Local Officials Move to Block New Pipelines in Jersey Highlands

Tom Johnson | July 29, 2011 | Energy & Environment
More than ten townships along projected pipeline route have also adopted resolutions against hydro-fracking

Opposition to the expansion of pipelines through the New Jersey Highlands is mounting among local officials, some of whom are calling for a moratorium banning the practice of pumping huge quantities of water into the ground to drill for natural gas.

The Clinton Township Council on Wednesday adopted a resolution opposing Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Co.’s proposed extension of its natural gas line by adding nearly seven miles of pipeline next to two existing lines. It also adopted a resolution calling for stronger regulation of the practice employed to extract the gas—hydraulic fracturing.

The project is opposed by environmentalists and conservationists because it is designed to pipe natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formations in Pennsylvania through the Highlands and other public open spaces, including South Branch Reservation along the Raritan River and Cramer’s Creek Park in Clinton Township.

A Hot Topic

The issue has become more heated since the Christie administration released a new draft Energy Master Plan, which recommends an expansion of the state’s network of natural gas pipelines. Five major pipeline expansions have been proposed, largely driven by the discovery of new deposits of the fuel in the region, but industry experts doubt all will move forward to fruition.

Still, the energy master plan backs the expansion. “New or expanded pipelines will confer energy price benefits by increasing the supply of lower-cost gas from the Marcellus Shale, thus reducing the wholesale cost of gas and power” for electric power suppliers and electric utilities, the plan says.

That view is not held by opponents, which increasingly include towns along the route. Twelve municipalities have adopted resolutions opposing hydro-fracking: Holland, Bethlehem, Byram Township, Stillwater, Highland Park, Princeton Township, Closter, Franklin (Somerset), Trenton, Secaucus, and the Clintons. The practice also is known as fracking.

It also was a point of contention at the opening public hearing on the energy master plan.

“Your plan emphasizes the benefits of natural gas with no reference to the dangers in extracting the gas from underground shale deposits,” said Ellie Gruber, representing the League of Women Voters. “We ask for a moratorium on hydro-fracking in the Delaware Basin until rigorous scientific studies are completed.”

Critics of the practice, which involves injecting huge volumes of water and some toxic chemicals into the wells to extract the gas, fear that it poses a threat to the drinking water of 5 million people.

“Fracking is the biggest threat to the Delaware River Basin since the Tocks Island Dam, and the consequences of this dangerous practice will spill over to the rest of New Jersey as pipeline infrastructure is expanded across the state and toxic fracking wastewater is discharged into our waterways,” said Kate Millsaps, the program assistant of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This action is especially important now as the Transco pipeline expansion project, being proposed to carry fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale to New York City markets, threatens the environment and public health and safety in Clinton Township.”

“‘The Fight the Pipe’ grassroots coalition of concerned Hunterdon County residents is bolstered by the public opposition that the Clinton Township Council has made through this resolution. Our efforts now are to get all of the Hunterdon County elected officials in opposing the proposed pipeline,” said Nancy Rumore, a member of the coalition and a Clinton Township resident. The proposed expansion of 6.8 miles by Transco will directly affect 90 property owners in the county, according to the coalition.

Industry executives, however, say their projects will relieve bottlenecks that prevent customers from receiving lower heating bills by extending the pipelines. Company officials say the 6.8-mile pipeline is merely running along an existing right-of-way to help transport natural gas from Pennsylvania into the New York and New Jersey markets.