Who Will Supply New York With Natural Gas?

Today, new technologies for unlocking natural gas have revolutionized the industry. A half-century old process called hydraulic fracturing combined with a relatively new ability to drill horizontally in shale formations has made America more energy independent than it has been in 50 years. The Marcellus Shale, conveniently located here in the Northeast, has become one of the biggest international energy stories emerging in the past five years.

Yet, New York has decided to “opt-out” of participating in this economic opportunity. That does not mean that our state does not like to consume natural gas. According to statistics published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2012 New York consumed 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Statewide, 29 percent went to heat homes and 40 percent was consumed to make electricity.

So what has New York decided to do about it? We have decided to say “No” to this new technology. The state has essentially shut down the natural gas producing industry through a “moratorium,” a decision to not issue permits for the production of shale gas within the boundaries of New York state.

This produces a conundrum for those of us who live in this state. We need natural gas. We expect it to be delivered to our doorsteps, to our apartments, to our businesses … and especially to our plants that produce electricity. We like the clean-burning, environmental benefits of natural gas, but we apparently don’t want the inconvenience of producing it.

Where do we want to get our energy? Do we want to go back to importing more oil from the Middle East? Do we want to become an energy-starved country like Japan which needs to import liquified natural gas from other countries? We do want to be known as the most environmentally enlightened state in the Union. We say we are for renewable energy, yet are unwilling to support production of the natural gas required to back it up and insure its reliability on the electric grid. In short, New Yorkers seem to have an attitude that “we can have our cake and eat it to.” Let someone else worry about our natural gas supplies.

The most recent statistics from EIA indicate that about 34 percent of the natural gas being consumed in the country today is coming from shale formations. This energy cannot be produced without these modern technologies which, in essence, release the gas that is trapped in the rock. Though we New Yorkers are sitting on billions of cubic feet of shale gas, we are unwilling to produce it. Albany needs to “change its tune.” Our state should be a producer, not just a consumer of this clean-burning energy.

During this year’s cold winter, even the most ardent opponents of natural gas in New York were being kept warm by it. The fact that over a third of the energy heating our homes was coming from shale gas reservoirs in neighboring states seems to be overlooked. Where would we be without it? Who, in the future, will supply the natural gas that we need? Shouldn’t New Yorkers be a part of the solution?

Rolland Kidder was a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly from 1975 to 1982; a member of its Environmental Conservation Committee; founder and former owner of a New York State natural gas exploration and production company based in Western New York.