Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Also Now Overdue:
New York's Updated Energy Plan

Anybody else wonder what's going on here?

An expert inter-agency panel of energy specialists in New York has been meeting fairly regularly since Sept. 2009 in order to update the state's Energy Plan,
as directed by the legislative and executive branches.

The whole process is as dully transparent as things get in New York, on a seldom-visited web site here.

Energy planners went through a similar exercise previously in 2009, and in 2002.  But — to keep on top of the inexorable changes — the wheels were set in motion four years back to get the plan updated by 2013.  The 2013 draft was said to be due in Fall 2013, and the final by Spring 2014.

Judging by the astronomical calendar, I suppose that means they've got a few days left.  Judging by the foot of snow I just shoveled, their time is already up.

But the draft plan is still nowhere to be found on their web site.

Does that kind of delay rank as news in New York, or is it just another sleeping pill?

New York's energy planning delay thematically syncs up with the state's dysfunctional gridlock over the very much related, now-five-plus-years-old fracking question:  Can this state can ever find a regulated way to let its landowners (or resident workers, such as myself) seek a small piece of the supply side in the burgeoning shale gas business — without falling to pieces over any of the real (or over-hyped) environmental impacts?

[Another digression, because I just can't help myself:  It's worth noting that dysfunctional gridlock has a very long history in New York; it's one of our primary sources of amusement.  The most interesting, most recent, case study of this Empire State Illness is the Full Century that was required before state officials figured out a way to sort out a seemingly minor land-title ruckus that had long festered with a couple hundred Adirondack camp owners in the Raquette Lake area.  That one's gotta be a record.  Voters just finally fixed it by a quit-claim-for-land-purchase-money swap, as posed by a ballot proposition in Nov. 2013.  (Like nobody could have figured out something similar back in 1899!)  In both cases — shale gas and Adirondack issues — the eternal gridlock is not just sourced directly to intractable political conflict; it's sourced much more directly to the legal barricades that Conflict Warriors have erected, over many prior years, to give them forts to fight from in the future.  For shale gas, the legal barricade is known as SEQRA, which started merely as a rationalistic project planning requirement to analyze and mitigate against environmental impacts, but has evolved to become a way for opponents to politically kill projects.  That's what the whole tortured shale gas SGEIS process flows from.  For the Adirondacks, the legal barricade was long ago cast in stone in the hallowed "Forever Wild" provision of the State Constitution — thou shalt not cut any state-owned trees, or convey any state-owned land, inside The Blue Line.  But "Forever Wild" has evolved to mean that you need the state equivalent of an Act of Congress, just to put to rest a land-title glitch which originated with clerical errors from, like, the mid-to-late 1800s.  Few in New York seem to think this may have, at some point, gotten out of hand; we're pretty acclimated.]

But back to New York's energy planning, where it's worth noting that the technological innovation of shale gas is, without question, the primary change in energy markets to have materialized (or much more clearly materialized) since planners last put out a plan in 2009.

Close, cynical readers such as myself are very much interested in knowing how these 2013 planners are going to grapple with the internal conundrum of having to choose a path forward on shale gas.  They could continue to advocate for a regulated harvest of the state's indigenous shale gas resource, as they did before.  Or else they could run with the inescapable alternative:  Openly advocate Not In My Backyard as a matter of official state energy policy.

NIMBY is exactly where New York is already headed:  We're burning more and more natural gas.  In fact, the governor just announced over this past weekend that he's making the necessary arrangements to get the private sector to convert a shuttered Buffalo-area electricity plant to burn natural gas instead of coal.  But, to get it done, New York must draw on a U.S. supply that was most recently touted as now about
40% credited to hydraulic fracturing in tight rocks, all occurring out of state, or out of country.

Certain places in New York happen to sit a mile or so above the right kind of bedrock, but the right kind of drilling and fracking has never been allowed to occur in New York.  We'd rather just pay the money to import the stuff fracked out of Pennsylvania for heat and power (and for peace of mind for some), here in New York.

Energy planners, the last time around, back in 2009, can be seen in hindsight to have been surprisingly gung-ho and confident in recommending the state "encourage development of the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation with environmental safeguards that are protective of water supplies and natural resources."

Not that any of those words have mattered so far, but — just out of morbid, historical curiosity — here's more of what the energy planners had to say, back in the day, in planning for the rise of shale gas:

In-State Potential and Development Progress

With the emerging recognition of the Marcellus Shale natural gas potential, there is a renewed interest in natural gas development in-state.  At this time, in-state natural gas production from about 6,700 active natural gas wells supplies about five percent of the State’s requirements. The Marcellus Shale gas formation extends northeast from West Virginia, through Pennsylvania to southwestern New York, and holds great promise for future development.

The Marcellus Shale's total gas in place is conservatively estimated to be approximately 168 trillion cubic feet, but the figure might be as high as 516 trillion cubic feet.  New York's portion of total recoverable gas remains unknown; however, the State’s natural gas production is expected to increase significantly over the forecast period due largely to the projected production from the Marcellus Shale formation.  The State’s natural gas production is expected to more than double from 55 billion cubic feet in 2007 to about 146 billion cubic feet, representing about 11 percent of the State’s natural gas requirements by 2020. 

Although the addition of Marcellus Shale production is expected to result in a significant increase in New York production over the planning period, the natural gas model reflects a conservative Marcellus Shale natural gas production level to account for potential permitting and production difficulties related to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.  If these difficulties are minimized, Marcellus production levels could potentially be much higher. This resource presents an opportunity for the State to unlock substantial economic value while helping to achieve several of the Energy Plan’s key energy policy objectives. 

Further, New York-based natural gas extraction would create jobs, create wealth for upstate landowners, and increase State revenue from taxes and leases and royalties. Development of State-owned lands could provide much needed revenue relief to the State and spur economic development and job creation in economically depressed regions of the State.

In pursing this economic development opportunity, however, the State should first examine the development of mineral rights only for properties owned by the State which are located outside the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves and State parklands under the jurisdiction of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

For development of the Marcellus Shale, horizontal well completions combined with hydraulic fracturing are likely to provide the best means for producing economic volumes of natural gas.  While neither horizontal drilling nor hydraulic fracturing is new to natural gas development in New York, there are environmental concerns with respect to the effects of fracturing on water supplies, and disposal and contamination issues related to the chemical composition of the fluids used in the fracturing process. 

Additional concerns regarding drilling in the Marcellus Shale focus on the potential local impacts to communities, including increased truck traffic, noise, aesthetics, and impact on quality of life. DEC regulations govern the well permitting, drilling operations, and well site restoration when drilling is completed. To assess the potential environmental concerns related to the development of the Marcellus Shale formation in New York, DEC is reviewing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the context of a Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS).  A draft SGEIS was released by DEC in September 2009 that proposes a number of safety measures, protection standards, and permits for drilling activities.101 The public comment period on the draft SGEIS is open through December 31, 2009.


Support private interest and investment in drilling in the Marcellus Shale natural gas reserves and natural gas pipeline expansions to improve supply and deliverability of natural gas to markets in New York in an environmentally acceptable manner.

Establish final DEC regulatory requirements for drilling and pipeline construction.

Coordinate regulatory requirements for drilling and pipeline expansions.

Study private investment in extracting natural gas in the Marcellus Shale on State-owned lands outside of the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves and State parklands under the jurisdiction of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

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