The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

December 7, 2013

Attitudes are changing on gas drilling

By Dick Downey Local Commentary
The Daily Star

---- — With elections over, the candidate lawn signs are gone. Otsego’s permanent signage has once again returned. “For Sale” signs have reclaimed the lawns — people attempting to sell and leave.

Our county’s economic doldrums have spurred state Sen. James Seward’s two economic summits. Last year’s focused on local assets and strategies to boost those assets. This year’s featured a nanotech educator from SUNY Utica’s Institute of Technology and upstate regional and county economic developers.

The keynoter was a consultant specializing in corporate site development. After touring Otsego and interviewing many, he opined that we were not quite ready for prime time. We need a go-to person — to open doors, take care of needs, and expedite matters — a one-stop shop. We also need ready-to-go sites. “Shovel-ready” was the catch phrase of the day. In closing, Seward observed: “We have a lot of work to do.”

One asset ignored was natural gas. In future discussions on economics, let’s take the wraps off this verboten word. Natural gas is in our economic future, like it or not.

The Constitution Pipeline starts in 2015. It’s a FERC project; it will be built. This transmission pipeline will off-load Pennsylvania gas to distribution lines in Otsego County and beyond. Liquid natural gas (LNG) will be delivered to stranded communities and anchor facilities. It’s simple economics — lower fuel bills.

When the moratorium is lifted, gas development will start in the Southern Tier. Development occurs along the “highways,” i.e., the pipelines. By 2015 or thereabouts, those “highways” will have moved from the drawing boards to construction. At some point in the future, New York gas will be servicing New York customers.

The Indian Point nuclear power plant is on borrowed time. It’s old, on a fault line, and Cuomo hates it but it generates 2,000 megawatts of electricity. How is New York City going to replace that much power? Underutilized upstate plants will provide some of that power but nowhere near enough. Coal fired plants are out. Wind/solar? Give me a break! Hydro from Canada? Possibly, but not enough.

New York will build new gas-fired generators. Rest assured they won’t be built in the city’s suburbs. The plants will be built upstate (Mohawk, Hudson valleys?) and the electricity will flow along existing routes (Marcy South, Hudson Valley?) The lawyers are looking at 2018 as a realistic date for the legal framework to be in place. Construction will follow.

Natural gas will provide local power and generate it on a regional basis. Why not utilize our upstate universities’ nanotech advantage to enhance gas production and safety? That is what Rice University is doing for Texas. At the Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, Rice is exploring a host of nanotech applications for the oil and gas industry in building lighter, stronger, more resistant equipment and in creating “smart” fluids that resist drag, bind sand, and provide anticorrosive coatings. Nano-sensors are being engineered for improved temperature and pressure ratings in deep wells. New nanotech imaging allows better discovery, sizing and characterization of reservoirs as well as pipeline monitoring and repair.

How appropriate that our upstate SUNY college consortium of Albany, Binghamton, and Utica be the Center for Nanotech Development in the Utica Shale? This won’t happen if gas continues to be the pariah.

November’s election may have changed that. Gas was the underlying central issue in Otsego and the results favored gas drilling. Maybe it’s the research coming out to the Water Resources Institute at Cornell (no water well contamination in the Marcellus because of hydraulic fracturing) or the ongoing seven-year surface-water study from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (no change in water quality over that period.)

Maybe people have realized that Pennsylvania hasn’t descended into an abyss. Things are going pretty well down there. Maybe people are just tired of the hyperbolic demonizing of the product and the process. We all use hydrocarbons. Over 90% of domestic wells drilled are hydrofracked. Whatever it is, attitudes are changing.

There is one thing for sure, in economics as well as life — if you do what you’ve done, you get what you got. In Otsego, we’ve got a lot of For Sale signs, declining school populations, young families leaving. With work to do, it’s time to change attitudes, put aside the fear, and be open to opportunity.

DICK DOWNEY is a member of the Unatego Area Landowners Association.