Natural gas storage regulations get wrapped up in fracking fight

Oct 17, 2013

Anti-fracking activists are also fighting New York’s efforts to lift a ban on small natural gas storage and fueling facilities. A public information session on the matter held in Syracuse on Wednesday became about the larger natural gas industry.

New York is the only state to ban small-scale natural gas storage. That came after a 1970s facility accident in New York City. Now, under efforts from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, new fueling stations for trucks could be built as early as next year.

The DEC says the first permits would likely be issued for smaller facilities supplying fuel to long-haul and fleet trucks that use liquefied natural gas as a cheaper substitute for diesel.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens told the Associated Press, lower emissions from burning liquefied natural gas as a fuel instead of diesel "will provide significant benefits to the environment and public health" and also create jobs.

The proposal comes as New York remains under a 5-year-old moratorium on shale gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing. The process has produced abundant, low-cost natural gas elsewhere in the country. It has also come with numerous environmental and health concerns.

Officials from the DEC stressed at a public information session at the State Fairgrounds on Wednesday that they would be taking questions on the new regulations only, not comments.

But those cries went unheeded. Many used the chance to deride the natural gas industry as a whole, bringing in fracking and large-scale gas storage to the discussion.

At a rally outside before the session, Sandra Steingraber said the issues are all connected.

"At this point we’re not allowing fracking, but we’re allowing the infrastructure to start it on a dime if the moratorium on fracking is ever lifted," she said. "So you can’t separate the storage, the pipelines and the drilling."

"We understand the concerns about the regulations setting the state for a greater infrastructure, but the projections don’t seem to follow that," Andrew English of the DEC said. "The projections are showing a very modest number of facilities over the next five years."

Many who were at the rally went inside to attend the session. The first break for questions dragged on for over an hour. The first person at the microphone made an impassioned plea to turn the information session into a public comment hearing.

There are three liquid natural gas facilities in operation in the New York City area that were grandfathered in. A 1973 accident at a dormant facilities on Staten Island killed 40 workers inside.

The DEC will hold a public comment hearing in Albany on Oct. 30 and is taking written comments until Nov 4.