Anti-Frackers Turn Focus to Liquefied Natural Gas

Written by Matthew Hamilton & Jon Lentz on . Posted in Energy, Environment.





New York may soon pave the way for bus lines and trucking companies to use a cleaner and cheaper fuel, but proposed regulations for the natural gas-based fuel could be sidelined by the hydrofracking controversy.

The fuel, known as liquefied natural gas, is natural gas chilled to negative 260 degrees Fahrenheit. Proponents of LNG have said that the fuel is a better alternative to diesel. While officials say regulations now being written by the Department of Environmental Conservation would most likely pave the way for small refueling stations, anti-fracking advocates fear they could open the door for the construction of larger facilities and hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method of drilling for natural gas that is currently banned in the state.

“It’s drawing opposition from the anti-fracking community, which is really sad, because it’s a great pro-environmental issue,” said state Sen. George Maziarz, who chairs the Energy Committee. “It’s going to create cleaner air, but there are some people out there, particularly in the anti-fracking movement, who are against natural gas anywhere in the country for any reason.”

But state Sen. Tony Avella, a leading opponent of hydrofracking in the state Legislature, said that the two issues “should not be related in any way, shape or form.” Avella acknowledged the environmental benefits of LNG—70 to 90 percent reductions in carbon monoxide and 20 to 30 percent reductions in carbon dioxide— but took issue with the DEC’s regulations.

“I have some concern with the proposed regulations because I don’t think they go far enough in limiting the size of these facilities, having specific limitations on sensitive locations. Why are there no specific emission limits on requiring for measuring reporting, the methane venting and flaring? So there’s a lot of issues that are not addressed in the proposed regulations by DEC,” Avella said. “So we need to take a much closer look and strengthen these regulations before we do this. But I think we have to recognize that this better than burning gasoline.”

In the 1970s, the state introduced a moratorium on the construction of liquefied natural gas facilities, which the Department of Environmental Conservation is considering allowing once again through regulations first proposed in October.

Environmental groups like Frack Action—a Southern Tier-based group— are calling for the proposed regulations to be pulled back in favor of new ones that are more focused, but only after additional studying is done.

The group said at the beginning of December, when it helped deliver more than 50,000 public comments to the DEC about the regulations, that as the regulations stand, they would possibly allow the fossil-fuel industry to build natural gas infrastructure that would facilitate fracking in New York.

“The DEC has publically stated that the LNG regulations have nothing to do with fracking and opening the doorway to fracking,” Frack Action’s John Armstrong said. “What we have said to them is if DEC is being honest with New York and saying that, then withdraw these regulations. Then come back with regulations that [do what] the DEC says they are dointg, which is allowing fueling stations.”

New York Public Interest Research Group Legislative Counsel Russ Haven said the link between allowing liquefied natural gas and fracking would be strong if the DEC’s draft regulations are passed unrevised. He said industry chatter indicates that the new regulations would allow infrastructure that would accommodate fracking in New York and support fracking in Pennsylvania.

But the alternative is not widely available, with only six stations east of the Mississippi River, Armstrong said.

While New York could be considered a hub for the cleaner-burning fuel, Haven said more review needs to be completed before the positives can really be considered as such.

“Particularly in urban areas and other corridors where there is high truck traffic or equipment traffic, we would see cleaning up the air of those communities as a positive,” he said. “But you need to look at the environmental impacts of the LNG proposal. … You also need to do a real review to ensure safety is maximized. We don’t see either of these things in the draft set of regulations.”

Opponents have lambasted the 2011 NYSERDA study DEC has used, which was produced through a grant to NYSERDA from the energy company Expansion Energy, according to comments from NYPIRG and Riverkeeper submitted to the DEC. That company filed for patents for non-hydraulic fracturing extraction shortly after submitting its safety study and it already holds patents for mobile liquefaction production facilities, according to the comments. It is also the only recent report used by DEC, NYPIRG says.

Not only would a new study help groups like Frack Action better understand the risks involved with liquefied natural gas, but it would help legislators, who Armstrong said may be in the same boat when it comes to evaluating LNG.

Armstong contends that because the legislation to impose the moratorium was enacted in the 1970s, few, if any, lawmakers from that era are still serving in the Capitol, and as a result it would be of great utility to conduct a new study to bring more current facts to light.

“If you want to do these refuel stations and that’s it, come out with regulations that don’t allow every facility under sun,” Armstrong said. “Come back with a proposal based in science, so we can have informed discussion about the proposal.”

Haven said because the state’s moratorium was lifted in 1999 but any strides forward have been mostly in the regulatory phase, liquefied natural gas has largely been out-of-sight-out-of-mind for legislators. He said some may have an understanding of the issue, but “by and large, I don’t think most have a take on it.”

However, Maziarz said that some of his fellow lawmakers had initially supported legislation that would allow the transportation of LNG in the state, which is not part of the DEC regulations, but that they had succumbed to pressure from anti-fracking activists.

“It’s drawn into the whole fracking issue, and they’re just anti-natural gas, in any way, shape or form, the result of which is energy rates are going to be higher in New York, the cost of doing business is going to be higher in New York,” the lawmaker said. “It’s shameful on their part.”

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