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Technology advancements are driving more than just the huge production increases realized by the natural gas sector over the last several years. The industry is also innovating when it comes to making the production process more efficient and environmentally friendly.

New data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that methane emissions from petroleum and natural gas systems are down 12 percent since 2011. Methane released from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations has dropped an astonishing 73 percent since 2011.

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For almost half a century, America’s dependence on massive energy imports was an established fact few thought would ever change. The country’s hunger for energy drove not only rising trade deficits but also chronic foreign policy challenges tied to protecting access to foreign energy supplies. But suddenly, inside of a decade ago, America’s energy calculus began to change. Many leading industry experts, including the International Energy Agency, now predict that the U.S. could become a net energy exporter by 2020.

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Many Americans don’t know it, but U.S. carbon emissions are at their lowest level in twenty years. The reason? America's historic shift to natural gas for electricity production.

From East Coast to West, power companies are using natural gas to generate electricity because of its domestic abundance and affordability. Critically, it also emits about half as much carbon as coal does to produce the same amount of electricity. By 2040, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that natural gas will become the primary energy source America uses to generate power.

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The iconic white canopy that forms the roof of Denver International Airport (DIA) evokes the covered wagons and teepees that once dotted the Western plains and mirrors the snow-capped Rocky Mountains that serve as the airport’s backdrop.

But the canopy’s purpose is more than just aesthetic. It’s semi-translucent, flooding the airport with natural sunlight and dramatically reducing the amount of indoor lighting used during daytime hours. The LEED-Gold certified DIA is not just one of the busiest airline hubs in the world, it is also one of the most environmentally sustainable.

“DIA is committed to sustainability, and we have embraced and expanded that legacy over the last 19 years,” said airport CEO Kim Day. “We continue to invest in initiatives that reduce our carbon footprint and preserve the natural assets of Colorado. Most significant is our investment in green initiatives that are financially viable, which assures their perpetuity, even in times of economic downturn.”

A key element of DIA’s sustainability strategy is its use of natural gas. The airport—America’s biggest airport and the 15th busiest airport in the world—uses natural gas to heat more than 5.5 million square feet of buildings, to move thousands of employees, passengers and bags each day and to power critical systems. Natural gas is an abundant American energy source, and it is cleaner burning than primary alternatives. In 2012, increased usage of natural gas was responsible for the energy sector’s lowest greenhouse gas emission profile in 20 years.

“Natural gas is a key part of our energy portfolio, as it provides a lower-cost and more environmentally friendly solution for many of our operations,” Day added.

Here are seven ways that DIA—named America’s best-run airport by Time Magazine—is using natural gas and other environmentally sustainable practices to create a cutting edge “green gateway” where the Rocky Mountains meet the world.

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