Despite numerous protests from West Village residents over the past year, the enormous shale gas pipeline that’s been under construction for nearly a year was completed today, and will soon start pumping a massive amount of gas to residents of New York. The gas comes from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, and while protesters have nothing against the marvelous state of Pennsylvania, there are upset that the gas has been extracted through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a process which has drawn criticism for fears that it could contaminate groundwater.
The gas from the pipeline, however, does bring enough gas to heat 2 million homes and is much cheaper than the conventional heating oil it replaces. While there’s no word yet on whether fracking will be allowed in New York State, could pipelines like this be the future source of New York City’s energy?
The Bloomberg administration believes that switching to natural gas should be a priority for the city. According to the city’s long term urban planning report, the city has outlawed burning heavy fuel oil by 2015, which it describes as “nearly dirty as coal” based on the fact that it accounts for 86% of soot pollution emitted from the city’s buildings, even though that oil is used in only 1% of the city’s buildings. As a result, many landlords in the city have switched or will switch to natural gas, which emits fewer carbon emissions than the oil.
The City’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability released a report last year where it estimated that northeastern fields like the Marcellus Shale will supply almost 90 per cent of New York City’s gas needs by 2030, up from 13 per cent in 2005. And in order to meet that demand for energy, someone has to provide it. The Sane Energy Project, a group formed in opposition to the pipeline, put it bluntly in a letter to federal regulators last year, writing “This is a very simple equation: the more buildings that switch to gas, the more fracking will happen.”
Currently in New York state, 29 percent of homes are heated with oil, compared with a US average of 6 per cent, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. But oil has been losing share to gas, which is expected given that oil costs nearly three times as much as natural gas.
“Obviously, it’s difficult, because we are in competitive markets,” said John Maniscalco of the New York Oil Heating Association to the Financial Times. “Right now, natural gas has the price edge.”
While natural gas will undoubtedly grow as an energy source, it remains to be seen whether it will be the primary source of energy for the city. The questions that remain are how sure are we that hydraulic fracturing is environmentally sound, and are there any other viable alternatives that can provide enough energy for the city’s millions of residents?