ALBANY, N.Y. - Opponents of natural gas hydrofracking packed a hearing Wednesday on proposed state rules that would allow, for the first time in some four decades, construction of facilities to handle super-cooled liquefied natural gas.
ALBANY, N.Y. — Opponents of natural gas hydrofracking packed a hearing Wednesday on proposed state rules that would allow, for the first time in some four decades, construction of facilities to handle super-cooled liquefied natural gas.
In announcing the proposed regulations last month, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said they were aimed at allowing construction of fueling stations for trucks that use liquefied natural gas, or LNG, as a cleaner alternative to diesel.
But at the hearing at DEC headquarters on Broadway, opponents said the regulations would also quietly open the door to large-scale LNG facilities to process — and possibly export — a flood of natural gas expected to flow should the state decide to approve the controversial drilling technique.
''These vague rules are a Trojan Horse to allow for large facilities, under the guise of clean transportation fuel," said Russ Haven, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "It would drive up demand for fracked gas."
In New York, LNG can be used upstate a fuel, but it cannot be shipped solely within the state. It can be shipped in New York if the shipment begins or ends in another state.
When natural gas is cooled to about minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, it changes from a gas to a liquid. The liquid takes up 1/600 the volume of gas, making LNG economically profitable to carry on special trucks and ship globally in giant tankers, which is not the case in its gaseous state.
Because of a U.S. glut of natural gas from the fracking boom, energy companies are seeking ways to export LNG to markets in the Far East and Europe where prices are about four times higher. So far, federal officials have approved four LNG export terminals where tankers will one day be able to fill up, and will be reviewing plans for another 21 such terminals, mainly in the Gulf of Mexico region.
This month, the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying arm for energy companies, said speedy federal approval for new export terminals could double natural gas exports.
In New York City, there are plans for an off-shore LNG import terminal about 20 miles south of Jones Beach. Opponents claim it could be converted to an export plant, but the developers of the Liberty LNG Port dispute that.
At Wednesday's hearing, Russ Brauksieck, an official with DEC's Division of Environmental Remediation, said the state expects initial applications for LNG facilities under the proposed rules to be for truck fueling stations, which is what DEC Commissioner Joe Martens also said in announcing the proposal.
Larger facilities, like import/export facilities or "peak shaving" plants, where excess natural gas is liquefied to make it easier to store for later sale, were "not likely to occur," he said.
Should energy companies want to build such major LNG facilities in New York, the projects would need permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Brauksieck added. "We would have to work with FERC on that," he said.
''DEC is saying the rules would only result in small fueling stations, but the language has no limits on size. They would permit a virtual smorgasbord of fracking infrastructure," said Keith Shue, a member of the anti-fracking group Sustainable Otsego.
Shue also criticized DEC for relying on a 2011 study of potential LNG risks and benefits produced for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority by an energy company that could profit from its natural gas technology, should the state allow hydrofracking.
Based in Tarrytown, Expansion Energy is involved with a fracking technique that does not use water, as well as small-scale LNG production at drilling sites.
The state's trucking industry supports the proposed LNG rules, said Karin White, deputy director of the New York State Motor Truck Association. She said it is a "safe alternative to other fuels."
Support was also offered by The Business Council of New York State. Government Affairs Director Darren Suarez said "several New York businesses have expressed interest in developing LNG facilities, including fueling facilities for heavy-duty trucks."
This week, a coalition of landowners that have drilling leases with gas companies also came out in support of the proposed rules. "As more LNG is used in New York and across the nation, there will be even more pressure on Gov. Cuomo to allow natural gas development," said an Oct. 29 mailing from the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York.
DEC is taking public comments on the proposals through Dec. 4.
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