Fracking New York: It’s Not Over ‘Till It’s Over
When Governor Andrew Cuomo decided to ban fracking in New York State in December 2014, New Yorkers thought their worries were over.
They were wrong.
It was a great start, but too many people don’t realize that the state is riddled with infrastructure that supports the fracking industry through the construction of pipelines, compressor stations, and storage facilities for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).
Currently, there are approximately forty infrastructure projects in various stages of approval. Communities are beginning to grasp what this will mean to the health and safety of heavily populated localities, as well as New York’s water supply sources, air, and wildlife.
Highly volatile crude oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota and Canada is being transported to the Port of Albany through New York State. The received oil is transferred into huge storage tanks before being loaded onto barges, which make daily trips down the Hudson River to refineries. Counties including Rockland, Orange, and Ulster are at risk for fires, spills, and even potential explosions.
These undertakings are getting push back from local New York communities. Included are:
- The Pilgrim Pipelines — Sending and receiving to New Jersey refineries in Linden. It will run parallel to the New York state Thruway.
- The Constitution Pipeline
- The AIM Pipeline
- The Seneca Lake Liquefied Petroleum Gas Storage
- The Spectra Pipeline
- The Port Ambrose Deepwater Port LNG Project
The proposal for Port Ambrose has received notoriety and resistance because it has the potential of being a terrorist target — aside from putting the local environment and economy at risk. It is 27.1 nautical miles from the New York harbor entrance, and 16.1 nautical miles southeast of Jones Beach.
Ironically, a wind project has been under consideration for the same area of ocean that would host the Port Ambrose Port. If constructed, it would become the largest offshore wind project in the United States.
When the public comment period for Port Ambrose was open, there were 62,000 responses registered in opposition. Both Governor Cuomo and Governor Christie have the option of vetoing its approval. The New York City Council has authored Resolution 549, requesting Cuomo to move forward on nixing Port Ambrose.
How does infrastructure get approved? In New York, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) oversees this, and they are supposed to have first crack at issuing decisions. This includes designating a Section 401 Water Quality Certification (as per the Federal Clean Water Act), and air permits for compressor stations — which emit high amounts of particulate matter, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide.
All gas pipelines need to have federal approval. That is under the jurisdiction of FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).
Peter Nightingale, Professor of Physics at University of Rhode Island, explained by e-mail the science of why fracking infrastructure is so problematic. He wrote:
“To avoid irreparable harm to current and future generations, mankind must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent per year, as of today. This amounts to a 50 percent reduction over the next decade. This herculean task is at odds with a build-out of the fracked gas infrastructure, which commits us to about fifty years continued reliance on fossil fuels.”
Infrastructure accelerates climate change. “Robust scientific research shows that fracked gas has a larger greenhouse gas footprint than do coal or oil, for any possible use. The reason is that the gas escapes at the well, during transport, and because of incomplete combustion,” Nightingale noted.
Nightingale addressed concerns about the Spectra pipeline. “FERC approved siting of the 42-inch diameter, high pressure pipeline next to the Indian Point nuclear facility in a seismic zone in Buchanan, New York, without satisfactorily addressing concerns raised by the local community and safety experts.” (Senators Schumer and Gillibrand have asked FERC to reconsider its approval decision.) Residents of West Manhattan are none too pleased about the fracked gas pipeline either, for safety reasons including the question of how much radon is in the gas.
In response to the viability of the Port Ambrose Project, Nightingale stated, “We have roughly a decade to avoid climate chaos. Rather than investing in more fossil fuel infrastructure, we should focus on using energy more efficiently. The answer to cold weather is thermal insulation.”
Wes Gillingham, Program Director for Catskill Mountainkeeper, was clear in his appraisal of why New Yorkers need to be concerned. Via e-mail he elaborated:
“The scientific community is giving us a concise message to leave as much carbon and methane in the ground as possible, as we switch to different sources of energy. The oil and gas industries are using every tactic they can to dig us into a deeper toxic hole for the next fifty years. We need real solutions to deal with the crisis and have very little time to respond. We don’t need new pipelines. We need a freeze on new fossil fuel projects now.”