What happened to the region that won’t die?
Posted March 06, 2019 06:16:11 The region that once hosted the world’s biggest oil and gas field has been forced to turn to cheaper natural gas because of the drought, with some communities struggling to cope with a lack of drinking water.
The drought has affected more than two million people and prompted a nationwide power shutdown that has caused gas shortages in some communities.
“I think it’s one of the biggest challenges we face as a region,” said Stephen W. Smith, president of the Metropolitan Petroleum Council, the region’s biggest energy company.
“We’ve got people that are going hungry.”
The region, which has been grappling with high levels of pollution from its oil and natural gas extraction and refining, lost a fourth of its water resources during the drought.
The city of Portsmouth, where most of the region lives, has been without drinking water for nearly a month, and more than a dozen local wells have failed, Smith said.
“The amount of water that has been lost is staggering,” Smith said, adding that water use in Portsmouth is more than double the amount in New York City.
“That is a tremendous problem.”
The drought, the worst in at least a century, has hit the region hard.
In Portsmouth, a town of 1,200 people, the unemployment rate is more like 10 percent than 10 percent, according to state data.
In the last five years, the number of residents without jobs has jumped by 20 percent, Smith noted.
The region has been struggling to find money for its roads and bridges, but with fewer roads to travel, the area has been suffering from road-building bottlenecks, and the city is losing money on repairs, Smith added.
“We’re still trying to figure out what the next step is,” he said.
“You can’t build the infrastructure that you need to get the economy going.”
Portsmouth is part of the New England Regional Transportation Authority, which operates more than 1,300 miles of road and bridges across the region.
The authority has also lost nearly $300 million in revenue because of reduced gas prices.
In an effort to help the region, the state last year increased gas taxes by 10 cents per gallon, and some communities are now charging residents a fee to use the region-wide network of electric vehicles.
But Smith said he hopes the new fee will help the area weather the downturn in gas prices in a short amount of time.
“It’s a good time to get some gasoline on the road, but it’s not a good opportunity to put gas on the roads,” he told reporters in New Hampshire last week.
The Regional Transportation Agency estimates that it will take an additional three months to recover all of the lost gas revenue.
The state has also set aside money to help local governments recover the lost revenue.
In May, it allocated $500,000 to assist the Regional Transportation Administration in its recovery efforts.
The New England Region Authority has received about $8 billion in federal funds since 2003, and its budget for the next fiscal year is nearly $2 billion.
The regional transportation authority, which is responsible for about 30,000 miles of regional highways and roads, has about $2.4 billion in funding available for fiscal year 2019.