New York Natural Gas
Many of America's best and brightest have set themselves to the task of finding new, environmentally friendly sources of electricity. The future, everyone admits, will be filled with nuclear power plants and solar collectors and wind farms. For now, of course, fossil fuels are a necessity for a growing country with growing electricity needs. Natural gas, in particular, is a big part of the Empire State's energy picture. Not only is natural gas relatively plentiful, but it is also relatively clean. As is the case with other fossil fuels, scientists and engineers are also working on ways to coax more energy out of the powerful hydrocarbon that is natural gas.
Petroleum is a natural fit for Texas because of the Lone Star State's long history of oil production. Natural gas is a good fit for New York because it exists under the soil. In fact, there are already many New York natural gas wells, both big and small. There are 13,000 wells in New York which produced approximately 48 billion cubic feet of natural gas in 2008, according to the Energy Information Administration. Production numbers have increased greatly in recent years. In 1992, the state would produce an average of 2 million cubic feet of gas. In 2008, that average more than doubled.
Another great side effect of natural gas production is the revenue that flows to the state government and the community. The Department of Environmental Conservation reports that the total market value of oil and natural gas production in 2003 was approximately $232 million. (Oil and natural gas are often found together, as they are created by similar processes.) That production resulted in $7 million in revenue being added to the state's coffers. That money works hard for New Yorkers, providing valuable public services and maintaining the high standard of living of the state's citizens.
There is a lot of possibility for growth of this supply as well, thanks to a formation called the Marcellus Shale formation. As John Keefe points out, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that there could be hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas in this reservoir. Of course, there is a drawback; the process required to extract the gas is still less environmentally friendly than most would like. “Fracking” is a procedure in which layers of shale are fractured, releasing the natural gas trapped in between. Unfortunately, a substantial quantity of unwanted liquids and gases are released during fracking, and the landscape can be severely disrupted. Mindful of the risks, companies such as Shell Oil are researching new drilling technologies that would allow them to recover natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in a safe and efficient manner.
Existing technologies are also benefiting from research and development. One of the environmental hazards of burning any fossil fuel is the way undesirable chemicals are expelled into the atmosphere. Another concern is the way plants are cooled. Many natural gas plants use water to remove heat from sensitive parts of the works. The artificial heat and unwanted chemicals that end up in the water can harm wildlife in several ways. In early 2010, the Department of Environmental Conservation proposed that several natural gas New York plants switch to a “closed-loop” cooling system. Adopting this new system would alleviate some of the problems, though it would also cost money.
For the time, thankfully, New Yorkers don't have to worry about a natural gas shortage. In fact, New Yorkers get more of their electricity from natural gas than any other source. The New York Independent System Operator notes that in the years 1999 and 2000, burning natural gas accounted for 30% of the state's power. That number was the same in 2006-2007. (The only substantial changes could be found in the 5% decrease in petroleum-generated electricity, balanced by the same increase in nuclear power.)
Until the green revolution reshapes the way New Yorkers get their electricity, natural gas will be a vital part of the state's energy picture. While natural gas plants are not as efficient and clean as, say, wind farms, they are a more desirable option than generation facilities that burn oil or coal. Perhaps best of all, thanks to the abundance of natural gas to be found within American borders, generating that portion of our electricity doesn't compromise our national security with respect to energy.