Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Upgrade Project

Tom Johnson | March 23, 2011 | Energy & Environment
Proposed 41-mile pipeline expansion would cut through two state parks and a wildlife management area in the Highlands

This is one of an occasional series of stories by NJ Spotlight profiling major energy infrastructure improvement projects, most of which have generated heated opposition from local communities and others.

Summary: This $400 million project is a 41-mile expansion of an existing pipeline, in segments, stretching from the Marcellus Shale regions of Pennsylvania through northern New Jersey, terminating in Mahwah. The project will funnel natural gas found in abundant supplies in Pennsylvania to lucrative markets in the northeast.

Who is behind the project: Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) is a subsidiary of El Paso Corp., a major energy company involved in pipelines, production and other arenas. The nationwide company moves about 30 percent of the country’s natural gas through its pipelines. The Northeast Upgrade project will add an additional 630,000 dekatherms of natural gas to the region, which largely depends on the fuel to heat homes and increasingly run power plants, which produce electricity. Given the events in Japan, many view the fuel as a cleaner and safer alternative to coal and nuclear power.

Why it is controversial: There are four other major pipeline expansion projects in the works in New Jersey, raising concern among environmentalists why so many are needed. This one is especially controversial since much of the route runs through the New Jersey Highlands, although along existing right-of-way on a previously built pipeline. Still, environmentalists argue the expansion could harm previously protected forests by allowing invasive species to intrude on native flora.

Who is supporting the project: El Paso executives say it is unlikely all five projects will end up being built. Market conditions will cause some competitors to fall by the wayside. TGP has lined up two producers to move 100 percent of all of the natural gas they and others extract from the Marcellus Shale: a significant step given that these pipeline must demonstrate a need to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

How the project drew legislative scrutiny: The project came under fire when the state proposed to approve a land conveyance to the company for a 23-mile gas pipeline extension through two state parks and a state wildlife management area in the Highlands. It led a couple of senators to draft a bill, now moving through the legislature, to require the state to assess the revenue potential of the land being conveyed.

What happens next: Within the next few weeks, the company will file a certificate of need petition with FERC, a process that is expected to take between nine and 12 months. It hopes to win approval and have the pipeline in service by November 2013.