A pair of federal agencies credited increased natural gas production for a decline in American greenhouse emissions in reports released this week.
The Energy Information Administration released data showing energy-related carbon dioxide emissions declined by 3.8 percent in 2012. The Environmental Protection Agency noted that emissions from power plants declined by 10 percent.
Carbon emissions are now at their lowest levels since 1994, EIA reported.
Both agencies attributed a large portion of the declines in emissions to the increased use of natural gas in American electricity generation.
"Because the generation of electricity, which is widely used in all sectors except transportation, is an important source of emissions, declines in the carbon intensity of electricity generation lowers emissions throughout the economy," EIA noted.
EPA focused on that aspect specifically, and found that natural gas is primarily responsible for the emissions decline.
"This is due to a switch from coal to natural gas for electricity generation and a slight decrease in electricity production," its report concluded.
EIA noted that the country saw an "overall decline" in power generation from renewable sources, but "the carbon intensity of power generation still fell by 3.5 percent, due largely to the increase in the share of natural gas generation relative to coal generation."
EPA claimed that the data vindicated President Barack Obama’s punitive restrictions on coal-fired power plants. However, industry observers say the data undercut some hardline environmentalist positions.
"It probably pains the activist community to discover that the oil and gas industry is doing more to reduce carbon emissions than any of their press releases ever have, but it’s hard to argue with data," said Steve Everley, spokesman for Energy In Depth, a website run by the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
"More than anything, these analyses highlight how shale development isn’t just about economic growth and energy security," Everley added. "It’s clearly also about improving the environment."
The president himself has touted natural gas as a "bridge fuel" that can reduce carbon output in the near term.
Even stalwart environmentalists such as Tom Steyer, a politically active billionaire who has spearheaded the campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline, have backed natural gas production as a means to reduce U.S. carbon output.
Hydraulic fracturing has unlocked vast reserves of natural gas, making the U.S. the world’s top petroleum producer.