Friday, March 30, 2012

Dear Governor Cuomo: How About This
For A Second "Energy Highway"?

Dear Governor Cuomo:

I happened to be working from home in Syracuse, March 28 — in fact, telecommuting on a shale gas job in Ohio, believe it or not — and in the background I heard your comments on public radio's "The Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter," regarding your "Energy Highway" ideas.

There was a spot there, sometime between 6:00 and 12:00, where I thought you really got into it, you know? — answering Arbetter's dutiful-but-somewhat-tiresome "Yeah, but's" with this:
"Look, I understand problems, you know?  There are 9,000 reasons why you shouldn't do something.  I tend to be an optimist and focus on how do we get to yes here.  I understand the concerns.  I understand the problems.  I also understand — we need energy.  And, if we're talking about bringing jobs back to this state, you need energy.  And you need a constant supply of affordable energy.  How are we gonna do it?  [In a rumbling, lowered voice] 'Well, I see issues.'  Yeah, I see issues, too.  How do we sit down and get to yes.  And that's the difference — one of the differences — between government being the obstacle and the facilitator.  It's easy to find reasons not to do something.  It really is.  And it's easy to pander to the fears of people.  Yes, but that's not, I believe, doing the job responsibly.  How do you address the problem, but get to yes, so we can move forward?"
Now — of course it occurs to me — we could certainly apply that sort of progressive, responsible thinking to developing shale gas in New York State — as easily as we could apply it to your "Energy Highway" endorsement of the Lake Champlain-Lake George-Hudson River, mostly-underwater, electricity transmission cable idea.

But that's not what I'm writing you about (at least not this time).

Instead, I'm talking about another possible "Energy Highway":  There have been two private sector plans revealed in the last month or so, putting forth the idea of a natural gas pipeline inter-connect that would run from the Northern Tier of PA, briefly through the Southern Tier of NY, and then deep into NY's Leatherstocking Region.  There, at junction points somewhere in Schoharie County, the pipeline would hook into two existing major northeastern transmission lines — one east-bound, feeding Albany and beyond, and the second southeast-bound, sending the natgas to Greater NYC.

From what I understand, these proposals are inspired by a forecast surplus of mostly Marcellus shale gas, coming out of PA, coupled with a deficit of transmission capacity — which will otherwise eventually bottleneck flow at a number of points between the rural production zones, and the largely urbanized, business, residential, and power-generating End Consumers — in both NY and New England. 

The first plan out of the box is called "Northeast Exchange," and it was put forth by El Paso's Tennesee Gas Pipeline.  It may or may not be on hold at this point (see a comment from an apparently knowledgeable anonymous person at the end of my post). 

The second plan is called "Constitution Pipeline," and it comes from a 25-75 joint venture involving Cabot Oil and Gas and Williams Partners.  A month has gone by since the announcement, and I've been hearing — through my own grapevine, as of just this week — that it's already triggering some landwork employment opportunities within Upstate.

The two proposals appear to be in the preliminary stages of competing with each other on two levels — for obtaining enough future contracted flow to justify construction, and — if either manages to get that far along — for winning approvals from federal and state authorities as to "public need."

(It has occurred to me also that these plans might also prove to be in a more subtle competition with an entirely different plan, called "Commonwealth Pipeline," to connect the Marcellus Shale gas fields of PA with markets as far southeast as Baltimore and Washington, DC.  But whether there will be enough natgas to go around for all, so that this won't be an issue — I just don't know.)

Now, I have been around Upstate my whole life, which is long enough to recognize that any such energy infrastructure proposal hereabouts — even a plan for a wind farm — will inevitably inspire Not In My Backyard opposition, often allied with slightly less provincial, supposedly environmentally minded thinkers.  (As a graduate student at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry here in Syracuse (GPES '95), this was definitely one of the many nettlesome modern-day issues we studied — but never, of course, did we learn exactly how to resolve all of them in bullet-proof ways.)

But, with regard to this PA-NY interconnect pipeline, I have a half-cocked suggestion which might pro-actively limit this kind of conflict.  I wonder if a significant portion of the necessary routing couldn't be much less controversially arranged for, by simply doing this:  Have the State of New York take the lead in negotiating to get paid for an easement, or an easement option, covering a strip of land just inside the fenceline of the already-taken-in-fee Interstate 88 corridor.  (I'm assuming NYS is in title, not USA, but, either way, seems like you could have some influence over the situation.)

Starting in Sidney or Bainbridge or maybe even a point southwesterly, and running as far northeasterly as Central Bridge, that could take up to maybe 80 miles out of the realm of affecting the fields or forests of private landowners.

Of course, there will be a number of landowners with holdings immediately adjoining Route 88 who might still object — either due to the real or perceived impacts, on top of what's already there from the highway, or due to the state beating them out of a business opportunity. 

But, in the latter case, it occurs to me that the state's easement could be generously structured so as to give preference on more or less equivalent terms to any private landowners eager to offer up their parallel footage.  I'm not an engineer, but it seems to me the pipeline — and any necessary above-ground infrastructure, such as valves, connections, and compressors — could be laid out so as to wander back and forth under the highway fence, as necessary or appropriate, keeping the complicated stuff away from both the traffic and people's houses.

And, that way, everybody wins:  Pipeline company; willing landowners; unwilling landowners; NYS; local property tax-collecting jurisdictions; people on the job, or who need a job; and end consumers (including NY residents, businesses, and power plants).

(You know, also, maybe you could even get the pipeline company to help out, down the road, with some of the Route 88 mowing and tree-pruning work, at least in the areas closest to its line.)

There are a lot of factors of economics, geology, topography, wetlands, and so on, that go into planning these things.  And, of course, I'm in no position to say whether using all or part of the Route 88 corridor would make any sense on these grounds.  But, in terms of minimizing the most glaring, publicly perceptible impacts, it seems like doing it that way would be a winner.

I have tried to research issues of public safety so far as the wisdom, or lack thereof, of burying fossil fuels pipelines along or near interstate highways.  But, sorry to say, I haven't found much, one way or the other.  Again, this could very well be an unworkable idea — based just on those sorts of issues.  But I'm sure you've got professionals in your transportation, public service, or environmental departments who could do a much better job of looking into that.

Anyway, I just thought I'd mention it.

Andy Leahy

Blogging and tweeting as: NY Shale Gas Now

P.S. — Good job on the budget!

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