When Hurricane Sandy tore through New York City in 2012, flooding entire neighborhoods, knocking out electricity, and decimating the shores of Staten Island, Queens, and Brooklyn, few New Yorkers were downplaying the significance of climate change. They had already lived through what they hoped was the worst of it.
It’s understandable, then, that New Yorkers are not looking kindly upon a new fracked-gas pipeline that’s proposed to snake its way mere miles from the same areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy. Banding together in a coalition of environmental groups and local communities, they are now organizing to prevent the construction of the Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline.
Developed by Williams, a publicly traded, Fortune 500 company, the NESE is proposed to span Lower New York Bay, from Sayreville, New Jersey, to the Rockaways in Queens. The project would be an extension of the existing Transco pipeline, which stretches from Texas to New York. There is already one segment of the Transco that crosses Lower New York Bay, just south of where the NESE is slated.
“Unfortunately, due to the growing popularity of gas, the existing pipeline operates at maximum capacity,” says Chris Stockton, a Williams spokesperson.
Williams contends that the NESE is necessary to feed New York’s growing energy needs, particularly in light of the city’s oil-to-gas boiler conversion program. Under a 2011 law, buildings in the five boroughs must switch their heating fuel from soot-producing oils to relatively cleaner alternatives, such as gas, by 2030. This environmental initiative, Williams insists, has created demand that surpasses the capacity of the existing Transco pipeline; thus, the NESE is necessary to increase supply to providers like National Grid, which fills residential, commercial, and industrial gas needs in Staten Island, Queens, and Brooklyn, as well as Long Island.
“Williams claims that the pipeline would bring gas supply that New Yorkers desperately need,” says Kim Fraczek, director of the Sane Energy Project, a sustainable-energy-advocacy group. “However, New York City’s boiler conversions would require only a max 6 percent increase in National Grid supply, which will be more than accounted for in building-efficiency improvements and the transition to renewables.”
To corroborate that 6 percent figure, Fraczek points to an assessment commissioned by the city itself. Similarly, in comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, National Grid states that it needs only a 10 percent increase in gas supply to cover both New York City and Long Island. The NESE, on the other hand, would increase capacity by more than 64 percent.