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Mayor Bloomberg Releases New Study That Finds More Natural Gas Critical For New York City's Sustainable Future

August 27, 2012

Increased Natural Gas Service Needed as City Phases Out Heavy Heating Oil

More Conversions to Natural Gas Will Improve Air Quality and Public Health – Key PlaNYC Goals

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today released a new study that finds upgrades to natural gas services are critical for New York City to improve air quality and public health – key components of the City’s comprehensive, long-term sustainability program, PlaNYC. The findings result from a year-long examination conducted by ICF International, which reviewed the region’s natural gas infrastructure and whether it could accommodate growing demand. The study determined that the current natural gas system operates near its limits during peak periods. Additional gas supply and infrastructure upgrades are needed to meet rising demands – particularly as city buildings make mandatory conversions from heavy heating oil to cleaner fuels. The study also found that the production, transport and use of natural gas are estimated to result in 20 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than heavy heating oil. Last week, Mayor Bloomberg expressed support for stronger regulations to ensure the safe development of domestic natural gas resources in an op-ed coauthored with George P. Mitchell, who helped lead the development of fracking technologies. Increasing New York City’s natural gas infrastructure will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030 – a PlaNYC target – and will help make New York City’s air quality the best of any major U.S. city.

“Natural gas is a low-cost, low-emissions fuel that makes good economic and environmental sense,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “This study confirms its importance to New York City’s reliable, clean energy future and demonstrates that with responsible, well-regulated development, we can make the investments that both improve our air quality and save lives.”

“New York City has benefitted from increased domestic gas supplies over the past few years in the form of cleaner air, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and lower energy costs,” said Sergej Mahnovski, Director of Energy Policy in the Mayor’s Office.  “Gas has displaced more polluting fuels in the power sector and many building owners are converting boilers from heavy fuel oil to natural gas.  Modernizing regional gas infrastructure – if done responsibly – will help achieve our public health goals while improving reliability and promoting economic growth.”

Last year, Mayor Bloomberg announced that city buildings would be required to phase out the use of heavy heating oils. Though approximately 10,000 buildings – or just 1 percent of the city’s building stock – burn these types of fuels, they produce more annual soot pollution than all the cars and trucks on the road. In addition to the regulations to eliminate the use of No. 6 and No. 4 heating oils by 2015 and 2030 respectively, Mayor Bloomberg – working with the Environmental Defense Fund – launched the NYC Clean Heat program to accelerate the adoption of the cleanest fuels such as natural gas, ultra-low sulfur No.2 oil, and biodiesel. Achieving the NYC Clean Heat goal of reducing fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) emissions from heavy oil use by 50 percent by 2013 is expected to save 120 lives and prevent 300 hospital visits annually. Since the regulations were announced, more than 700 buildings have converted from heavy oil and utilities have experienced an unprecedented growth in requests for natural gas service for oil conversions.

The ICF International study examined natural gas market and infrastructure conditions to determine if action is needed to accommodate the city’s growing gas demand and to ensure its reliability. According to the study, the phase-out of heavy oil could lead to an increase in peak day gas loads by an average of 30 percent. Additional gas supply and distribution infrastructure improvements will be needed to meet rising demand from fuel conversions and to improve the reliability and deliverability of the energy system. The study also reviewed changes to the North American gas market, finding that increased gas production in the northeast has reduced prices across the U.S. and is displacing pipeline imports to the Northeast from the Gulf Coast and Canada. The study found that approximately 30 percent of the gas supply reaching New York City today is derived from regional shale deposits, and that amount is expected to grow to 80 percent by 2025.

The Mayor and Mitchell highlighted in their op-ed the benefits of domestic natural gas through fracking as a low-cost resource with the potential to create jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and explained that “fracking for natural gas can be as good for our environment as it is for our economy and our wallets, but only if done responsibly.”  Their list of key principles to jumpstart improved regulation included: the disclosure of all chemicals used in the fracking process; protecting ground water and ensuring the proper disposal of wastewater; and improving air pollution controls. A full copy of the op-ed is available here.

The environmental impacts of gas production have received significant attention from the scientific, policy, and environmental communities in recent years. The ICF International report specifically focused on greenhouse gas emissions from the entire “lifecycle” of natural gas—from extraction, transmission and distribution, to combustion in boilers.  The study found that the use of natural gas leads to approximately 40 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than coal used in power plants and 20 percent less than conventional fuel oil used in boilers.   Blending ultra-low sulfur No. 2 fuel oil with a 20 percent mixture of soy based biodiesel (B20) was also found to significantly reduce lifecycle emissions compared with heavy fuel oil. A copy of the full report is attached.

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