An Open Letter to Senator Kevin Parker about the Williams Pipeline

By INBK, WHARR and 350BK.

Dear Senator Parker:

Thank you again for meeting the delegation from Indivisible Nation BK (INBK) and Women’s Health and Reproductive Rights (WHARR) on January 16. This letter is in reference to the William’s Pipeline. During our meeting, you indicated that: a) it is not clear that the pipeline is fracked gas, b) you felt leaks were unlikely.

Since that meeting, we have done follow up research that we wish to share with you. First, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, 350 Brooklyn,, Food & Water Watch, New York Communities for Change, NY/NJ Baykeeper, Surfrider NYC, and Sane Energy Project all describe the Williams project as a pipeline for fracked gas from Pennsylvania. Perhaps you do not feel that those are credible sources.

Our review of Transco and Williams documents and industry websites make it clear that Transco is trying to obscure the fact that the natural gas in question is fracked gas. Further, the industry is attempting to brand this ‘natural’ gas as a palatable “bridge fuel” between coal and renewable energy. We were alarmed to hear you echo these industry talking points during our meeting.

Fracked gas is not a low impact “bridge fuel,” because its use entails significant methane emissions. Methane traps heat 84 times as much as CO2 does over a 20-year period. The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report Summary for Policy-Makers states that significant reductions in methane emissions are required to keep the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. A recent NASA study found that methane emissions have increased dramatically since 2006, primarily due to increases in shale extraction, or hydraulic fracturing. Continuing to build infrastructure for this significant contributor to emissions is foolhardy.

We have consulted documents from FERC and industry sources to confirm that the Williams pipeline will indeed carry fracked gas. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released a favorable report regarding the Transco expansion (including the Williams pipeline) in January, 2019. Following the release of the report, an article from an industry publication stated: “New York City is one step closer to securing a chunk of the vast natural gas supplies in neighboring Appalachia after an expansion of a major natural gas pipeline…was issued a positive environmental impact statement (EIS) by federal regulators.” The reference to the source of the gas is significant. Almost all natural gas from Appalachia is fracked gas, as described in this article from Forbes magazine.

We provide further evidence of the increasing use of fracked gas from Appalachia (including Pennsylvania) in the following excerpts, drawn from the 2018 Northeast Gas Association Statistical Guide, another industry publication.

p. 3 For the Northeast, the most significant supply change has been the development in the last decade of the Marcellus and Utica Shale gas basins in Appalachia and Ohio. Total Appalachian production reached 29 Bcf/d in fall 2018… Marcellus/Utica production is resulting in new delivery points and new pipeline infrastructure to bring this shale gas to market, as well as reducing prices for consumers.

p. 5 Historically, the region had only limited natural gas production, in New York and Pennsylvania. (There is no gas resource production base in New Jersey or New England.) With the advancement of hydraulic fracturing and the development of the Marcellus resource base, the Northeast has developed into a significant natural gas production area. Appalachian production, centered in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, reached 29 Bcf/d in 2018. Pennsylvania’s annual production exceeded 5 Tcf in 2017; it has become the second-largest state producer of natural gas in the nation.

p. 6 Between 2007 and 2016, Pennsylvania’s annual natural gas production levels grew by almost 2,800%. The increase was larger than in any other major gas producing state, and made Pennsylvania the biggest driver of America’s 32% increase in annual natural gas production. In 2007, Pennsylvania produced less than one percent of the nation’s annual gas supply; by 2016 the state contributed over 16% of national annual production.

p. 23 However, the significance of methane emissions is becoming more recognized and companies, regulators, and other stakeholders are seeking ways to incorporate emission reductions into utility programs while limiting the cost to consumers. PHMSA continues to urge action on repairing older, potentially more leak-prone systems.

Unfortunately, the FERC assessment of the proposed Transco expansion did not assess the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The report states: “In previous NEPA reviews, FERC assessed the cumulative impact of natural gas production activities where those activities occurred within the geographic scope of facilities under our jurisdiction. However, the nearest active natural gas production to the proposed facilities is in northeastern Pennsylvania, approximately 80 miles from the Quarryville Loop. The permitting of natural gas production facilities is under the jurisdiction of the states and federal resource or land management agencies where those facilities are located, and not under the jurisdiction of the FERC. The development of Appalachian Basin natural gas, as regulated by the states, continues to drive the need for takeaway interstate pipeline capacity to allow the gas to reach markets; therefore, companies are planning and building interstate transmission facilities in response to this gas supply” (pg 53–54).

This explanation would not be relevant to the review unless the Williams pipeline were going to carry fracked gas from the Appalachian Basin. In short, there is no plausible deniability in this instance; continuing to assert that the Williams pipeline may not carry fracked gas is deceitful.

We also refute your point that leaks are unlikely. Significant leakage occurs at all points along the supply chain of natural gas, from drilling sites and gas processing plants to pipelines and storage systems. Assessments show that methane emissions typically range from 1 to 9 percent of total life cycle emissions along the supply route from extraction to consumer.[1] Yet, a recent study found that methane losses along the supply route must be kept below 3.2 percent for natural gas power plants to have lower life cycle emissions than new coal plants over short time frames of 20 years or fewer[2]; in this context, fracked gas is no short-term “bridge fuel.” If used for 20 years or less, it may be a more significant contributor to climate change than a new coal plant.

We are frightened about climate change, and the havoc to come to New York’s infrastructure, food supply, and budget. At a moment where visionary leaders propose a “Green New Deal,” incrementalism seems cowardly and short-sighted. We urge you to mount a full throttled opposition to the Williams pipeline, including demanding that Governor Cuomo deny the necessary permits.


Cc: Chair of the Standing Committee on Energy in the Assembly, Michael Cusick

Chair of the Senate Committee on Environmental Conservation, Todd Kaminsky

Chair of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, Steve Englebright

[1] Tollefson, J. 2013. Methane leaks erode green credentials of natural gas. Nature 493,doi:10.1038/493012a.

Cathles, L.M., L. Brown, M. Taam, and A. Hunter. 2012. A commentary on “The greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas in shale formations” by R.W. Howarth, R. Santoro, and A. Ingraffea. Climatic Change doi:10.1007/s10584–011–0333–0.

Howarth, R.W., D. Shindell, R. Santoro, A. Ingraffea, N. Phillips, and A. Townsend-Small. 2012. Methane emissions from natural gas systems. Background paper prepared for the National Climate Assessment. Reference number 2011–0003.

Petron, G., G. Frost, B.T. Miller, A.I. Hirsch, S.A. Montzka, A. Karion, M. Trainer, C. Sweeney, A.E. Andrews, L. Miller, J. Kofler, A. Bar-Ilan, E.J. Dlgokencky, L. Patrick, C.T. Moor, T.B. Ryerson, C. Siso, W. Kolodzev, P.M. Lang, T. Conway, P. Novelli, K. Masarie, B. Hall, D. Guenthere, D. Kitzis, J. Miller, D. Welsh, D. Wolfe, W. Neff, and P. Tans. 2012. Hydrocarbon emissions characterization in the Colorado Front Range: A pilot study. Journal of Geophysical Research in press, doi: 10.1029/2011JD016360.

Skone, T. 2012. Role of alternative energy sources: Natural gas power technology assessment. DOE/NETL-2011/1536. National Energy Technology Laboratory.

[2] Alvarez, R.A., S.W. Pacala, J.J. Winebrake, W.L. Chameides, and S.P. Hamburg. 2012. Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109:6435–6440.