New York City residents worry a lot about that urban air they breathe. Several years ago they started addressing the problem. The NYC Clean Heat program was employed in cleaning up Big Apple air and they’ve done it, thanks to fracing and the pipelines that deliver Marcellus Shale gas from Pennsylvania.
New York City is dependent on natural gas; some 81 percent of the Con Edison supply came from Pennsylvania shale gas in 2015. In June 2017, the Energy Committee of the New York Building Congress issued a report titled Electricity Outlook: Powering New York City’s Future that unequivocally articulated the need for more pipelines to deliver that gas to the city:
“New pipeline capacity for natural gas with direct connection to New York City and Westchester County will be necessary to provide sufficient gas supplies to meet the expected growth in demand. FERC [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] should promptly approve the recent application for Transco’s [Williams’] Northeast Supply Enhancement project. In addition, the State and City should work together to convene a working group of key stakeholders, including utilities and natural gas suppliers, to develop a strategy for the planning and approval of new natural gas pipelines directly into New York City.”
The Mayor’s office also noted the success of NYC’s program to convert buildings burning heavy heating oil to “cleaner burning fuel” (the politically correct code for natural gas produced by fracing). It now plans a second stage of the effort, which originally focused on converting boilers using No. 6 oil, and will change the emphasis to conversion of boilers burning No. 4 oil:
“The conversion program began under the Bloomberg Administration and as all 5,300 buildings have now switched to a cleaner burning fuel, there has been a substantial reduction in air pollution, which models show will prevent 210 premature deaths and 540 hospitalizations each year. Neighborhoods with the highest density of boiler conversions — such as northern Manhattan, northern Queens, and the South Bronx — saw the greatest improvement in air quality with the greatest proportion of health benefits occurring in vulnerable, high poverty areas. In addition, the heating oil conversions have reduced citywide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by an estimated 800,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent … Building on the success of NYC Clean Heat and DEP’s heating oil regulations, in September 2015, the City launched the NYC Retrofit Accelerator … helping building owners convert off of No. 4 heavy heating oil. … [It] is expected to reduce citywide GHG emissions by almost one million metric tons and save New Yorkers $350 million in utility costs annually by 2025.”
We can clearly expect emissions to further decline going forward, once again due to fracing and those pipelines delivering Marcellus Shale gas to the city.
Finally, a report from the Urban Green Council tells us that, between 2010 and 2015, buildings studied cut their energy use by more than 10 percent and their total greenhouse gas emissions by almost 14 percent:
“By 2015, those buildings had reduced their heavy fuel energy use by 92 percent. Buildings switching away from those fuel oils replaced them with natural gas or else fuel oil numbers 2 and 4. And though natural gas use in these buildings nearly tripled over the six years, overall energy use dropped — partly due to efficiencies afforded by new equipment and building improvements.”
Williams’ proposed Northeast Supply Enhancement project and other existing and proposed pipelines will help supply Pennsylvania shale gas to continue the progress, improving the health of all New Yorkers.
Finally, notice where the biggest benefits go — to the highest poverty areas where there is a ton of public housing served with aging and temporary boilers. Those boilers, in addition to being carbon dioxide and smog manufacturing devices, are noisy and expensive to operate. We’ll likely see much of this public housing converted to natural gas to the everlasting benefit of residents, taxpayers and the environment.
Given NYC’s ever-growing consumption of natural gas, the limits of existing pipeline infrastructure and the great benefits to the poor, making pipeline infrastructure improvements that will deliver more natural gas to the city is critical. That’s what the Northeast Supply Enhancement project and others like it are all about, even if the beneficiaries sometimes choke on the words “natural gas” and “fracing.”
About the author: Tom Shepstone is the owner of Shepstone Management Company Inc., a planning and research consulting firm located in northeastern Pennsylvania. He has advised many counties in both New York state and Pennsylvania, as well as other states, on economic development strategies, especially as they relate to rural and agricultural areas. He is also the publisher of NaturalGasNow.org, a blog focused on the same objective.