National Grid’s gas moratorium: Everything you need to know
A standoff between a gas company and state government has caused a moratorium on new gas hookups in Brooklyn.
On one side: National Grid — which provides gas to 1.8 million customers in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island — wants a new pipeline that would increase gas supply in downstate New York.
On the other side: State politicians, who have twice denied approval for the pipeline over environmental concerns.
Caught in between: Residents and small businesses all over the southern tip of New York.
What is the Williams Pipeline?
The Williams Pipeline would be an expansion of the 10,000-mile, interstate natural gas pipeline that stretches from Texas to New York City.
It’s set to be built by Williams — an energy infrastructure company based in Oklahoma that operates an existing pipeline serving New York — and would cost $1 billion. The utility company hopes to complete the pipeline by the beginning of winter 2020.
Who is for it? And why?
The case for the Williams Pipeline is simple: National Grid needs the project to provide gas to its customers (according to National Grid).
The company says the demand for gas will rise by 10 percent over the next decade, and without the pipeline, it will be unable to keep up with the growing demand.
A spokesperson for National Grid told Politico that the pipeline would be needed for next winter. “The need is for next year, not three years from now,” spokesperson Domenick Graziani said. “We’re honoring all customer commitments that were approved before we determined that we can no longer safely serve additional firm load in the absence of additional firm supply.”
In a July email to National Grid customers, the company urged its customers to tell their elected officials to support the pipeline. “Natural gas supplies are at risk in downstate New York,” the company warned.
Who is against it? And why?
Critics of the pipeline say it would further the region’s reliance on fossil fuels and adversely affect the immediate environment surrounding it.
The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation said in a May statement that “construction of the proposed project would result in significant water quality impacts from the re-suspension of sediments and other contaminants, including mercury and copper.”
“In addition,” the statement, issued in May, continued, “the proposed project would cause impacts to habitats due to the disturbance of shellfish beds and other benthic resources.” (A benthic resource is one found on the floor of a body of water.)
The vast majority of state Democratic officials are on board with the state body’s decision, and allege the company is inducing an unnecessary moratorium to curry favor for the project.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he is not swayed by the company’s warnings. “I don’t know where they get the right to go back to an existing customer saying, ‘I’m going to turn off your gas supply,’” he said on the radio in late August. “And if that’s what they’re doing, they’re going to have a problem.”
The governor directed the Department of Public Service to investigate National Grid’s refusal to provide new hookups.
Mayor Bill de Blasio opposes the pipeline because he wants to shift the state away from reliance on fossil fuels. “I think we have to be moving away steadily from fossil fuel infrastructure and focus on conservation and focus on renewable resources,” he said on WNYC in July.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams on Tuesday called the moratorium “reprehensible.”
“Clearly it’s a political ploy to have the Williams Pipeline built,” he told reporters at a press conference in front of National Grid headquarters in Downtown Brooklyn. “This is a privately owned company holding everybody hostage.”
Several City Council members feel similarly.
“National Grid’s public communications have stated that this is the result of a gas shortage, but it is very clear that the decision to deny new applications for gas meters was made after the Williams Pipeline Project (which would have had detrimental environmental impacts to water quality throughout New York and New Jersey) failed to pass its approval process,” wrote 17 councilmembers in a joint letter.
“We have strong concerns that the denial of services and this email campaign is the result of National Grid trying to sway public opinion by keeping future service, and the ability of families keep warm during the winter, up in the air. It is unconscionable to attempt to lobby customers by denying them heat and the ability to cook food, as part of a corporate campaign for fossil fuel extraction.”
Councilmember Rafael Espinal subsequently called National Grid a “bully.”
Elected officials aren’t the only ones who feel downstate New Yorkers are being played by National Grid.
“We reached out to National Grid and I think that they were very happy that they had hostages to hold — to use us as a pawn with the governor to try and get their point across in getting the line,” Ben Shavolian, president of Shelter Rock Builders, which has National Grid-induced stalls on developments in Brooklyn, told Politico last week.
Why does this stalemate matter?
Since May, National Grid has denied about 2,600 requests for services. If the Williams Pipeline project is delayed, “customers will have fewer options to heat their homes and run their businesses,” a spokesperson for the company told the Wall Street Journal.
Newly built development in Brooklyn like East New York’s Blake Hendrix Homes, Williamsburg’s 695 Grand St. and Harry T. Tance Apartments in Brownsville are completed but are currently unable to house tenants due to National Grid’s gas moratorium, Bklyner reported last week.
Some Brooklyn residents who aren’t looking to move in to a new apartment are feeling the implications, as well. Ruth Berkovits, who owns a two-family home in Kensington, needs her gas turned back on so she can rent out the second floor of her house.
The gas on the first floor was turned off during renovations, and she moved to the second floor temporarily. Now National Grid refuses to turn it back on.
“I bought a gas stove and I have gas heating and to me it’s unfair that I’m being penalized,” Berkovits told Politico.
“If I do decide to move down I won’t have heating and I won’t have a gas stove to cook on … I pay National Grid on time every month, and this is to me a monopoly.”
Sam Raskin is a freelance reporter who lives in Brooklyn. He has written for Curbed New York, Politico New York, Gothamist, BuzzFeed News, Gotham Gazette, Bklyner and Patch. You can follow him on Twitter.
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