NESE Rejected

At 8:30 p.m. yesterday, the State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation rejected Williams Corporation’s proposal for the Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) natural gas pipeline. Citing potential water contamination from the project, which mostly would run into New York Bay, the DEC refused to issue the required Section 401 Clean Streams Certification.

The decision was made “without prejudice,” meaning Williams can resubmit its application. The company said it planned to do so.

In reaction to the DEC decision, the two power companies that serve New York City and Long Island, National Grid and Consolidated Edison, are expected to follow through on their moratoria against any new gas hookups in practically the entire New York City metropolitan area within New York State. Among other things, that means that a planned new arena for the New York Islanders ice hockey team to be located in Elmont, New York likely is dead.

A more interesting question will be how this move affects New York City’s bond rating as a whole. Without available new natural gas service, will the rating agencies feel as confident about Downstate New York’s future growth potential?

All of this, and many other questions, remain to be answered.

Questions? Let me know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.

NESE: Governor Cuomo Will Decide – And NYC Will Face The Consequences

Huge metal gas pipeline transporting gas

While little noticed outside of the energy industry, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is about to make one of the seminal decisions of his tenure. Before May 16, 2019, Governor Cuomo must decide whether to allow the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to issue a Section 401 Clean Streams Certification to the Northeast Supply Enhancement Project, which is proposed to bring natural gas from the Marcellus Shale gas fields of Northeastern Pennsylvania to New York City.

NESE, as the Project is known, would utilize portions of the existing 10,000 mile long Transco Pipeline, that currently connects natural gas fields in South Texas with New York City, to add about 10 miles of new pipe in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, about 3 miles of new pipe in Middlesex County, New Jersey, and about 23 miles of offshore pipe mainly in New York Bay, plus a new compressor station in Somerset County, New Jersey. The additional pipe would allow the existing pipeline to convey increased gas volume originating in the Marcellus region to New York City.

The decision now before Governor Cuomo has profound implications for people as varied as all New York City residents (but especially lower income residents), real estate developers, business owners, and even Vladimir Putin.

NESE received final approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on January 25, 2019. Cuomo could try to kill the project by refusing to allow his DEC to grant the Section 401 Certification based on the fact that about 23 miles of the pipe will be underwater starting in New Jersey’s Raritan Bay and extending into the lower New York Bay in New York State. The Governor has done this before, of course, with the Constitution Pipeline and other Upstate projects.

Because of his prior maneuvering, Cuomo has no good option. Given his history of withholding the Section 401 Certification for the Constitution Pipeline, the Governor’s environmental supporters expect nothing less here. Indeed, the amount of water the NESE pipe will cross dwarfs anything seen before in the Section 401 controversy (except, ironically, a portion of the existing Transco Pipeline that is already installed offshore in the same general region in Raritan Bay and lower New York Bay).

On the other hand, refusing to grant the 401 Certification means risking power shortages in New York City. Already Consolidated Edison, which services portions of New York City and recently issued a moratorium on new gas hookups in Westchester County, New York, because of concern for future demand, is promising the same for Manhattan should projects like NESE be stopped. Likewise, National Grid, which services other parts of the City, is also threatening a moratorium if NESE is not built. However, of the two utilities, only the latter would actually be the pipeline’s customer.

No new supply means a marked contraction of economic activity in the City and its immediate suburbs in New York State. Along with that economic decline would come higher energy prices, which disproportionately affect the economically disadvantaged, and an increased reliance on imported gas. Little would make Vladimir Putin happier than to have his foot placed squarely on New York City’s economic lifeline.

Until now, Downstate New Yorkers have suffered little from the effects of their environmental activism. They got to feel righteous while the Upstate residents in Binghamton and Elmira paid the price from the moratorium on fracking. Now that economic price will be extracted in the biggest city in the country as well. How will the New York City business community deal with looming power shortages? What will the advocates for the economically disadvantaged say when their gas bills soar? What will the real estate community tell Governor Cuomo if they cannot offer gas service to new customers?

A major influence in Governor Cuomo’s initial decisions first to declare a moratorium on fracking in New York State and then to stop all pipelines through the Section 401 process was his former brother-in-law, environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

However, Kennedy’s star has faded recently as he has been one of the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement that resulted in the resurgence of diseases like measles. More have come to question his judgment from that fiasco than arguably was the case a decade ago, when he was the chief attorney and board chair for the environmental activist organization, Hudson Riverkeeper. Will that loss of prestige be enough for Cuomo to approve NESE? If he does, how can he continue to block the Constitution Pipeline as well? If he does not approve NESE, what will happen if there are price spikes and brownouts in New York City, as quite likely will occur? What impact will it have on the 2020 Presidential race if during the next winter Russian gas tankers need to bail out New York City?

Whatever Governor Cuomo decides, this time it will be his Downstate base that feels the result.

Questions? Let Dan know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.

Russia, Ukraine and Marcellus

russian ships blocking access to ukrainian ports

The simmering dispute over waterway rights between Ukraine and Russia broke into armed conflict this week. Its implications are enormous both for the energy world as a whole and especially for us in the Marcellus Shale region. But some background is required to appreciate the connection.

Briefly, when Vladimir Putin seized the Crimea in 2014 he gained control of the Kerch Strait, which cuts off the sea lanes from Southeastern Ukraine between the Azov Sea and the Black Sea. Until 2014, Russia had controlled the eastern shore of the Kerch Strait but Ukraine had controlled the west. The two countries had reached an agreement in 2003 allowing for shared access of the Kerch Strait and the Azov Sea. However, Russia’s military and political moves in Crimea in 2014 changed that.

Eager to connect the Crimea to the Russian mainland, Putin ordered the building of a 12 mile bridge over the Kerch Strait after the annexation, which he formally opened himself this year in May by driving a truck across it. Russia then placed more armed vessels in the waters around the bridge. The Russians claimed they needed better security. In practice, the extra traffic increased delays to ships trying to access and use the Ukrainian ports on the Azov Sea, increasing the costs of doing business there and undermining the utility of these ports in international trade.

Ukraine responded with a military show of force, but this was overwhelmed by Russian naval power. Russia then used the supports of the bridge, which had been built at a strategic distance, to permit its own warships to blockade the Ukrainian ports. Weaker militarily, Ukraine has few cards left to play and access to its Azov Sea ports is now very much under Russian de facto control.

As I noted in July during the controversy over the Nord Stream II pipeline that Germany is building with Russia and which will bypass Ukraine and Poland, Ukraine currently gets over 2% of its GDP from transfer payments for the trans-shipments of Russian gas and oil to Western Europe. Thanks to Angela Merkel, that transport route may become irrelevant. Nord Stream II brings Putin’s dreams of Russia once again dominating Eastern Europe one step closer. However, more than just Ukraine’s loss of access to its ports and its lost revenue from diverted oil and gas trans-shipments, thanks to this new pipeline Russia can cut off energy supplies to Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic States any time it wishes, without worrying that Western Europe will react harshly as their supplies are also cut off. While economically in the short term this direct pipeline access to Russian gas and oil may be better for Germany, Nord Stream II is a geo-political disaster due to its implications for further expansion of Russian power and influence over former Soviet states, if not more globally.

For these reasons, President Trump was right in calling the Germans out on the new pipeline at the NATO summit in July. However, the President has not been forthcoming with an appropriate condemnation of Russia’s actions, leaving our allies confused and leaving UN Secretary Nikki Haley to act as the lone Voice of America while the President – inexplicably but not unexpectedly – dithers on calling Putin out for what is obviously going on.

Meanwhile, with Putin again showing his aggressive nature, the rest of the West is scrambling.  Cyprus, Israel, Greece and Italy agreed this week to build a $7B pipeline for the Eastern Mediterranean from the Leviathan Field in the Mediterranean Sea. Germany, perhaps belatedly realizing the folly of putting all of its energy eggs in Putin’s basket, now is partnering with Dow Chemical also to build a liquefied natural gas import facility in the German city of Strade, near Hamburg.

Who will supply the gas to feed Western Europe should Russia turn out to be unreliable or if Nord Stream II becomes another pawn on Putin’s chess board to regained Soviet dominance? It could and should be us from right here in the Marcellus. By building out our pipeline system in the US, we can supply Strade and other future European gas import terminals, thereby helping thwart Putin’s aggression, and projecting American “soft power” – which is what critics of an aggressive American foreign policy often demand. At the very least, this will help keep American troops out of harm’s way, but it could also serve as a geopolitical foil to Russia’s attempts to use its energy largesse for political, military, and evident expansion purposes.

Will we have the political will to do it?

In order to do so, the natural gas industry in this country must first recognize the strategic reasons why this is important which, in turn, requires understanding the interconnections between domestic energy policy, international trade, and political, military, and diplomatic events in far away places. Few Americans presently understand how Russian moves in the Azov Sea could eventually end up causing young men and women in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and elsewhere to be sent overseas in military uniforms. Fewer still comprehend how the pipeline build out and export terminals in this country can help (1) secure our future militarily while simultaneously (2) creating good jobs for people in our region and (3) decreasing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. None will understand if they are not told.

Tom Wolf just won reelection handily as Governor of Pennsylvania. He is no friend of the natural gas industry. Unlike his counterparts in New York and Maryland, however, he hasn’t moved to try to shut it down. There will be more pressure on him to do so now that the National Climate Assessment has been released.

Wolf, though, lives in the real world. He must perform for Pennsylvanians. Strange as it sounds, the Governor and the industry need each other. The gas industry has to provide him with the explanation as to why working with the it not only is in Wolf’s own best interests politically but is also in the best interests of all Pennsylvanians, and indeed all Americans. Somehow this message has not gotten through as forcefully as it should.

Further, our newly elected representatives from the Marcellus States in their state legislatures and in the United States Congress must understand – and not be hesitant to educate the public about – the international dynamic. Some, like Chrissy Houlahan of my home district in Southeastern Pennsylvania, are military veterans who have dealt with the intricacies of international relations. Others are untested. It will be up to all of them to work to keep American men and women safe. It will be up to all of us involved with the industry to explain how it can be instrumental – indeed, strategically essential – in doing so.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin will be watching, waiting, and planning his next chess move.

Questions? Let Dan know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.

Natural Gas’s Dilemma – How to Respond to the National Climate Assessment?

The day the world changed concept

On Black Friday, the Trump Administration released Volume II of the National Climate Assessment. Running 1,600 pages, the report is the second volume of the fourth National Climate Assessment, which was mandated by Congress in the late 1980’s and is required to be prepared every four years by scientists from 13 designated government agencies. It is being referred to as NCA4 Vol. II.

According to initial press headlines, the warnings contained in NCA4 Vol. II are dire. They include:

  • The “earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities.”
  • Average sea levels along the United States coast have increased by about 10 inches since the early 20th century as the oceans have warmed and land ice has melted.
  • More than 100 million people in the United States live in places with poor air quality – and climate change will “worsen existing air pollution levels.”
  • Climate change will “disrupt many areas of life” by affecting trade and exacerbating overseas conflicts.

It is conceivable that the initial press reports will turn out to be exaggerated and that the actual language in NCA4 Vol. II is more nuanced than what has been reported. This Update specifically is being written before full examination of the 1,600 pages can be made, although we will certainly correct any errors or omissions in what the press has written about the Assessment as soon as a more fulsome review of the report is possible.

However, for most members of the public, the press reports may be the only information that they will ever receive about the Assessment because it is unlikely that most people will take the time to pore over 1,600 pages of dense text. They will only remember headlines like those listed above. Whether fair or not, this is the environment that the natural gas industry finds itself in during 2018. It must adapt to that reality. While the industry can, and should, pick apart reports and assessments, including NCA4 Vol. II, to the extent that they contain erroneous data or jump to conclusions unwarranted by the evidence, the industry must realize the impact that the overall public mindset has on national, state, and local energy policy and initiatives.

To that end, the industry needs to recalibrate its message. For too long, what little public relations the industry as a whole has engaged in has concentrated almost only on the economic benefits of natural gas to consumers. While certainly not inaccurate, that overly simple message no longer will carry the day. The economic argument now is framed as: “We all can spend $X for energy which will destroy our planet, or we can spend $X time Y and save our planet. Nobody likes paying higher costs for anything, but if it will save our children’s futures, why shouldn’t we do it?”

It is imperative for the industry now to do two things. First, it must concentrate on the environmental case for natural gas, both over other fossil fuels and until so-called renewable energy becomes more universally available. The natural gas industry has a terrific story to tell, but it needs to tell it. The public does not know what the industry has not told it. America leads the world in greenhouse gas reductions since the fracking revolution. We’re producing massive new quantities of oil and gas, yet our greenhouse gas emissions have dropped over 10% to levels not seen since the 1980’s.

There is no harm in admitting that natural gas may not be the be all and end all of energy use to save the planet, but as a bridge fuel it is unsurpassed. If, as NCA4 Vol II states, we must do something positive fast for the environment to lessen any climate change impacts, there is no better way than to build out the natural gas pipeline infrastructure. This will allow the massive switch from coal to natural gas to occur as quickly as possible.

Second, the industry must point out, gently, that currently there is no feasible alternative. All proposals to power our economy via renewables still are speculative at best. Even if it can be done, we are decades away from a realistic plan to power the world with net neutral sources. Germany is a great example of this. In 2010 it refined its renewable energy policy to limit most, if not all, power projects not involving renewables. Despite this, over the last few ytears, German carbon emissions have increased, not decreased. Now, despreate for energy, Germany is helping the Russians build a new pipeline directly to Germany and it is involved with Dow Chemical to erect a new liquefied natural gas power plant in Strade. Good intentions are one thing. NCA4 Vol. II makes it clear they are not enough.

If the industry truly believes in itself and what it’s doing, it should take up the challenge. Engage on the playing field where the battle is taking place. Target our message to the mindset of the audience, and don’t be afraid to amid there are things we don’t know. Despite NCA4 Vol. II’s warnings, fossil fuels will be with us for decades moer, at least. Wishful thinking about promoting more renewables will not change that stark reality. Until such time as renewables can effectively and completely power our modern economy, we all will benefit from clear headed policies that encourage increased natural gas development, transportation and usage while simultaneously establishing a priority to develop and implement a nationwide renewable energy strategy. Isn’t that really what we all should want?

Questions? Let Dan know.

Daniel Markind of Flaster Greenberg

Daniel Markind is a shareholder at Flaster Greenberg PC with over 35 years of experience as a real estate and corporate transactional attorney. He has represented individuals and companies in the energy industry for over 20 years. Dan is a frequent lecturer on Marcellus Shale and other mineral extraction issues and is regularly asked to speak at conferences, in the media and at other venues regarding energy issues and their legal and political implications.