The state yesterday cleared the way for another natural-gas pipeline to be built in southern New Jersey, the second one given a green light in little over a month by utility regulators.
Like the previous pipeline approved in December, the 30-mile project by New Jersey Natural Gas would cross a portion of the Pinelands. The so-called Southern Reliability Link is designed to provide more dependable gas delivery to the company’s customers in Monmouth and Ocean counties.
In unanimously approving the route of the pipeline, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities said it supports the goals of the state’s Energy Master Plan to expand the use of natural gas by extending the state’s pipeline infrastructure. The project is one of about 15 gas or oil pipelines proposed or under construction since the discovery of vast new supplies of the fuel in neighboring Pennsylvania.
But conservation groups opposed the project as unnecessary, saying it would impose new costs on customers and spur new growth in the region. The greater reliance on natural gas also will shift investment away from cleaner forms of energy, such as solar and wind power, they argue.
But BPU commissioners and staff said the project would enhance reliability by providing an alternative pipeline to deliver the fuel to customers during winter months, 85 percent of whom now rely on a single pipeline in the northwest section of the utility’s territory.
“The Southern Reliability Link will provide the necessary reliability and resiliency improvements needed to protect the natural gas service of about 452,000 customers,’’ said BPU President Richard Mroz.
The route that ended up being selected by the utility for the most part follows the original alignment it proposed, although 19 different alternatives also were looked at.
In the end, staff and commissioners said the selected alignment has the least impact of any of the alternatives studied, with a major consideration being to limit the pipeline from passing within 100 feet of existing structures. The route through six towns in Burlington, Monmouth, and Ocean counties passes within 100 feet of 144 structures, according to staff.
Critics disputed assertions that the project would not have an adverse impact.
“The pipeline is not for resiliency; it is for growth and development along the coast,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The pipeline will cause an ugly scar through the Pinelands and create environmental damage along the way.’’
Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, said a consultant retained by the group concluded the pipeline is not necessary but would profit the company at ratepayer expense. “Adding insult to injury the pipeline also violates the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan,’’ he said.
Despite the OK, the project is still subject to approval of various permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection as well as two issues still pending before the BPU — whether to grant NJNG’s petition to ignore local zoning and land-use regulations and a certificate of necessity for the pipeline.
In the other project recently approved by the BPU, the agency approved a petition by South Jersey Gas to not subject a 22-mile long pipeline proposal to local land-use laws. That pipeline cuts through the Pinelands, too.