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Opponents Protest that Proposed Pipeline Threatens State-Preserved Open Space

Backers counter that access to natural-gas-rich Marcellus Shale will drive down heating and electric bills

natural gas pipeline

The latest natural-gas pipeline project proposed to skirt through parts of New Jersey is uniting conservationists because they fear the route will cut a swath through the Sourland Mountain region, 41 percent of which has been preserved as open space or farmland.

The $1 billion project by PennEast LLC calls for a 100-mile pipeline that would begin in Luzerne County, PA, cross the Delaware River underground, and end at an interstate pipeline connection near Trenton. Four New Jersey gas utilities are partners in the project -- Public Service Electric & Gas; South Jersey Industries, the owner of South Jersey Gas; NJR Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of New Jersey Resources, the owner of New Jersey Natural Gas; and AGL Resources, the owner of Elizabethtown Gas.

The underground pipeline would tap into cheap and abundant new natural-gas supplies in Pennsylvania, which have sharply lowered bills for customers who heat their homes with the fuel. It would also help lower electric bills since natural gas is used to power many generating plants.

The project also reflects a goal in the Christie administration’s Energy Master Plan, which seeks to promote new natural gas pipelines as a means of lowering costs to consumers and businesses. New Jersey has some of the highest energy costs in the nation.

The projects, however, have sparked fierce opposition from environmentalists, primarily because they traverse parts of public lands preserved with taxpayer funds, including the New Jersey Highlands and a proposal that would run through the New Jersey Pinelands. Other pipelines go through urban areas, such as Jersey City.

“We’re not anymore the ‘Crossroads of the Revolution,’ but the crossroads of pipelines,‘’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Right now, open space in New Jersey has been fractured by these pipelines.’’

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While the precise route of the pipeline in New Jersey has not yet been determined, it is clear the project will impact Hopewell Township, West Amwell Township, and Lambertville, according to Caroline Katmann, executive director of the Sourland Conservancy.

“In the process of putting it there, they will disturb a lot of the ecosystem,’’ she said, noting it is critical habitat for endangered species. “It looks like it is going through a lot of preserved land.’’

Homeowners, too, are concerned.

Debbie Brady, who lives in Delaware Township in Hunterdon County, said the proposed pipeline is only 400 to 500 feet from her home, right along a creek. “These things can blow up,’’ she said.

Proponents of the project argued otherwise, saying it would deliver lower rates to consumers.

“Now, nearly all of the major markets in New Jersey will benefit from the direct connection for reliable and affordable Marcellus Shale natural gas from Pennsylvania,’’ said Peter Terranova, chair of the PennEast Board of Managers.

Michael Jennings, a spokesman for PSE&G, which joined the project last week, according to PennEast, agreed.

“The demand for natural gas continues to rise. This project will meet that demand and provide New Jersey families and businesses with great access to lower-cost supplies,’’ Jennings said. “We plan to use the pipeline to help meet the requirements of PSE&G customers.’’

PennEast said the pipeline will deliver enough natural gas in the region to serve 4.7 million homes. The company has not yet applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval of the pipeline, but is expected to do so in 2015.

If given the necessary approvals, construction of the project will begin in late 2017 and it could be in service in late 2018, according to the company. During the seven-month construction period, it could create 2,000 jobs, the company said.

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