Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Terry Backer: No to Broadwater, But Then What?

When I asked Tom Baptist and Sam Wells to write open letters (here and here) to Governor Spitzer stating the case against Broadwater’s LNG proposal for Long Island Sound, they made compelling arguments (Leah Schmalz and Adrienne Esposito have promised they’d send me their arguments too). When I asked Terry Backer, he said he’s against Broadwater but then added that it’s a bit more complicated than just before for or against. Terry has been the Long Island Soundkeeper for 20 years; he’s also a member of the Connecticut General Assembly and co-chairman of its peak oil caucus. Here’s what he wrote:

When it comes to energy, for every option we rule out, the list of available fuels and locations grow smaller and more complex. The options grow ever more onerous for the types of fuel available when viewed realistically and with knowledge. If you are a serious student of the ever-constricting global fossil fuel supply (liquids) you understand where we are headed and the implications. Our society, our economy and a modern life style relies almost 100% on those fossilized solar power fuels.

The New York and Connecticut regions lie at the end of almost all global distribution for fuels. Natural gas production peaked in the United States some time ago and it appears to have peaked in Canada as we speak. The National Energy Board of Canada announced in October of this year that 30% cuts in natural gas exports to the United States will happen incrementally between now and 2015. Natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico and Alberta are distant sources with many consumers in line for a contracting supply before it reaches us.

Global oil production has been flat for a few years but demand has increased. New discoveries and production aren’t keeping up with declining mature oil fields. New discoveries of oil are in more complex geological formations in water that reaches depths of 10,000 feet and 28,000 under the earth. This means higher recovery cost, poor return on energy invested and slow production. Explosive growth in Asia is sucking in every drop of oil it can get with no relief in sight. We are headed quickly to an oil and gas crunch that will have heavy handed impacts on our economy. And we are not ready.

This brings us to liquefied natural gas. The US Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration has calculated that the region will need a 70% increase in LNG in the next decade to compensate for declining natural gas production. LNG will be needed to fill the oil and native natural gas gap. Mind you, EIA assessments of natural gas recourses are notoriously optimistic and they have over-estimated its supply for years. So it reasons even more LNG will be needed sooner. Our backs are up against it and most of us have no idea.

We have not yet seen the impact of oil over $75 a barrel let alone $90 for any prolonged time frame. The negative savings rate of Americans in general means the embedded cost of energy in all products and services is going on credit cards and home equity loans as people try to cover bases while not knowing what's causing it. They will demand cheaper energy, and that means coal. And coal isn't that clean yet. It also means 5 to 10 years of crippling cost while plants are built. Global climate change is a big focus of mine but peak oil is, more than likely, here now.

LNG will be needed and even then its sources are not the most dependable. We will need a supply of cleaner bridge fuel that can be used in existing machinery while the massive infrastructure is converted to something else. And that's a zinger as well we since don't know what something else is. Does this mean we have to have Broadwater? No it doesn't. It does mean we have to have someplace to land this fuel and no one seems to want it. It gets pretty cold here in January.

Alternatives are not even off the ground yet and conservation isn't keeping up with demand increases. Alternatives barely provide us 2 percent of our energy needs and almost no transportation fuel. Most people do not have the slightest idea of the scale we need in alternatives. It could easily take 100 years to build out and we don't have 100 years. We are talking about a contraction in energy that will do significant harm to the economy and to the bulk of the middle class and working poor, and demand more government social services.

We are no longer at a time where we can only say what we don't want. We need to be part of an aggressive plan to usher in a new energy regime. I urge the environmental community to join me in educating the public on energy realities and an all-out effort to get our leaders to lead us on a conservation and renewable energy policy. Conservation by the truck load, energy efficient transportation, and a slow-down in sprawl development may buy us enough time to make the transition to less abundant and dramatically more expensive fuel supply with less pain, but it won't come close to being pain free. Even then we will still need more LNG in the region as a stopgap fuel for as long as we can get it.

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Blogger Sam said...

Very good debating points, although in my mind it is biased by a presumption that LNG imported from Africa, South America, and the Middle East is a de facto requirement, as opposed to improving domestic compressed natural gas production.

Shipping LNG from other continents is extremely expensive and the energy required to cool the product takes away from much of the benefit from using "clean" natural gas. Giant pumps, refrigerators, and heat exchangers are needed, not to mention the ship and ship traffic issues.

Just because the Henry Hub in Louisiana is about two thousand miles away from the "end of the pipeline" in the Northeast doesn't make it bad. Giant natural gas reserves in the Gulf area are continuing to come online as well.

But a diversified energy portfolio is essential, and I respect that point. /sam

1:22 PM  
Blogger Terry said...

Hey Sam,
Its not the distance that worries me its all the gas consumers online ahead of the northeast. Its not academic we have had these problems before when cold weather has hit. Large gas power plants and gas utilities all "first takers" on the line left little to reach the north east. Also while gas fields in the Gulf may come one line a lot of it I am guessing will go in to gas to liquids for more motor fuels. Otherwise I don't disagree with your thoughts.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Ah, I can see your point more clearly, Terry. Most residential natural gas suppliers do annual contracts, just like power plants. If more is needed, the large utilities may get preference, while the residential "city gate" systems have to buy on the spot market if extra is needed for prolonged winter cold conditions, should any be available - and sometimes there is not much left. That's at least my very simplistic understanding of the market.

The notion of city gate, residential customers running out of natural gas pressure sounds dangerous as heck. Does it really ever happen? All natural gas ovens, water heaters, and furnaces with pilot lights would go out. You could blow up entire cities that way!

So perhaps LNG shipments make sense for the Northeast, although saving $400 a year was never explained to me. I can tell you that most LNG shipments to the Gulf of Mexico (e.g., Freeport TX) were for industrial customers such as DOW Chemical.

That makes me wonder if the Boston LNG projects were selling to similar heavy industrial clients or to the city gate, for users like you and I in our homes. /sam

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Bryan said...

As I understand it, there are a lot of interruptible gas customers in the northeast, many of them power generators. They will switch to fuel oil in the winter if the load on the gas system gets too great due to low temperatures. It's one way to ensure enough gas for residential heating and the pilot lights down go out.

Another way is peak shaving using LNG. They liquefy pipeline gas when supplies are ample and store until its needed. In some cases, they can truck it to a distal point to support gas pressure at the far end.

In fact, a utility in Waterbury, CT, just completed a billion cubic-foot peak-shaving tank in the middle of a business district surrounded by residential neighborhoods. Local newspapers quoted the CT AG praising the utility for building such a safe plant. This is the same AG that's fighting tooth and nail against Broadwater.

Where I used to live on the north shore, the local gas utility had huge propane tanks buried (I think there were four 10,000-gal tanks). They used the propane to maintain pressure during the winter by injecting it into the system. The tanks were removed a few years ago.

12:52 AM  
Blogger Terry said...

Bryan is correct regarding the dual fuel capabilities of the gas power plants. Short tern interruptions in supply can be handled using oil back-up. However, the capacity to do this is only a few days 3 to 5 depending on the facility. My concern is not an interruption of a few days but longer term supply shortages. There are not enough trucks to keep the oil going into the plants after their stored oil is exhausted. Their is capacity of stored gas in the ground in Pennsylvania not sure how much or how long it would last but not very long. There are no magic bullets for future energy supply but diversity of fuels from broad sources of supply are needed. LNG is one such supply. However I am under no delusions that it is a secure supply and harbor no thoughts of it being cheaper.

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So ... are you for Broadwater or against it? Nothing in your letter indicates that you are against. I think that those of us who contribute to Soundkeeper and keep voting you into office deserve some clarification and explanation as to why you, as Long Island Soundkeeper, would offer arguments generally in favor of LNG when asked to write specifically about Broadwater.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Tom Andersen said...

Terry can speak for himself, but he says in the piece hw wrote for me, “Does this mean we have to have Broadwater? No, it doesn’t.” He also told a reporter from the Advocate, earlier this month, that he is opposed to the plan (I mentioned it in passing in this post, but the link to the Advocate is dead).

Also it seems clear to me that one can see the need for more LNG and yet be against Broadwater.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Terry said...

If you go back to my original letter you will see it says that Broadwater is not needed to supply LNG but LNG will be needed to supply our energy needs as we attempt to get to stronger conservation mandates and renewable energy infrastructure. Broadwater is not needed to supply LNG and it should not be located in Long Island Sound.

I was not asked to write specifically about Broadwater. Tom's email asked me to add my perspectives about energy and how it relates to Broadwater.

I generally don't answer anyone who doesn't have the courage of their convictions to attach their name to what they believe and write. If you truly are one of my constituents or a Soundkeeper supporter and not a political operative you could easily stop by and talk with me or pick up the phone. Many people do all the time. Which I would be happy to do with you.

There is a huge differences between a project (Broadwater) and a fuel (LNG). In your post you seemed to confuse the two. You express the concept that if someone sees the energy value in LNG in a world of declining energy supply that they must support Broadwater as a specific project. Its a notion that seems to have rooted in people's minds. They are not the same. No more than a filling station is gasoline.

What I thought I clearly expressed was three or four points. The notion of Peak Fuels productions rising cost and less availability will adversely impact our citizens. Implementation of conservation and energy efficiencies on a massive scale and the construction of renewable energy generation, a need for diversity in fuel supply.

LNG will be needed to offset declining North American natural gas production in the coming decade - period. And we will need it to make the transition to a new energy regime. If the people have to endure hardships they have not known they will insist on more cheap energy and that is coal - and clean coal is not that clean. When one looks at all the energy options and considers global climate change
we need to get creative fast.

10:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "Soundkeeper's" rambling post about LNG misses the critical point that Broadwater should not and can not be sited in the middle of the Long Island Sound. We understand that change is inevitable; however, change does not have to come at the cost of losing what it is that we love. The Long Island Sound is a special place and that's why so many of us have fought long and
hard to preserve and protect this water body. We urge the Soundkeeper to join with the environmental community in opposing Broadwater as part of our never ending quest to protect Long Island Sound. And, yes, it gets cold in January, but Terry can visit our New Haven office and we will be happy to
talk to him about additional ways to protect the Sound over a cup of hot, warm cocoa.
-- Adrienne Esposito, executive director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment

9:39 AM  
Blogger Tom Andersen said...

I suppose whether a piece is “rambling” or not is a matter of opinion but as the editor of Sphere and the guy who solicited and then posted Terry’s letter, I think it’s to the point and coherent, and not at all rambling. If it had been, I would not have published it. More importantly though, Adrienne incorrectly charaterizes Terry’s fundamental position on Broadwater. As he wrote in an earlier comment to his post, “Broadwater is not needed to supply LNG and it should not be located in Long Island Sound.”

12:52 PM  

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