Joe Mahoney The Daily Star
---- — Anti-fracking activists are urging Otsego County government officials and executives at the Bassett Healthcare Network to resist overtures from a Boston-based company that ships compressed natural gas in containers to its customers.
But County Rep. Linda Rowinski, D-Oneonta, the chairwoman of the county’s Solid Waste and Environmental Concerns Committee, said she supports exploring the possibility of having the company supply the county government with natural gas if it will save taxpayer dollars and if the shipments can be done safely.
“If it will save us money, aren’t we obligated to at least look into it?” Rowinski said in an interview with The Daily Star.
Adrian Kuzminski, the moderator of Sustainable Otsego, said he fears if Bassett becomes a customer of Boston-based XNG (Xpress Natural Gas) it would lead to more businesses and homeowners converting to natural gas in Cooperstown, with a network of underground feeder pipelines needed to supply them.
Once the demand for natural gas is increased in the region, he suggested, it could potentially tempt operators of companies involved with hydraulic fracturing for shale gas to drill here.
In a letter to Bassett Hospital President William F. Streck, Kuzminski pointed out that Bassett has taken a strong stance against fracking.
Since that time, he argued, “More evidence has come out not only about the public health concerns regarding water quality, but also regarding methane and other emissions.”
He added: “That should be reason enough for Bassett not to convert to natural gas. Further, as the natural gas industry moves to export their product internationally, the price is bound to rise.”
Bassett spokeswoman Karen Huxtable-Hooker said the hospital complex currently uses heating oil. Asked about XNG’s offer to supply the hospital with compressed natural gas, she said: “It hasn’t been acted on.”
As for Kuzminski’s letter to Streck, she said, “We appreciate his thoughts. At Bassett, we consider community and environmental issues in our dealings with all vendors.”
An XNG representative who has had discussions with county and Bassett officials, Jack Flood, did not return a message left on his cell phone.
The company recently worked with Aroostook Medical Center in Presque Isle, Maine, helping to convert that facility to relying on compressed natural gas for its heating needs. According to the Bangor Daily News, an Aroostook executive estimated that the switch to natural gas would save the hospital between $400,000 and $500,000 a year.
XNG bills itself as “New England’s most innovative full-service natural gas provider.”
The company states on its web site that it has “built the first industrial compressed natural gas station in New England on the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline, which ensures that XNG can offer its customers the lowest possible commodity costs for piped natural gas.”
“The facility has been built with a full capacity of 8 billion cubic feet of gas production,” XNG says on its web site. “ We can fill 8 tractor trailers simultaneously, and any individual trailer in less than 40 minutes.”
Rowinski’s committee has called on the county’s director of buildings, Doug Czerkies, to calculate the county’s total heating expenses at its various public buildings.
But County Rep. John Kosmer, D-Fly Creek, an ally of Kuzminski and an opponent of fracking, said even if converting those buildings to natural gas now could cut down the heating costs, it would be short-sighted to believe that current natural gas prices will stay as low as they are now.
“It’s a dead end,” said Kosmer, arguing that natural gas prices will rise sharply once the energy industry steps up exports of the product. Kosmer contended the county should be doing more to expand its use of solar energy and other forms of renewable energy. He said his opposition to natural gas conversion was also related to his concerns about environmental impacts.
“There is no way of stopping the methane emissions (from gas drilling) and no way of stopping the migration from that into our water supplies,” Kosmer said.
A supporter of gas drilling, County Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, said it would behoove the county to look into converting its buildings to natural gas if it will cut costs. He contended that Kuzminski is an extremist whose views, including his support for a special income tax on local residents, are out of step with the outlook of most people.
Rowinski said she wants to know more specifics about XNG’s plans, such as the number and size of the trucks that would ferry the gas into Otsego County.
Taking issue with the arguments advanced by Kuzminski and Kosmer, she said: “I don’t believe we’re going to get gas drilling here because this county does this.”