At this morning’s press conference (Bloomberg speaks out on Cuomo’s position on hydrofracking | Capital New York), in response to questions about The New York Times coverage of Thursday’s Spectra pipeline hearing, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg used the opportunity to affirm his support for the pipe, and to back up Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desire to open NY State to fracking. With City Council Speaker Christine Quinn by his side, Bloomberg said, “Governor Cuomo said he didn’t want fracking in the watershed. I agree with that. But you shouldn’t walk away from an energy source that we need.”
In a way, it’s good to finally hear Bloomberg come right out with his divisive policies about fracking, which would sacrifice areas outside our watershed and Syracuse’s, leaving 80% of the residents of New York State unprotected from the likelihood that their aquifers will be poisoned by fracking. At the same time the Mayor has sought to protect NYC’s watershed from gas development, he has initiated a massive gas buildout, including multiple pipelines, and the conversion of the city’s boilers, buses and power plants to methane. With today’s pronouncement, Mayor Bloomberg has seemingly echoed a headline from the 1970’s fiscal crisis, only now the headline would read, “Bloomberg to Upstate: DROP DEAD.”
Standing with the mayor was Christine Quinn, a politician with a supposedly anti-fracking stance, offering no objection to these statements. Too bad for anyone who lives in upstate New York or Pennsylvania, and too bad for the residents of her district in the West Village who might be blown up by the Spectra pipeline; progress is progress and they’ll just have to deal with it, apparently.
As the mayor acknowledged at the press conference, almost all gas is fracked now. This is a problem, because gas carries the radon released during drilling through the pipelines and into people’s stoves, where it can be inhaled, causing lung cancer. For New York City residents, using fracked gas from the Marcellus would put them more at risk from radon exposure. Since the fracked gas coming from nearby shale plays is more radioactive than other areas, and is delivered faster, especially in winter, it lessens the opportunity for radon to decay along the way. That’s bad news for anyone, but even worse for the majority of city residents, who tend to have small and poorly-ventilated kitchens, often without a window.
The Mayor made a point this morning that stopping air pollution caused by coal-burning power plants is a priority. However, the Mayor’s intention to reduce pollution from coal by replacing it with gas could end up worsening our air quality instead. The Cornell study by Robert Howarth showed that, when the entire life cycle of gas is taken into account, gas is actually more polluting than coal or oil, and methane is a greenhouse gas 21 times more powerful than C02. Given that emissions from drill sites can carry in a radius of up to 200 miles, regional air quality will suffer, as drilling upwind from us in Pennsylvania and NY State is built out.
As the mayor notes, only 20% of this pipeline is contracted for by Con Ed. So what’s the intention for the other 80%? Since the Spectra pipeline is routed through the port areas of Bayonne, and since Statoil is a stakeholder, if this pipeline comes to be built, an LNG export terminal in our harbor is almost inevitable. Liberty Gas has already indicated their desire to build an LNG terminal in NJ. Liquified natural gas tankers in our harbor would off-gas 24/7, releasing methane directly into our atmosphere.
Chesapeake Energy, the main supplier of gas for this pipeline, has indicated their intention to export gas to higher-paying foreign markets. It is obvious the intention for the majority of this pipeline’s capacity is for export. Drillers can’t turn a profit without exporting, and once they do, the domestic price of gas is sure to rise as well.
Borough President Scott Stringer has pledged his opposition to the Spectra pipeline if it carries fracked gas, and until a cumulative impact study can be done. This is a reasonable approach. The outcome of building the Spectra or other massive gas pipelines, and converting the city to methane, could well end up as worse air pollution and a health crisis caused by radon exposure. No new infrastructure should be built, and no fracked gas should be allowed into NYC, until these issues can be addressed.
Rather than build it and see how it impacts human health later, let’s just take a breath, and figure out whether this is such a good idea first. Better, greener solutions exist and could be built out in the same time frame as the PlaNYC 2030 intends to build out massive gas infrastructure instead. Developing renewable energy is something the Stanford University study says can be done–by 2030. So, in the same time frame we’re aiming to operate on gas, we COULD operate instead on wind, water, and solar. That’s no pipe dream, but the idea that continuing to depend on dirty fossil fuels will make our air cleaner, certainly IS.