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Natural-Gas Pipelines Remain Great Divide for Advocates, Opponents in Garden State

At NJ Spotlight Roundtable, participants find little common ground except unchecked pipeline proliferation

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This is the fourth story in a series produced in collaboration with WHYY public radio of Philadelphia. It reports on the way natural-gas pipelines have divided environmentalists and players in the energy sector -- with one exception. Both agree that the unchecked growth of pipelines bodes no good for New Jersey. The first, second, and third articles in the series are available online.

Instead of building new natural-gas pipelines, the state should encourage the use of cleaner sources of energy, which do not contribute to global climate change, according to environmentalists.

But pro-pipeline advocates argue that the spate of pipeline projects being developed in New Jersey are bringing cheaper natural gas to both consumers and businesses -- a welcome change in a state long known for its high energy costs.

Both sides were represented in a recent NJ Spotlight Roundtable, “The Natural Gas Pipeline Expansion in New Jersey -- Good or Bad?

The issue is a volatile one, with multiple proposals for gas pipelines that would crisscross the state -- many cutting through land set aside as open space and farmland with taxpayers’ dollars. The projects have aroused huge opposition from residents.

Still, the pipelines are making plentiful supplies of less-costly natural gas available to the state’s utilities, which translates into cheaper energy for their business and consumer customers. Prices, in fact, have dropped dramatically in the past few years.

But most of the participants in the roundtable said the of the plethora of pipeline proposals is not being taken into consideration. Similarly, few in the industry are asking if all the initiatives are needed to supply gas to customers.

The federal government, which approves interstate pipelines, is looking at each project as if it is proposed in a vaccuum according to Doug O’Malley, director Environment New Jersey, who argued that the glut of projects is not necessary to meet New Jersey’s energy needs.

“If we want to be truly energy-independent, we should shift to clean energy,’’ said Maya Van Rossum, Delaware Riverkeeper. Eleven pipelines have passed through the boundaries of our watershed and nine more have been proposed, she said.

“The near and long-term harms of a pipeline project are vey widespread. Van Rossum. “Nothing goes unscathed when a pipeline goes through.’’

Thomas Bracken, president and chief executive of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, countered that the new pipelines will bring cheaper energy to businesses and consumers. “It would be irresponsible not to take advantage of it,’’ he said.

Greg Lalevee, business manager of the Operating Engineers Local 825, agreed, saying, “we can’t escape the fact that there is a demand for the product.’’

Philip Beachem, president of the New Jersey Alliance for Action, noted that the state’s Energy Master Plan strongly supports the development of new gas pipelines to lower costs to consumers and businesses. “We would be foolish not to tap into that source,’’ he said.

While some argued that natural gas is a cleaner fuel for generating electricity and providing heating to homes, O’Malley disagreed. “It’s not a bridge to the future, but a gang plank,’’ he said.

But Matt Tomich, a vice president of Energy Vision, argued that renewable natural gas from landfills and wastewater treatment plants could help convert dirty diesel fuel trucks to a cleaner source of energy. New Jersey, because it produces a huge amount of such waste, is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the supply.

“The electrification of heavy duty trucks is not an option today,’’ Tomich said. “That’s just a fact.’’

The increased use of natural gas from Pennsylvania and neighboring states, however, has caused concern from environmental groups because fracking -- the technology used to extract the fuel -- employs huge volumes of water and a smaller amount of chemicals to extract the gas. The latter, environmentalists contend, may impact drinking-water supplies for millions of residents in the region.

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