A battle is erupting over a proposed gas pipeline on the doorstep of New York City, with environmental groups claiming the project is unnecessary and would lock in planet-warming emissions for decades to come.
Energy company Williams, based in Oklahoma, plans to build a 23-mile-long underwater pipeline through New York’s lower bay to bring fracked gas from Pennsylvania to New York. The $1bn project would link existing infrastructure in New Jersey, to the Rockaways in the New York borough of Queens.
Pipeline proponents argue the project is needed to allow thousands more New Yorkers to switch from oil to gas for their heating but environmental groups are marshaling a growing protest movement to pressure Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor, to block the development.
“This pipeline would incentivize reliance on gas, which is way more carbon-intensive than renewables,” said Robert Wood, a campaigner at 350.org, a climate advocacy group. “It would be a nightmare happening, not in a rural area, but right here in New York City.”
A draft of a study commissioned by 350.org disputes many of the assertions made by Williams and National Grid, the utility that will be the sole customer for the gas. According to the analysis, New York is already well on its way to eliminating the dirtiest types of oil, a carbon-heavy fuel, for heating and the state’s power operators are forecasting a drop in electricity use due to efficiency improvements.
Measures such as installing heat pumps, replacing old boilers, expansion of renewable energy and planned improvements to building energy efficiency should be “ramped up before considering construction of costly and potentially risky infrastructure like a massive pipeline in the New York harbor”, concluded the analysis, conducted by Suzanne Mattei, a consultant and former regional director of the New York department of environmental conservation.
Environmentalists also fret that the pipeline’s construction could stir up toxins from the harbor’s seabed and potentially harm vulnerable marine life such as humpback whales, which have made a comeback to the New York area in recent years.
Wood said a decision on the pipeline will be a “major test” of Cuomo’s green credentials. The Democratic governor previously banned fracking in New York and has set climate change goals that would cut emissions by 80% by 2050.Advertisement
The building of the pipeline would be a “a monumental step backwards” in meeting this target, according to Scott Stringer, comptroller of New York City. Stringer, along with a host of other local elected officials and green groups, contends that while gas has a lower carbon content than oil or coal, methane leaks from gas drilling and transportation can make it a nefarious fossil fuel.
However, National Grid said it has experienced “significant growth” in the need for natural gas in New York City and Long Island, with demand expected to grow by more than 10% over the next decade as households make a city-mandated switch away from oil to gas for heating.