, COVID-related reductions in demand contributed to unusual market conditions that caused the contraction of global oil prices and production. GHGRP emissions reported from the petroleum and natural gas sector decreased by 31.4 MMT CO2e (9 percent). About 85 percent of the total emissions reduction (26.7 MMT CO2e) occurred in the onshore production industry segment. Reduced oil production and drilling activity occurred during 2020; gas production declined slightly. The gathering and boosting industry segment reported a reduction in emissions of about 3 MMT CO2 Most other industry segments reported either no change in emissions or slight reductions. The LNG import and export industry segment reported an increase in emissions of about 2 MMT CO2e.
  • Metals: GHGRP emissions reported from the metals sector, which includes primary and secondary production as well as metal foundries and other metal production facilities, decreased by 12.1 MMT CO2e (13.4 percent) due to reduced demand for products and production disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Refineries: Reported emissions from this sector decreased by 17.2 MMT CO2e (9.7 percent) compared with 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic created challenging market conditions for refinery operators and resulted in the closure of some refineries in 2020. The demand for finished motor gasoline and jet fuel decreased by 13 percent and 38 percent, respectively. This decrease in demand for transportation fuels resulted in a 13.4 percent decrease in refinery throughput and a 4.3 percent increase in emissions per gross input that is likely due to operational changes. [2, 3]
  • Minerals: GHGRP emissions reported from the minerals sector, which includes cement, lime, glass, soda ash and other mineral production, decreased by 5.5 MMT CO2e (4.8 percent) in 2020. Emissions from all subsectors were lower in 2020 compared with 2019, with the largest decrease occurring in lime production (3.2 MMTCO2e or 11.3 percent). The drop in emissions for this sector was the result of plants temporarily closing in response to lockdowns and lower production due to reduced domestic and international demand for mineral products due to the COVID-19 pandemic. [4, 5, 6]
  • Underground Coal Mines: GHGRP emissions reported from Underground Coal Mines decreased by 4 MMT CO2e (11.7 percent) compared to 2019, despite an additional two coal mines reporting in 2020. The decline in emissions for 2020 is due to a drop in U.S. coal production due to less demand for coal both domestically and internationally. [7, 8]. The decline in domestic demand was partly due to very low natural gas prices that made coal-fired power plants less competitive. However, the mild winter and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic reduced electricity demand. Domestically, there was a 19% reduction in coal consumption by the electric power sector in 2020, compared with 2019. [7] Coal consumption in other sectors was also impacted by facility shutdowns cause by the pandemic. EIA reports the retail and other industry sectors consumed 15% less coal in 2020, compared with 2019. [7] Coal exports decreased by 26% in 2020 as countries around the world responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some U.S. coal mines were idled for extended periods to prevent the spread of the virus. [8]
  • Non-Fluorinated Chemicals: GHGRP emissions reported for the sector increased by 0.9 MMT CO2e compared to 2019, which is less than 1 percent. Increases in emissions from adipic acid production (2.9 MMT CO2e), ammonia production (1.4 MMT CO2e), and petrochemical production (0.8 MMT CO2e) were mostly offset by decreases in emissions from production of hydrogen, nitric acid, silicon carbide, titanium dioxide, and other chemicals manufacturing (4.3 MMT CO2e). The decrease in emissions for these subsectors may have been due to reduced demand for chemicals and other disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Miscellaneous Combustion Sources: The lower emissions reported by miscellaneous combustion sources in 2020 may be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic as it reduced economic activity and resulted in temporary closures due to lockdowns and other production related disruptions. The largest decreases in reported combustion emissions for miscellaneous combustion sources were in manufacturing (1.5 MMTCO2e or 10 percent), ethanol production (1.8 MMTCO2e or 9 percent), and food processing (0.8 MMTCO2e or 3 percent).

[1]     U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly Table 1.1. Net Generation by Energy Source: Total (All Sectors), 2011- June 2021 (accessed September 17, 2021) at: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=epmt_1_01

[2]     U.S. Energy Information Administration, Refinery closures decreased U.S. refinery capacity during 2020 (accessed September 20, 2021) at: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=48636 

[3]     U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Product Supplied of Finished Motor Gasoline, accessed September 2021, available at https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=pet&s=mgfupus2&f=a.

[4]     U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Minerals Yearbook, Cement, 2010 – 2019; Mineral Industry Surveys, Cement. July 2021; and Mineral Commodity Summaries, Cement, January 2021.

[5]     USGS, Lime, Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2021.

[6]     U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Soda Ash. Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2021.

[7]     U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, U.S. coal consumption by major end users, 1950-2020. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/coal/use-of-coal.php

[8]     U.S. Department of Energy, Today in Energy, Annual U.S. Coal Exports Drop 26% Between 2019 and 2020, March 11, 2021. Available at: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=47096

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