Before the PennEast Pipeline project gets underway, it will have to pass muster with the Delaware River Basin Commission, which is responsible for protecting the drinking water for 15 million people who live in the Delaware Basin.
The decision by the multistate agency stems from a petition filed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network that said the project, along with six other natural-gas pipelines that will potentially go through the Basin could have substantial impact on the region’s water resources.
PennEast and its partners in the$1 billion project — including the four New Jersey gas utilities— said the 100-mile pipeline would tap into cheap and abundant new natural gas supplies in Pennsylvania, which have sharply lowered heating bills for customers.
The project, whose precise route has not yet been determined, would begin in Luzerne, PA, cross the Delaware River underground, and end at an interstate pipeline interconnection near Trenton. In New Jersey, the project has stirred many protests, in part, because it may traverse the Sourland Mountain region, much of which has been preserved as open space or farmland.
Others are more concerned with the maze of pipelines crisscrossing the region and their impact on water quality.
“Pipelines are a known and growing source of water pollution from polluted runoff, and the devastation of wetlands, streams, and healthy forests critical for water, flood, and species protection,’’ said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.
“Having a truly independent agency take a look at the impacts of the PennEast project is vitally important for the rivers and residents of our watershed,’’ she said.
A spokeswoman for PennEast said the company welcomed the DRBC’s input into the project. “It’s not a surprise at all,’’ said Patricia Kornick, adding that it was one 20 agencies expected to review the project. “We want to find the best route possible,’’ she said.
But Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, welcomed the DRBC action. “It’s the first time we have had the DRBC take jurisdiction in a natural -gas pipeline project,’’ he said.
In deciding to subject the project to DRBC evaluation, Steven Tambini, executive director of the agency advised van Rossum that the project is subject to review under the terms of a compact setting up the commission and implementing regulations.
“We can further assure you that DRBC is aware of project activities at this stage and we are continuing to monitor the status of the project,’’ Tambini wrote.
While stirring local opposition, the project is in line with an Energy Master Plan adopted by the Christie administration that 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.
Kornick said the company may file a formal application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2015.
In urging the DRBC to assume jurisdiction on the issue, the Riverkeeper’s petition argued that no federal state, or local regulatory agency other than the commission is “tasked with evaluating the cumulative impacts of natural gas pipeline projects and associated infrastructure construction, including access roads and compressor stations, in the Delaware River Basin.’’