Don’t be Fooled into Switching.
New NYC laws require buildings to stop using heavy fuel oils. Incentives and current low prices may lead building owners to believe there’s a benefit to switching from burning oil to burning gas. We believe that would be a regrettable choice. Not only is it extremely expensive to convert to gas, but the price of gas is very likely to rise in coming years, creating financial hardships after buildings have committed. We have seen the “Shale Gas Revolution” called a “Ponzi Scheme, a “bubble,” and a “gold rush.” Revised projections of recoverable supply posit a mere 7 years worth of gas.
Meanwhile, the rush is truly on to export gas to hungry markets in Asia and elsewhere, in order to raise domestic prices. There are multiple plans for LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminals, and much of our shale plays are already owned by overseas investors. Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon recently proclaimed, “We are presently owned by a group of investors who don’t think gas prices will ever go above $4 (per MCF). I want to be owned by investors who live in a part of the world that believes gas prices will never go below $10.”
America may well become not the “Saudi Arabia of Gas,” but just another “third world petrostate,” with a population, landscape and economy ravaged by drilling, for the benefit of a few landowners and multinational corporations.
On the local front, many believe gas conversions will help with our asthma problem, but widespread gas conversions will worsen, rather than improve our air quality, as it will increase the buildout of fracking. Methane is a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than CO2, and emissions from drill sites can travel in a radius of up to 200 miles, raising our ozone and pollution levels. Getting gas from the drill sites to cities requires pipelines, which are not only dangerous, but leak 24/7, losing anywhere from 3-12% of their volume. Pipeline leaks are so common that industry has given them a nickname: LUGs (Lost Unaccounted Gas). The more gas that is used, more pipelines will be built, more pipeline leaks will occur, and more methane and toxins will enter our atmosphere.
There are those who maintain that much of the soot and air pollution in our city is caused by poor boiler maintenance, rather than by the fuel itself. Buildings with malfunctioning boilers are easy to spot, spewing clouds of black smoke into the sky. But gas boilers may well create a different problem: According to a statement by experts Chris Benedict and Henry Gifford, when a poorly-maintained gas boiler malfunctions, it spews invisible carbon monoxide, and the problem is unlikely to be noticed, reported or corrected.
As a result of all this gas buildout, the air inside our buildings may become even more dangerous than the air outside. Shale gas increases the likelihood of residents and building staff inhaling radon, a radioactive gas that is carried with natural gas. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Like asbestos, it is carcinogenic when inhaled, even in minute quantities.
Sane Energy Project believes a better alternative to gas lies in a holistic approach to energy use: A combination of renewable alternatives including efficiency, solar thermal, and the use of biodiesel or bioD blends. Switching an oil-burning boiler to bioD requires minimal expense and disruption. Using solar thermal to pre-heat hot water greatly reduces the amount of energy required for domestic hot water. Efficiency and conservation reduces the amount of fuel required, and therefore the level of emissions, no matter what type of fuel is used.
Please download the ReNEW New York Boiler Report for more details.
ReNEW New York recently hosted a panel discussion called “The Boiler Dilemma.” Dehran Duckworth discusses biodiesel, and Ron Kamen explains solar thermal, in videos introduced by moderator, Dan Miner. These videos are a fast introduction to the holistic concepts described above. If your building is considering converting to gas, we suggest looking into these alternatives first. Don’t be fooled into committing to gas; there are cheaper, healthier, and greener options available.
GreenHome NYC Forum:
“After comparing the options, all of the Forum speakers concluded that converting directly from Number 6 to Number 2 oil is every building’s best option. While converting to Number 4 is a less intensive process, it’s only a temporary fix; natural gas is prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to implement. On the other hand, the conversion to Number 2 can cost less than $10,000 and be completed in just a few days. “