On The Street

New York State Using Lots of Fracked Gas, Needs to Decarbonize

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By Michael Gold

New York State may have banned fracking, but is still using fracked gas, transported from Pennsylvania.

Natural gas is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) generated by the state, explained Professor Michael Gerrard, a Columbia University climate change law professor and Chappaqua resident.

These were some of the key points highlighted at a Mar. 1 conference on climate, at Pace University Law School in White Plains, organized by the Federated Conservationists of Westchester County, an organization working to protect and preserve the county’s environment and address climate change.

Buildings utilize more GHG in New York than any other category and the largest chunk of that comes from natural gas to make electricity, Gerrard pointed out.

One of the biggest problems in using natural gas is that it consists mostly of methane, which is “a powerful greenhouse gas,” Gerrard said. A lot of methane leaks into the air during the fracking, or the extraction of the gas, he said. Natural gas, while a cleaner burning fuel than coal, leaks into the air from wells, storage tanks, pipelines and processing plants.

“We need to cut natural gas way down. We need more electrification of buildings,” Gerrard said. “We need a lot of wind and solar to meet grid demands. There are a lot of opportunities for rooftop solar in Westchester County. We must ease the process of installing rooftop solar and adopt laws to encourage those transitions.”

Buildings accounted for more than 32 percent of New York’s GHG emissions, according to a 2019 state Department of Environmental Conservation study that Gerrard cited. Transportation was next with 28 percent, followed by electricity at 13 percent, waste at 12 percent, industry at 9 percent and agriculture at 6 percent.

“To achieve New York’s climate goals, we’re working to move away from our reliance on natural gas…Methane…is emitted during the production, processing, storage, transmission and distribution of natural gas,” explains the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency’s (NYSERDA) website, supporting Gerrard’s argument.

“The transition from natural gas to energy sources that produce low levels of greenhouse gas emissions, such as wind and solar, may be one of the most challenging pieces of New York’s efforts to decarbonize,” the NYSERDA website states.

“Many actions are necessary in order to decarbonize New York’s building sector, “Gerrard wrote in a follow-up e-mail. “These include installing in both existing and new buildings electric heat pumps, electric cooking and water heating infrastructure, LED lighting; using more efficient appliances, including air conditioners, install solar, green, or white rooftops; using shading and better ventilation to reduce air conditioning loads; installing and using far more electric vehicle charging stations, and embracing water efficient landscaping, among other strategies,” he wrote.

“The single most important thing to decarbonize buildings is heat pumps,” Gerrard said. “Germany was able to withstand the loss of gas from Russia” due to the war in Ukraine because it “has a massive program to install heat pumps.”

He also explained that new building construction should be developed near mass transit and in places that are conducive to walking and biking. New building units and lots should be smaller to minimize their impact. Building materials must, at the very least, emit little carbon from their production and usage.

Gerrard also emphasized that New York must develop away from flood-prone areas and “wildfire-urban interface.” In other words, building homes or businesses near forests would be very dangerous.

In terms of transportation, Gerrard explained that “electric vehicles are a whole lot more energy efficient” than gasoline or diesel-powered cars and trucks.

“They use a lot less energy per mile,” he said. “The operating costs of electric vehicles are a lot lower.”

For example, a Ford F-150 Lightning electric truck costs six cents to drive per mile, while the gas-powered F-150 costs 20 cents per mile.

“When gas prices are high, the cost of operating the vehicle goes up,” Gerrard said.

“SUVs are bad for the environment, energy use and safety,” he explained. “The number of pedestrian deaths is higher for SUVs and trucks.”

Gerrard quoted a 2003 study from New Scientist magazine, which found that SUVs double the risk of pedestrian deaths.

To encourage more electric car use, Gerrard said local governments need to build more vehicle charging stations.

Gerrard, the faculty director of Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, explained that his group provides legal help to communities to help overcome local opposition to renewable energy projects.

“There is a lot of false information that really is an obstacle to the transition (to renewables),” he said.

“Batteries can store wind and solar energy. Texas has just experienced a big heat wave but did not experience blackouts because of the huge wind installations in the state,” Gerrard explained.

Pleasantville-based writer Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, the Hartford Courant, The Palm Beach Post and other newspapers, and The Hardy Society Journal.

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