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Two years into fracking ban, use of natural gas rising

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Two years ago, the state banned hydro-fracking of natural gas within the state’s borders. But a group of Cornell scientists who study the effects of climate change say New Yorkers are using more natural gas than ever.

In December of 2014, Governor Cuomo’s Administration decided not to allow hydro-fracking within New York’s borders.

But two years later, scientists and professors from Cornell University say the state’s use of natural gas is on the rise, and has increased by 18%, with over  500,000 new business and residential customers signing up for gas service. Bob Howarth is a Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell and has studied climate change for three decades.

“New Yorkers need to wake up,” Howarth said. “We’ve banned fracking, but we’re importing shale gas, and

 we need to take responsibility for that”.

The gas comes mainly from across the border in Pennsylvania, where hydro-fracking is allowed.

While natural gas was once considered a bridge fuel between coal and oil and cleaner renewables like wind and solar, they say new research shows gas contributes even more to global warming than previously believed, and is actually a “climate disaster”.

Cornell’s Tony Ingraffea, who co-authored with Howarth a groundbreaking study in 2011 on the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas, says the hydro-fracking and burning process  does not emit as much carbon dioxide as other fossil fuels, but does emit methane, which even in small amounts can be equally harmful and contribute to climate change.  

“Now we have undoubtedly in the literature proof that methane is not a good bridge fuel,” Ingraffea said. “It’s not good for anything.”

But he says the politicians aren’t listening.

Governor Cuomo’s Public Service Commission has a plan to reduce the state’s electric grid’s reliance on fossil fuels to 50%, by 2030, with the other half supplied by renewable energy. The plan uses  aging nuclear power plants upstate as a partial bridge fuel source. Ingraffea says it’s a start, but they say the plan does not cut emissions far enough or fast enough.

“New York has ample resources to do a complete transition to renewable energy in our lifetimes,” he said. “And it just takes a little bit more political will.”

A spokesman for the state’s Public Service Commission, which designed the 50% renewable by 2030 plan, says the program is “ambitious”. PSC spokesman Jon Sorenson says the plan is so ambitious that the fossil fuel industry has filed a lawsuit against it.  

“As much as we would like to, we cannot snap our fingers and build the infrastructure nor find  the billions of dollars needed to become 100% renewable overnight,” Sorenson said.

According to data from the Public Service Commission, the use of natural gas is trending up , but it is replacing in many cases , dirtier diesel oil and other fuels.