A Tale of Two States

Tom Finnerty06 Feb, 2020 5 Min Read
The divide between Anti-Fracking New York and Pro-Fracking Pennsylvania is fascinating. New York -- my native state --  has been working hard for years to keep out fracking and to kill every proposal to build new Natural Gas pipelines or to expand the capacity of the existing pipelines into the state.
Well, in what might be the most predictable outcome in the history of outcomes, New York now finds itself lacking in Natural Gas. Here's an article about that from the New York Post back in May:

Long Islanders were recently hit with bad news. National Grid, which provides natural gas for nearly 600,000 Long Island residents, announced it won’t be able to provide fuel for new customers if the proposed Williams Co. Transco pipeline expansion isn’t approved by May 15.
Earlier this year, energy company Con Ed imposed a similar moratorium on new natural gas service in parts of Westchester County due to limited capacity on existing pipelines.

It has even gotten so bad that that people who had their gas turned off during renovations have found that their utility companies are reluctant to turn their gas back on.
What is so frustrating about all of this is that it is so avoidable. If there's one thing America has a lot of, it is natural gas. Stephanie Yang and Ryan Dezember wrote about this strange energy divide in the Wall Street Journal:

America is awash in natural gas. In parts of the country there’s hardly a drop to burn.
Earlier this year, two utilities that service the New York City area stopped accepting new natural-gas customers in two boroughs and several suburbs. Citing jammed supply lines running into the city on the coldest winter days, they said they couldn’t guarantee they’d be able to deliver gas to additional furnaces. Never mind that the country’s most prolific gas field, the Marcellus Shale, is only a three-hour drive away.
Meanwhile, in West Texas, drillers have so much excess natural gas they are simply burning it off, roughly enough each day to fuel every home in the state.
U.S. gas production rose to a record of more than 37 trillion cubic feet last year, up 44% from a decade earlier. Yet the infrastructure needed to move gas around the country hasn’t kept up. Pipelines aren’t in the right places, and when they are, they’re usually decades old and often too small.
The result, despite natural-gas prices that look low on commodities exchanges, is energy feast and famine….
With U.S. homes, power plants and factories using more natural gas than ever, the uneven distribution of the shale boom’s bounty means that consumers can end up paying more or even become starved for fuel, while companies that can’t get it to market lose out on profits. Around New York City, the dearth of gas has cast uncertainty over new developments and raised fears of stifling economic growth.
One reason for the problem is that pipelines have become political. Proponents of reducing the use of fossil fuels have had little luck limiting drilling in energy-rich regions. Instead, they’ve turned to fighting pipeline projects on environmental grounds in regions like New York and the Pacific Northwest, where they have a more sympathetic ear.

What has this meant on the ground in New York? Well....

In New York, commercial real-estate broker John Barrett said he was completing the sale of a development that would become a 66-unit apartment building, when Consolidated Edison Inc. announced it would no longer take on new gas customers after March 15 in the southern part of Westchester County. The developer canceled the deal signing and backed out of the purchase two weeks later.
The future of a nine-figure development in New Rochelle, which would include a new city hall, fire station and affordable housing units, is suddenly in doubt. In Yonkers, Mayor Mike Spano worries that the gas moratorium will foul up plans for a mixed-use development on a big downtown parking lot.
Homes that don’t come with natural gas lines are now a tougher sell, said Mark Nadler, director of Westchester sales at Berkshire Hathaway Homeservices, unless buyers don’t mind cooking on an electric range or refilling tanks of heating oil each autumn.
Con Edison is trying to adapt to a world without additional pipelines. Scott Butler, from the company’s “utility of the future” department, said the team has explored trucking in emergency fuel supplies and even making its own fuel. The utility has proposed building three new facilities in the New York City area to turn compost and food scraps into gas. It is also planning to haul in natural gas on trucks, as many as 180 of them on the coldest days.

The NY Post story linked above contains this mention of New York's neighbor to the southwest:

This isn’t the first time political hurdles and bureaucracy have stalled pipeline construction in New York. The Constitution Pipeline, which was to carry natural gas 124 miles from Pennsylvania’s booming shale fields to consumers in New York, has been stalled for six years despite being approved by federal regulators in 2014. New York officials have used their authority under the Clean Water Act to prevent the much-needed infrastructure project from moving forward.

Those "booming shale fields" in PA have meant cheaper energy, but also a thriving job market and growing political clout as Salena Zito of the Washington Examiner documents:

All Darrin Kelly wanted for the energy workers in Western Pennsylvania was that the Democratic presidential hopefuls would talk to them before going to war against shale.
That opportunity slipped away last Friday when Elizabeth Warren joined Bernie Sanders in calling for a total fracking ban.
“On my first day as president, I will sign an executive order that puts a total moratorium on all new fossil-fuel leases for drilling offshore and on public lands. And I will ban fracking — everywhere,” Warren tweeted.
“It is disappointing that any national candidate would not come in here and want to talk to the men and women of this area first before unilaterally making that decision,” said Kelly, a charismatic Pittsburgh firefighter who is also the head of the powerful and influential Allegheny Fayette Labor Council. They represent workers stretching from Pittsburgh to the borders of Maryland and West Virginia....“The natural gas industry employs well over 40,000 people just in this region alone,” Kelly said. “Countless more indirectly, providing economic opportunity for generations of families and communities that had been hollowed out by the demise of manufacturing and coal in this area.”
Donald Trump won Pennsylvania with just over 40,000 votes in 2016.....Building the plant has brought in 6,000 good-paying jobs, with more to come. Ultimately, there will be 600 permanent jobs at the plant, with industry analysts predicting triple that amount in supporting industries.
Jobs postings are everywhere touting opportunities, no matter the skill level — high school education, trade school certificate, chemists, engineers, IT, labor. If you reliably turn up for work, there is likely a career for you in the oil and gas industry.
“And if you think our workers don’t care for the environment or climate change you are wrong,” said Kelly. “They are the ones not only working in the industry, but they live here, play here, raise their kids here, hunt, fish, boat, ski, swim, and hike. They want to be in a responsible industry,” he said.

All of which is to say that, while NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and his allies in Albany have been bending over backwards seeking the approval of jet-setting environmentalists the world over, actual New Yorkers are struggling. No wonder that, even with New York's reputation as the center of the universe, many of my friends and family members would be happy to leave. And these days Pennsylvania is a pretty attractive destination.
Tom Finnerty writes from New England and Ontario.

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