Op-Ed: National Grid Expanding Its Fracked Gas Supplies

Despite New York State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act passed last year that sets a goal of 70 percent renewable energy in the state by 2030, and the state ban in 2014 on the environmentally polluting process of fracking in New York, National Grid is moving ahead with a major expansion of the transport and distribution of fracked gas—with Suffolk and Nassau Counties primary repositories.

National Grid, a British company which acquired Keyspan for $7.3 billion in 2006 and is the monopoly gas utility on Long Island, claims the expansion of pipelines, compressed fracked gas sites and other facilities for bringing fracked gas here is necessary because of a “gas shortage.”

Six of the eight projects involving fracked gas that National Grid is seeking to have the state Department of Public Service to give its OK to are in Suffolk and Nassau—three in Suffolk, three in Nassau. And, the company is seeking state approval for nearly $1 billion in rate hikes to pay for its new gas proposals.

“The National Grid claim of a ‘gas shortage’ is false,” declares Kim Fraczek, director of the Sane Energy Project, a leader in the recently successful battle against the Williams Pipeline. “What National Grid is trying to do now,” says Ms. Fraczek, “is expand the fracking infrastructure and get more residents hooked onto fracked gas especially in Suffolk County where there is a minimum use of gas now.”

The Williams Pipeline, pushed by National Grid, would have brought fracked gas from Pennsylvania, through New Jersey, then 23 miles underwater south of Staten Island, under New York Harbor, to the Rockaways, part of National Grid’s territory.

As public and governmental opposition to this $1 billion project mounted, National Grid threatened a “moratorium” on new gas hook-ups despite reports showing there was no “gas shortage” as claimed by the company to justify the Williams Pipeline. Governor Andrew Cuomo stood up to National Grid calling for a state probe of the “moratorium.” Meanwhile, there was intense grassroots action including demonstrations. The state Department of Environmental Conservation denied a water quality permit needed for the pipeline and also cited the Climate Act, and earlier this year the fight was won.

The Sane Energy Project is now involved in challenging National Grid’s new scheme to get fracked gas to Long Island and “create captive fossil fuel customers when we should be moving Long Island to a renewable jobs economy,” says Ms. Fraczek. The New York City-based organization describes itself on its website—https://www.saneenergy.org/—as “committed to replacing fracked gas infrastructure with community-led, sustainable energy. We oppose the development, transport and export of fracked gas—’natural gas’—in favor of an urgent and just transition to a renewable economy with the goal of zero fossil fuel or nuclear dependence.”

Fracking is a huge environmental and health threat. Some 600 chemicals—many of them cancer-causing—and massive amounts of water under pressure are sent underground to break apart shale formations and release gas and oil. There are constant leaks from the piping bringing the petroleum up causing groundwater to become contaminated by it and the chemicals.

A landmark TV documentary on this was Gasland, nominated for an Academy Award in 2011. It and its sequel, Gasland Part II, both directed and reported by Josh Fox, include numerous scenes of homeowners turning on their water faucets, setting a match to what is coming out—with the result: the mix of water and gas bursting into flames. Many people interviewed had become seriously ill.

The three fracked gas projects National Grid wants to build in Suffolk are an “expanded transmission” facility in Riverhead for $25 million, over 14,000 feet of new “Southeastern Suffolk transmission mains” for $40 million, and expansion in Northport of the Iroquois Pipeline crossing Long Island Sound to cost $272 million.

Ms. Fraczek says what’s especially “heinous” about the National Grid move is that New York passed the Climate Act to reduce “the use of fossil fuels—like gas—and have energy based on sources that don’t contribute to climate change. But National Grid is pushing in the other direction for its profit. There are many alternatives to gas including energy efficiency retrofits, air source heat pumps that can be installed in homes, solar thermal systems and geothermal systems Maybe we should just do away with this corporate shareholder model and push for New Yorkers to own our own power grid and cut out the expensive middle-man.”

Because of the climate crisis, she says, “California is burning, the Gulf Coast is flooded by hurricanes one after another, and Long Island, a waterfront community surrounded on all sides by rising water stands to be threatened. We want to make sure all the nature and beauty of Long Island is not underwater because of decisions favoring fossil fuel giants over the future.”

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