Saturday, February 15, 2014

NY nat' gas projection exemplifies doublespeak on fracking Cuomo plan bases outlook on conflicting scenarios

Will Fracking be part of New York’s energy picture for the next 20 years, or not? The state’s draft 2014 Energy Plan is supposed to answer this kind of question, and the fact that it appears to but doesn’t represents the politically unwieldy position Governor Andrew Cuomo finds himself in with the fracking debate.

In a recent post, I wrote that the plan “makes no mention of developing New York’s shale reserves through fracking, a discussion that remains the elephant in the room. But the plan gives a nod to the role of natural gas and more infrastructure as part and parcel to some very ambitious, of very broad, goals.”

An astute reader, Keith Schue, flagged this. He pointed out Cuomo's plan does in fact mention fracking, albeit in a convoluted and (in my view) meaningless way. Schue directed me to “Volume 2 – Sources,” and a subsection on p. 88 titled "New York Production Forecast." (Embedded below)

My own review of this section found several things worth noting.  First, the forecast, accompanied by a chart, extends through 2035. During that time, the state’s natural gas production is “expected to decrease significantly,” according to the text, due to a “decline in existing formations” and “lack of new wells being drilled.”

Yet, oddly, the line plotted in the accompanying “figure 32” gas production climbs impressively through that period.

The text attempts to explain this, ignoring the inconsistency in the original analysis that gas production was expected to decline. The graph illustrates “a conservative Marcellus Shale natural gas production level.” This “conservative” level accounts for “potential (my emphasis) permitting and production difficulties related to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.” It offers this elaboration. “If these difficulties are minimized, Marcellus production levels could potentially be higher.”

Finally, it explains that the graph “would show a forecasted overall decline in production continuing through 2035 if the current prohibition on shale development continues.” It concludes that “Regardless of actions within New York boundaries,” ample supplies of gas exist elsewhere “as long as the interstate pipeline capacity exists.”

In a nut, the plan says that Marcellus gas will make production go up, contingent on unknowable factors if it happens, and go down if it doesn’t; and New York can get gas elsewhere anyway, if their are enough pipelines.

To my eye, the analysis appears at first blush to be vague to the point of meaninglessness. But I will grant that it provides a baseline for discussion and many will find that the very dance around the Marcellus question along with the excruciating qualifications and parsing of language are emblematic of the ambiguous state of our energy future.

Shue, who is working with various environmental and anti-frcking groups, explained in an email that he and others were in the process of “writing an exhaustive critique of the energy plan and will be shining a spotlight on this sly mention of fracking at the hearings too.” I am happy that others are looking carefully at this, and I welcome their assessments.


  1. I think that the text is not inconsistent, merely poorly worded. Below is my edit.

    New York Production Forecast
    The State’s natural gas production [from existing reservoirs] is expected to decrease significantly over the forecast period, due largely to the projected decline in production from the Trenton-Black River wells and lack of new wells
    being drilled. [According to the natural gas model,] as shown in Figure 32, the State’s annual natural gas production was expected to more than triple to about 115 Bcf in 2035. However, this forecast is predicated on the ability to produce from New
    York’s shale reserves.

  2. This whole thing about each state being self sufficient in energy production is silly. It just seems more like marketing to me. A way to freak out everyone so gas drilling is given a sense of urgency. For instance, Pennsylvania Marcellus wells don't have enough gas burners in Pennsylvania so they gladly sell to New York and soon Europeans via LNG shipping.

    The feasibility study published last year by a group from California, looking into how New York could go fossil fuel and Nuclear free by 20XX, was interesting, but silly. New York is the customer. The customer is always right.

    Natural gas is delivered to the "city gate" via many transmission lines coming from all over the US. This gas is usually re-injected, post processing, back into a subsurface porous rock formation. The gas is then drawn from underground storage and delivered to city users. There is some situations where the gas goes directly from transmission to delivery, but not always.

    I'm guessing a worst case scenario would be: Pennsylvania joins the new confederacy and cuts of its gas to New York to stick it to all those fancy book learners wanting their townhouses kept warm. But that's about the only scenario I can think of.

  3. I heard Michael Levi from CFR on NPR's Marketplace last night talk about gas transmission and distribution. Relating to price spikes and supply problems in the northeastern US. He sort of said what I said above. And he is most definitely a gas dude, if that wasn't obvious from his blog. Nonetheless, it was an interesting discussion and maybe available online.

    One thing that wasn't mentioned that got me thinking. Is the quality of shale gas, principally from the Marcellus formation, at a level that necessitates extra ordinary processing? Is this a choke point in transmission and delivery to New York and New England end users? We've heard that Marcellus flowback water registers high in radionuclides. Radionuclides being volatile will also flow with the gas. We have not heard about volatile metals like mercury being present at levels that necessitate removal. Removal of mercury is an essential step in gas processing for both system reasons (protecting materials and catalysts) and environmentally (emissions). Gas burned for electricity probably has coal emissions as a baseline to be below for emissions. Gas for heating homes and cooking hopefully has a stringent standard for contaminants.