By Robert Galbraith
National Fuel’s Northern Access Pipeline cannot remotely be considered an essential infrastructure project for New York’s energy security. Rather, it is a destructive corporation’s desperate attempt to prepare and secure new markets for its polluting and socially harmful commodity.
This is evidenced by National Fuel’s own statements that the primary purpose of the pipeline is to export fracked gas to Canada and by the fact that the company has felt the need to enlist a front group run by a Washington public relations firm to convince New Yorkers that it will be a benefit to more than just National Fuel’s high-paid executives and shareholders.
More than 71 percent of the gas that would be shipped through Northern Access would go under the Niagara River to what the company calls “premium markets,” that is, where the methane from National Fuel’s fracking fields in Pennsylvania can fetch a higher price than if it were sold in the United States.
These exports will boost National Fuel’s profits, which fuel exorbitant executive pay – CEO Ronald Tanski was paid more than $8 million in 2018, 98 times what the median National Fuel worker makes according to a filing with the SEC – and massive dividends to shareholders like downstate investor Mario Gabelli, who owns more than $384 million of National Fuel stock.
The pipeline offers no benefit to regular Western New Yorkers, but it will cost us in terms of risk to our air and waterways, the seizure of private property through eminent domain, and locking in increased carbon pollution at a pivotal moment when we need to be investing in renewable alternatives to avoid climate devastation.
To sell this bad deal, National Fuel has apparently enlisted the help of Grow America’s Infrastructure Now, which consists of oil and gas lobbying groups in places where the Texas firm Energy Transfer Partners is building its controversial Dakota Access, Bayou Bridge and Mariner pipelines. Grow America’s Infrastructure Now is led by a partner at DCI Group, a public relations firm that specializes in creating organizations that represent the interests of its corporate clients.
If New Yorkers are serious about energy security and mitigating the most damaging impacts of climate change, we need to tune out the scaremongering of fracking industry consultants paid to keep us dependent on fossil energy. A just transition away from fossil fuels through public investment in conservation and renewable energy can deliver jobs and justice to all, including the communities most impacted by climate change.
Robert Galbraith is a senior research analyst at the Public Accountability Initiative, a Buffalo-based corporate and government watchdog group.